Top IT trends in 2016: Network as the platform for your digital business
While the development of technologies such as virtualisation, cloud computing, enterprise mobility, and the Internet of Things have moved ahead at breakneck pace, the corporate network has traditionally lagged behind. In spite of its obvious criticality as a core area of corporate infrastructure, it often stood last in line when it came to budgeting and development, instead of leading the charge as a platform for broader change. As a result, the word ‘bottleneck’ has often been used in the very same breath.
In light of this, the questions we asked Rob Lopez, Group Executive – Networking at Dimension Data were: Will the network continue to suffer the same fate in the new year and, if not, which trends does he predict would impact its course of change in 2016?
Trend 1 – All hail the hybrid WAN!
The trend Lopez expects to be most disruptive this year is the movement towards a hybrid model of wide area networks or hybrid WANs. ‘Dimension Data recently conducted a poll among our clients, which validated this move,’ he says, ‘particularly in terms of how organisations’ data volumes and traffic have changed in recent years. We asked clients: “If you could put a percentage to it, how much of your data traffic flowed purely across your own WAN infrastructure five years ago, versus over the Internet? And how does that compare to today?” The answers we received demonstrated a massive change: only half-a-decade ago, as much as 90% of data traffic flowed across company-owned WANs, while 10% moved over the Internet. Today, those figures have changed to 60% over corporate WANs and 40% Internet traffic, and we expect that trend to grow even beyond this point in the near future.’
The reason behind this change, says Lopez, is that organisations are increasingly looking for more cost-effective, efficient ways of creating a WAN that incorporates a wider array of options than purely company-owned and -managed networking infrastructure – or what is known as a hybrid WAN. Cloud computing plays a major role in this change. Before cloud, networks could cope with having a very small number of break-out points to the Internet. But because cloud services are offered mostly over the Internet, organisations need more break-out points to the Web and, by extension, the cloud, particularly from remote branches. And with a more complex network comes more complex management. Hence the move to managing the WAN remotely using centralised software, also known as software-defined networking (SDN).
‘As this crucial area of networking begins to take hold, I expect to see two types of players face disruptions this year,’ he says. ‘Firstly, large telcos may see a reduction in traffic across their networks as businesses across the board will try to cut bandwidth costs by lowering the amount of data they push over traditional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) WANs. Secondly, major router manufacturers will be impacted by the general move from hardware to software control in networking. Both of these types of players will face challenging times ahead, which may see them adapt or change their businesses to stay on trend with the rise of the hybrid WAN.’
Trend 2 – The Internet of Things reaches deeper into corporate workspaces
‘Building networks that cater for the needs and realities of today’s workspaces will be crucial,’ says Lopez. ‘The right amount of flexibility is needed to ensure operations run smoothly, and that collaboration between employees is effortless and seamless. This is harder to do in a work environment that’s becoming more global and mobile by the day. And with more new technologies on the way, the coming year will see an even greater change in the design and application of wireless workspaces.’
Lopez believes that developing organisations’ campus networks to accommodate greater mobility will be an area of growth in 2016. ‘Hybrid WAN and cloud solutions help to enable globalised workspaces, but the campus network should still offer the capacity to use these technologies effectively, no matter where you are in the building or on the property,’ he says. ‘The “hyper mobile” people of today — who enter that environment with two or three different devices — should be able to connect from all of them and have the same experience no matter which device they choose. The type of content that’s consumed has also changed. You now need gigabytes worth of access, and a wireless network that can’t cope with these demands won’t fulfil its purpose as a platform on which to build workspaces for tomorrow.’
Lopez warns, however, that wireless mobility makes usage patterns more difficult to predict, because it provides so many options and variables. ‘Your users are no longer tied to their desks – they can work from wherever they are on campus, which may lead to unexpected peaks and troughs in certain areas,’ he points out. ‘In the past, with one access point via an Ethernet cable, businesses could determine what that usage would look like and designed their networks accordingly. It’s no longer as cut and dried as that. Now, with so many users across multiple devices and locations, determining what the level of usage will be in one area versus another, and how much capacity will be required, is more of a guessing game than ever before.
‘I also think we’ll see a number of new business applications of mobility outside of the traditional office space. In retail, for example, new technologies will soon be able to help plot a customer’s complete journey through the store, down to an accuracy of centimetres rather than metres. The challenge will be designing networks that can cope with the massive amounts of data to be analysed that this sort of tracking capability will create.’
Trend 3 – SDN moves beyond the data centre network
The third networking trend that Lopez identifies as important in 2016 is how organisations will start to replicate some of the features and benefits of software-defined data centre networks in other areas of the corporate network. ‘When cloud computing first entered the market, it was because organisations figured out they could organise their server and storage set-ups to be more cost effective, centralised, consolidated, and virtualised,’ he says. ‘Virtualisation meant you could log in using a credit card and buy computing storage capability that looked like it belonged to you alone. In reality, it’s a shared service, and lower cost and faster time-to-market has made that more successful than owning and managing your own data centre – that is, the fact you can simply buy access to an application, or buy server capacity and run your own application on it, or buy storage and get it overnight. All of these capabilities used to take months to develop in-house; now it’s instant. SDN originated in the data centre because it made those complex, virtualised infrastructures easier and more efficient to manage by automating the setting up and securing of a network resource, storage resource, or application.
‘We’ll see a lot more of that sort of programmability and intelligent software control moving into the WAN and the campus networking environment, particularly through open source or open stack technologies. However, the challenge with that is that open stack doesn’t scale in an enterprise environment. Enterprises want all the flexibility of open source and open stack technology, but with corporate-level control. That’s because they have legitimate security and compliance requirements they need to adhere to. As a result, organisations are realising that they don’t need to build and manage such a complex environment themselves. Why make the investment if it doesn’t affect the core of the business?
‘If an organisation focuses on its governance and compliance policies, the rest can possibly be bought as a full managed service. That’s why I think this year will still show a lot of flux in terms of software protocols and standards in networking, which will strengthen many organisations’ willingness to consider moving towards a managed service model,’ concludes Lopez.
Read more about other 2016 IT Trends: