For years now, businesses worldwide have been on a tear to transform the way they produce and deliver goods and services. And now, considering the global pandemic, this transformation is even more important. Few CxOs can predict what lies ahead for their companies in the coming year—let alone the next five to ten years. Building agility into the way the business can react to change is a critical key to surviving and thriving.
For enterprise organizations, business agility has become almost synonymous with digital transformation—that is, the process of employing new technologies to modernize or even revolutionize how a company does business. IDC predicts that digital transformation spending will grow to more than 53 percent of all information and communications technology (ICT) investment by 2023, up from 36 percent in 2019. What’s more, IDC says that 65 percent of organizations will aggressively modernize legacy systems with extensive new technology platform investments through 2023.
Nowhere is digital modernization more needed than the legacy network. Many enterprises still utilize a hub-and-spoke network that was architected decades ago to support computing centered around an on-premises data center hosting applications accessed by workers using stationary, IT-controlled desktop computers. This network architecture is completely unsuitable to support and secure cloud-based applications, direct Internet access, non-IT-managed devices, mobile users connecting from anywhere in the world, bandwidth-intensive voice and video applications, and thousands or millions of IoT devices. The latter conditions are today’s reality, and they reflect the needs of some of the top technologies in enterprise digital transformations.
Let’s have a look at five leading digital transformation trends and how they are driving the need for network transformation as well.
1. Cloud Computing
Most organizations today have a “cloud-first” strategy. That is, the first place they will consider hosting an application or service is in the cloud. Only if the cloud can’t meet all requirements will they consider on-premises hosting. Many newer businesses are cloud-native and cloud-only, eschewing the notion of owning and maintaining on-premises infrastructure. More established businesses have private clouds connected to public clouds.
Cloud architectures have forever altered network traffic patterns—for provider and corporate networks, as well as the Internet. Workers in branch or home offices need to access applications and data in various SaaS and IaaS platforms. It makes zero sense to route their traffic through an on-premises data center before distributing it out to the cloud or public Internet. This is where companies can benefit from a Secure SD-WAN architecture that can route traffic securely and efficiently between a source and a cloud destination without forcing a hairpin turn through a legacy data center.
Cybersecurity is now a Board-level concern and a critical requirement in all digital transformation efforts. But more than that, strong security can be a business enabler by giving confidence to the business and to customers, and by providing complete visibility into what’s happening on the network.
With the growing importance of cybersecurity, enterprises must acknowledge that traditional perimeter-based security strategies are no longer sufficient. There are simply too many attack vectors and too large of an attack surface to build effective walls around everything. Traditional traffic patterns have been disrupted (see cloud computing above); access devices are unpredictable, unmanaged, and mobile; and everywhere access to the Internet is a near imperative.
Consequently, the network itself must provide the security, rather than attempting to build security around the network. Any traffic that enters the network must be secured upon entry, transit, and exit. The network and security must operate as one and the same.
3. Work from Home
Work from home (WFH), or mobility, is a trend with hockey-stick growth since the pandemic began. Moreover, there’s no sign it will let up anytime soon as the societal behavior of physically going someplace to work looks to be permanently altered. Other companies may follow Twitter’s lead and allow people to work from home indefinitely.
This trend has completely upended network traffic patterns. Enterprises with legacy hub-and-spoke networks could not easily scale up their VPNs to support the many thousands of new WFH users when the pandemic hit. Companies need to rethink, redesign, and re-engineer their networks to securely support these new work and network traffic patterns.
4. Unified Communications
Unified Communications (UC) is the path to better connections and productivity for the dispersed, digital workforce. People who need/want to work from anywhere also need to communicate with each other from anywhere. While most people think of VoIP and video when they think of UC, this technology category also includes web conferencing, screen and document sharing, voicemail, email, text messaging (SMS), and instant messaging—all critical functionalities in today’s work-from-home environment.
UC absolutely drives demand for network transformation because of the need to prioritize traffic by type and to provide error-correcting technologies that deliver a better user experience. This is especially important for traffic such as voice and video that requires low latency and a stable link. SD-WAN provides the ideal technology to prioritize UC traffic to be routed over the highest capacity, lowest latency link, to continuously monitor and manage that link for superior performance, and to reroute the traffic as needed if performance slips. These capabilities just aren’t possible with traditional legacy networks.
5. Internet of Things (IoT)
Estimates for the number of devices on the Internet of Things run into the tens of billions worldwide, and the number continues to grow daily. We typically think of industrial operations in the context of IoT, but even things like application-related technologies, such as servers and containers, can be instrumented with IoT-like sensors to monitor and optimize performance. There is seemingly an endless list of diverse devices connecting to the network—from cars, cameras, and containers, to elevators, environmental sensors and energy controls, and everything in between.
Many of these devices lack inherent security and can open holes for hackers at network entry points. IoT traffic will continue to surge in the years ahead, and security converged within the network will be ever-more critical to detect and mitigate possible attacks.
The enterprise network is being pushed to support all sorts of digital transformation efforts. Legacy WANs are not architected to support today’s business requirements and the technologies that promote new ways of work.
What's needed is a network with the capabilities to provide the functions needed to support this enterprise digital transformation. These functions include comprehensive, integrated security, scalable advanced routing, full visibility into traffic traversing the network, sophisticated analytics, and enablers for Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). Tools that integrate these functions, such as Secure SD-WAN, are viable approaches to helping support the trends and technologies of digital transformation.
Michael Wood is CMO at Versa Networks.