The proliferation of consumer technology, such as smartphones and wearables, has enabled users to access information from anywhere, any time and on any device. This “democratization of technology” means IT organizations in an enterprise are no longer able to control how, what and where employees access information because it is channeled across so many different platforms. Enterprises have been forced to invest in new cloud-computing and software-as-a-service platforms and technologies that can manage consumer demands such as mobility, all while allowing IT managers to keep their data safe. As a consequence, data streams and storage have been on the move—first across the data center, from dedicated hardware to virtual compute and storage stacks, then out to third-party private-cloud providers.
When it comes to the wide-area network (WAN), the evolution of technology has traditionally been controlled by a handful of incumbent vendors. The pace of change has been dictated by their roadmaps, leaving customers with very little choice. With the spread of open-source technologies, first in operating systems (Linux) and then in data centers (software-defined networking, or SDN), the same principles of democratization are now challenging the WAN (SD-WAN). Though SDN is revolutionizing the data center, it is some way off from delivering on its promise to transform the WAN in a genuinely interoperable service-provider context. Notwithstanding the lackluster “box solutions” offered by some SD-WAN vendors, a fully integrated hybrid WAN solution still remains to be adopted. A global study by IDC shows that 66% of enterprises surveyed consider service providers to be best equipped for delivering hybrid networking services, whereas around half (48%) of these enterprises feel their network-service provider is best suited to address their cloud needs.
So how can enterprises create a network that combines public and private resources?
Making the Internet Fit for Business
When it comes to enterprise networking, the philosophy has always been to keep the Internet—which is broad in reach but fundamentally insecure—separate from the self-contained and private enterprise-grade WAN. But the Internet has become an indispensable business tool, and dependence on applications and services in the public cloud has spread dramatically. Increasingly, enterprises are facing complaints that existing WANs suffer from comparatively poor user-application performance, as well as slow response times and prolonged faults. As a result, enterprise network managers have been forced to patch together solutions using both the Internet and private networking.
This patchwork of connectivity has built up over time as managers have tried to cope with the highly dynamic application and user landscape of today, but traffic ends up being routed across the network through bottlenecks and gateways, on and off the Internet in unpredictable ways. The result: highly variable user experiences depending on the time of day, application type and user location.
For example, Internet access is centrally controlled and managed for security and compliance. So, remote offices in Sydney cannot access the Internet directly in Australia, but only through the company’s regional headquarters in Singapore or its global headquarters in L.A. Whereas cloud providers are deploying more cloud resources locally in those countries, the end users in those countries don’t realize the benefit of a local cloud. Because of this situation, they try to bypass central security by installing local intranets, which are insecure and unmonitored, potentially opening up their organization to threats.
The clear solution is not to fight the cloud but to embrace it by properly integrating the Internet into the network. This switch won’t take place overnight, with billions of dollars already invested in traditional Ethernet and MPLS networks, but it’s the essential next step in the digital transformation of the enterprise network. In a survey last year, 92% of IT professionals said adopting cloud technologies is important to their organizations’ long-term business success, while only 43% think that more than half of their IT infrastructure will be in the cloud in the next three to five years. The majority also raised security as the biggest concern in a hybrid IT environment. To meet these public-private hybrid demands, the Internet must be predictable, secure and flexible, and the overall hybrid networking solution must be globally consistent and agile.
Best of Both Worlds: Agile Network Solution
In the end, only a combination of private, public and hybrid networking can deliver the levels of reliability, security, scalability and flexibility that today’s enterprises require. Traditional private WANs are simply too slow, inflexible and expensive for the multitude of cloud-based applications. Typically, the data center becomes the central gateway for security, Internet breakout and data exchange. As applications move into public cloud (Iaas/PaaS/SaaS) environment and workforce mobility demands flexible connectivity, network architecture must become more agile. To achieve this agility, we need to separate the service layer (corporate data centers, public clouds and so on) from the access layer (corporate/branch offices, mobile employees, customers and so on) by creating a distribution layer (Internet fit for business, public Internet, private WAN and so on).
As the public Internet proliferates and the infrastructure underlying the Internet gets better across the globe, more and more enterprises are viewing it as an option to deliver noncritical services to the end user, such as email, YouTube and Facebook. Delivering these services over the Internet is cheaper and quicker than carrying them on expensive purpose-built private networks. On the other hand, although it’s flexible, the public Internet too unreliable for the most critical enterprise uses, such as new IoT-enabled safety mechanisms in the airline industry and mission-critical data such as CRM, HR and financials. But some global network service providers, such as Tata Communications, have gone the extra mile and used their global reach and partner ecosystem to invest in making the Internet fit for business. For example, Tata’s IZO SD-WAN solution ensures that “critical” applications always have sufficient bandwidth and always use the primary path. By employing the public Internet together with hybrid networks, which combine the flexibility of the Internet with the security and reliability of a private WAN, enterprises can now address the increasingly complex networking requirements. In a hybrid environment, business applications are prioritized but do not harm critical applications, and they enable the most effective use of bandwidth on the network.
For the first time in well over a decade, the WAN is the focus of considerable innovation. “Is WAN dead?” No, it’s not, but it’s about time for it to transform. Increasing adoption of cloud, the growing mobile workforce and a proliferation of IoT deployments will require support by the future WAN. The onus is on service providers to raise the bar, and some of us are doing our piece. Consequently, enterprises must invest wisely in their networks to ensure that this crucial infrastructure evolves to support their future business needs in the cloud age.
About the Author
Gaurav Anand is Vice President and Regional Head, Americas, at Tata Communications, one of the major companies of the $100.9 billion Tata group. He is part of the senior management team whose focus is on developing bespoke solutions to address the pain points for large U.S. multinationals in their journey of digital transformation. Gaurav has been part of Tata Communications’ transformation from a basic voice and network connectivity service provider to more of an innovative solutions provider in the areas of hybrid intelligent networks (including SD-WAN), public-private cloud connectivity, cloud-based security services, cloud storage, managed hosting, and unified communications and collaboration (UCC). Through his leadership and expertise, as well as over 20 years of international telecommunications experience, his customers have been able to extend their operations globally into the challenging regions of EMEA and APAC, along with emerging markets such as India and South Africa, and achieve transformational growth. Gaurav has a PhD in Economics from Notre Dame and an undergraduate degree in statistics from St. Xavier’s College.