We are living in pivotal times. Compute power has reached unprecedented levels and is affecting how we do business at every level. Those who embrace those technological advances accelerate their business velocity by orders of magnitude and develop an unfair advantage versus their competition. Technology is driving business velocity, and is increasingly determining winners and losers.
The fundamental changes businesses undergo to take advantage of the unprecedented power of technology is commonly referred to as digital transformation. It is driven by the ability to generate and analyze data like never before. It is generated by an estimated 80B IoT devices (in 2025): mobile phones, self-driving cars, HVAC systems, elevators, security systems, etc. This data is processed in data centers everywhere to extract insights and drive decisions – through analytics, machine learning and AI.
Every new device connected to the network communicates with hundreds if not thousands of other devices. Furthermore, the process of analyzing the original data from an IoT device generates orders of magnitude more data. Therefore, every new device connected to the grid increases total traffic in the network by a disproportionate amount. As a result, overall traffic is growing at an unprecedented rate.
For this reason, the network infrastructure has become either a critical foundation of an organization’s digital transformation efforts, or it’s Achilles heel. Deploying and operating network infrastructures that are unprepared to handle the requirements of your digital transformation is like playing Russian roulette with a massive data center outage. Network infrastructure builds, and operations can become a major bottleneck to business velocity.
Today’s status quo
Consider this: Networks today are operated in essentially the same way as they were in 1995. That is 22 years ago — the year Intel Pentium Pro was released. Today, 85% of networking teams still use the same arcane commands to configure every device in the network in what amounts to an overwhelmingly manual process. They troubleshoot networks by logging into every device and running those same commands manually to obtain the status of those devices, and they become experts at interpreting arcane vendor-specific code from those devices. And to monitor that their network infrastructures are running well, they continuously sift through mountains of telemetry or stare at visualizations 24/7 to detect unusual patterns. As a result, organizations spend $3-$5 on average for every $1 of CapEx. If you’re a traditional enterprise with legacy systems, you are likely spending a lot more — in some cases, an order of magnitude more.
On average, 80% of those resources are spent on manual operations — I would say wasted rather than spent, because anything you could automate, but that you haven’t automated, is effectively wasted.
This means that on average, 80% of approximately $4 is wasted. That is $3.20 for every dollar of CapEx. And some organizations waste a lot more.
It doesn’t end there — in fact it gets a lot worse. Until this point, this analysis has only focused on CapEx, and did not consider your top line. Here are a few examples:
- The cost to your reputation from having an outage; for a company in the S&P 500, this can amount to tens if not 100s of millions of dollars per outage instance
- The revenue you are likely to lose from having an outage; on average $1M per minute or outage — and in some cases a lot more
- The amount of deferred revenue from taking your organization many months to stand up and provision a network required to deploy a new business service or implement a new initiative;
- The amount of deferred revenue from taking weeks to make a change to the network that is required to support a new business service
- The lack of competitiveness from your organization’s inability to provision the infrastructure necessary for critical business initiatives
- The opportunity cost associated with the inability for the staff to improve their skills in a manner that’s beneficial to the business.
These costs are harder to measure generally, as they are specific to every business. However, they are massive, and are significantly higher than OpEx Costs.
The need for log-scale improvements
In a 2017 report, Gartner emphatically points out that “Digital business initiatives will struggle unless CIOs and business leaders change the way they think about networking.” Gartner states that “by 2022, the percentage of enterprises that deem networking core to their digital initiative success will increase to over 75%,” up from 25% today. In fact, Gartner believes that enterprises should consider networking to be a profit center rather than a cost center. In fact for the first time since the early 2000’s, Gartner urges CIOs to make “Networking a critical strategic infrastructure resource for enabling digital business.”
Clearly, complexities, inefficiencies and high costs plague data center network operations today and prevent organizations from delivering on their digital transformation goals. Digital transformation requires successfully eliminating these complexities to achieve log-scale improvements in network infrastructure CapEx, OpEx and capacity.
The simple, scalable, hardware-independent green patch
In fact, in my experience, customers no longer “upgrade” old environments, referred to as “brownfield”. That would be akin to upgrading components or adding a new engine to a 10-year old car that doesn’t meet any of the performance, emissions, or safety standards that are readily available when one purchases a new car. And customers rarely deploy pure greenfield environments. Their upgrade processes are constrained by the need to support legacy technologies in support of their business that keep the lights on, and prevents them from performing forklift upgrades of their entire environment. And even if they were able to do so, such an approach can carry unreasonable cost and risks of disrupting the business if the upgrade doesn’t go smoothly.
Instead, what I’ve seen customers do far more often is deploy what we like to call “green patches”. That is, they upgrade their infrastructure one incremental step at a time. This incremental new step could be a new rack or, often a new POD. This new green patch is based on the latest thinking in terms of architecture, and incorporates the guiding principles needed to meet the ever-evolving requirements of the business.
This is truer today than ever before. Because of the urgent need to embrace the digital transformation of their business, enterprises are embarking on an accelerated schedule to upgrade their infrastructure. CIOs should leverage their new green patches to set the foundation for log scale improvements in how compute and network infrastructures are built and operated. This includes the reduction of capital and operational costs while increasing capacity and reducing risk in their platforms. These guiding principles are as follows:
- Simplify operations. Declare war against the complexities and inefficiencies that plague data center network operations
- Decouple yourself from your choice of hardware. The network has traditionally been driven by hardware vendors, and often complexities and inefficiencies are tied to your choice of hardware vendor. The future is driven by software – as famously quoted “software will eat the world”. It is true for the business, it is also true for the network infrastructure.
- Adopt approaches that scale to meet the needs of your business. This is accomplished through proper scale-out architectures, and through operational models that enable the ability to grow infrastructure or replace devices with newer technology of larger capacity seamlessly.
Don’t fall behind from your inability to build the infrastructure that’s required for your business. Upgrade your infrastructure using a green patch approach instead. Adopt the principles of simplicity, hardware/software decoupling, and scale. Embrace new technologies such as intent-based networking and intent-based analytics – technologies that enable software driven, self-operating, autonomous networking infrastructures. In the process, set yourself on the right path for log scale efficiency improvements required by your digital transformation initiative. Business velocity will separate winners and losers – it is a pivotal moment; the time is now!