Today’s CIOs have a unique vantage point within the corporations they serve. On one hand, they are acting as a guide to the CEO on the business implications of Digital Transformation (DX) and how it can improve operational efficiencies, help capitalize on new opportunities, and enable faster responses to changing market conditions and competitive pressures. On the other hand, they are keenly aware of the level of IT transformation needed to support expanded public cloud workloads and applications, pervasive connectivity for people, places and things across the enterprise, and the security ramifications of network traffic shifting from private intranets to the public Internet. The one thing these changes have in common, however, is the massive pressure they place on WAN connectivity, performance, and uptime requirements. To meet the needs of the new digitally transformed and “Connected Enterprise,” the legacy WAN needs to be transformed to become more secure, elastic, and reliable.
Evidence of the lack of WAN readiness to support DX initiatives can be found in the recent State of the Network study conducted by Cradlepoint. 77 percent of IT decision-makers surveyed—from businesses of all sizes—cited their top concerns as WAN bandwidth limitations, reliability, and cost. These are the very operational factors that get stressed with the adoption of cloud, mobile, and IoT.
Recommendations for CIOs
While the struggle is real, a number of new and evolving technologies have emerged to aid in WAN transformation and make it possible to have a unified approach to connecting people, places, and things across the enterprise and beyond. They include cloud-based management and orchestration, Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN), Software-defined Perimeter (SD-Perimeter), and advancements in the cost and capabilities of LTE services. Together, these technologies allow enterprises to build self-optimizing and self-healing WANs that provide pervasive and elastic connectivity at significantly lower capital and operating cost per endpoint. Here are some recommendations that will help CIOs get their WAN ready to embrace DX initiatives:
Skate Beyond the Branch
While branch connectivity continues to be important, the real growth in connected endpoints is coming from people and things. Work is no longer a place you go, but rather a thing that you do from wherever you are and on whatever device you choose. IDC claims that 75 percent of the workforce will be afforded a mobile workstyle by 2020. IoT is poised to make up the largest constituency of endpoints in the coming years with Gartner estimating that over 7.5 billion connected devices will be deployed within enterprises by 2020. Already, 47 percent of surveyed enterprises are grappling with deploying IoT initiatives on their current WAN according to a 2016 study by Enterprise Management Associates. CIOs need to “skate beyond the branch” to where the puck is going when considering new WAN requirements.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Software-defined Networking is the biggest paradigm shift in enterprise networking since the Internet, but it’s not one thing. There are different SDN technologies that address the different network infrastructures that span from the data center to the WAN edge. Likewise, there are different approaches to extending SDN to branch, mobile, and IoT networks. From a WAN perspective, CIOs should consider SD-WAN for fixed and mobile sites and SD-Perimeter for remote workforces and M2M/IoT devices.
Drive a Hybrid Approach
As the previous stated, today’s WANs are both expensive and bandwidth constrained. This is due in part to the historical reliance on MPLS circuits to provide deterministic performance of branch applications. SD-WAN alleviates this dependency by combining multiple low-cost and high-performance Internet broadband links into a hybrid WAN edge that uses real-time policy and orchestration with intelligent path selection to provide continuously optimized application performance.
LTE is a proven network solution for tens of thousands of enterprises that rely on it to provide fast, reliable, and cost-effective connectivity for temporary and fixed branch sites, in-vehicle networks, and a plethora of M2M and IoT devices. With the consumerization of unlimited data plans trickling down market, gigabit LTE deployments underway, and 5G just around the corner, enterprises are using wired less and more LTE in their WAN edge infrastructures. According to the study, 52 percent of IT decision-makers surveyed anticipate deploying more LTE as compared to just 36 percent for MPLS.
From Fragile to Agile
Bandwidth is only half of the WAN cost equation, the other half is the cost of WAN complexity, which equates to the growing number of people required to keep it running and the slowing effect it is having on business agility. Traditional WANs have evolved to the point of paralyzing complexity—making even minor changes take weeks, if not months, to implement. To embrace DX and move the WAN from fragile to agile, CIOs need to make their WANs more cloud-like in terms of flexibility and elasticity by employing cloud management, orchestration, and automation capabilities to take full advantage of the new software-defined capabilities.
For businesses of all size and across many industries, Digital Transformation is no longer something on the distant horizon, and nobody knows this better than today’s CIOs. Before the benefits of DX can be widely realized, IT will need to transform the complex, constrained, and costly legacy WAN. A new generation of WAN infrastructure technologies has emerged—including cloud management and orchestration, SDN, and advanced LTE—that enables elastic and economical WANs that provide pervasive connectivity for people, places, and things across the enterprise and beyond.