As organizations demand more agility in their network structures to support new and improved digital strategies, network operators are having trouble keeping up. The central issue is this: Complex networking structures aren’t easily manipulated into making dynamic changes. Why? Because agility hasn’t traditionally been baked into the infrastructure. Virtualization has delivered that capability.
But virtualization alone isn’t the answer. There’s a lot that comes with the improved performance, namely specialized teams that look beyond basic hardware speeds and feeds — and toward software and automation.
We will take a look at some of the driving factors that are shaping modern networks, as well as solutions to the associated challenges. The technologies evolving through this process are more advanced than ever before, and understanding how it works is vital if we are to stay up to speed with the latest developments.
Enhanced Flexibility and Agility
As the business landscape changes, so do IT strategies. In order to keep up with the changes in business models and business plans, your network technologies need to offer features that provide:
- Fault Tolerance
- Decentralization (through remote connectivity and cloud integration)
- Enhanced security
All of these considerations come together to give us a glimpse of what modern businesses want, need, and expect from network systems. System failures and downtime are unacceptable in any industry, so building networks that can intelligently reroute traffic when there are outages are important. Having a backup site that replicates data between office locations is an excellent way of ensuring that your company has the agility to bounce back from even the most severe unforeseen disaster.
Remote connectivity is becoming more desirable for companies that need a more flexible approach to staffing and collaborative projects. As systems become more decentralized and accessible from anywhere on the internet, companies are realizing that the need for permanent, 9-to-5 workers are becoming less necessary. The key staff members that are not needed to physically come to the office can work remotely, who then use their local sign-on credentials to access the company’s shared resources over an external connection.
This decentralization leads to cloud solutions, both hybrid and pure in their implementation. This means that your networks need to be able to communicate effectively and with enough bandwidth to provide your employees with the security, speed, and safety required to get the job done. Security is paramount in today’s working environment, as malware and crypto viruses threaten vulnerable companies with ruin if they are hit with debilitating instances of either one.
Flexibility in your network is derived from effective planning, which requires careful analysis and consideration. You can’t plan for every scenario, but with enough care and attention to detail, you can design a network that has enough failsafe features and flexibility to see you through the most trying times on your network.
The IoT, or ‘Internet of Things’ is growing, and is requiring more of networks as devices are adopted and added with ever more frequency. An IoT device is anything that can connect to an IP network, such as surveillance cameras, sensors such as thermostats and climate control, microcomputers such as Raspberry PI units, security locks, access control, and anything else that connects via Wifi or Ethernet. As each of these devices requires unique IP addresses and access to the network, your systems need to have the appropriate capacity to accommodate these additional devices. This includes:
- Ports on network switches
- Appropriate throughput on wireless infrastructure
- Sufficient bandwidth on the network
- Sufficient internet bandwidth
Part of the appeal of an IoT device is that they are generally cheap devices that can be easily added to or replaced. This means that in some cases, you can expect a surplus of new devices that need to be managed. This requires thought and planning as to how you intend on taking these additional devices onto your network. This could be achieved by either:
- Segmenting your network into different segments that use different IP address ranges
- Managing these devices through VLAN controls
- Running an entirely separate, parallel network
IoT offers many exciting capabilities that have the potential to enhance the way in which your company does business, but there are many security pitfalls to this approach, as well. Botnet attacks have become quite common on IoT devices that have poor security, making these relatively simple devices easy hijacking victims, which are then used to attack various targets over the internet. Some IoT devices have even been infected with malware that makes them mine cryptocurrency for third parties without the device owner’s knowledge.
This means that your security policies need to take into account the potential risk that these devices could bring into your environment.
Shifts in Network Technologies and New Technologies
There is a trend in networking technology that has seen hardware development reach a point where not too many new or revolutionary ideas have been especially forthcoming in recent years. There have been improvements, but nothing too groundbreaking. The main area of improvement has been on the software side of things, where automated configurations and workflows are starting to become more commonplace. This takes out the repetitive nature of network maintenance, and hands over the day-to-day operations to an automated system.
This ties in with the emergence of machine learning as a new way to manage networks. While it is still quite a ways off from becoming a mainstream product, there have been great strides in the development of this technology within networking. The technology is promising and has the potential to create efficient networks that are constantly being improved and optimized in real time by machine learning systems.
Open source technology does not automatically equate to savings in cost. Free and open source software is normally offset by a heavy support fee or the cost that it takes to acquire and retain highly skilled personnel. However, open source software is providing some companies with innovative solutions to help them solve problems within the business. This has led to many projects coming online that offer alternative frameworks that are not bogged down by proprietary, enterprise technologies, and makes the licensing that much more flexible in some cases, allowing for quick expansion and deployment.
Networks need to evolve with the times, and as we have seen, there is a lot that businesses need to do in order to keep up with the demands of the modern enterprise. How you implement technologies is where the challenge lies, but as long as you are prepared to evolve your skills with your systems, you will be well-equipped to make the transition into the modern evolution of networking.