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The New Network Management Tactic: Bandwidth On Demand

There’s nothing like the holiday season to give enterprise network administrators a renewed sense of urgency. This is the time of year when many enterprises see significant spikes in network activity, from the online rush of holiday shopping to the seasonal complexities of shipping logistics. Network performance is paramount during this period for many enterprises; even small hiccups in performance can have a big impact on an enterprise’s bottom line.

Network volatility, it turns out, is the new normal for many businesses. Enterprises are facing an exponential increase in data traffic driven by more mobile devices, social media, video communications, big data and other day-to-day realities of the mobile cloud era. This creates a new problem for CIOs, who now need to manage more (and different) kinds of traffic over the same WAN. Balancing network resources can be particularly challenging, especially in an environment with fixed network capacity.

In order to meet service level agreements (SLAs) for their customers, notably during problematic “peak” periods of network activity, CIOs have traditionally followed one of two courses. One option is to simply buy more bandwidth in the form of additional trunks, switches, and servers. This can be an expensive proposition and often results in network capacity that is either under provisioned with noticeably slow during peak usage periods or overprovisioned so a company pays  for network capacity that sits idle most of the time.

A second option is to shift mission-critical applications to a dedicated Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network. This  addresses the problem of sharing network resources, but also creates an extra layer of network complexity and management that can be costly from an operational expenditure perspective.

Today, a third option is emerging for enterprises: bandwidth on demand (BoD). This approach promises the best of both worlds by delivering extra network capacity when it’s needed without the added complexity of running a separate network. Enterprises can purchase BoD through their communications service providers at a lower price point than leasing fixed bandwidth over a fixed period of time. In addition to the cost savings, enterprises can realize added levels of efficiency with BoD by quickly scaling up and scaling down network capacity as needed through self-provisioning tools, rather than submitting a request to the service provider and waiting for a response.

Here are a couple of bandwidth on demand use cases:

  • For retailers, the ability to quickly turn up network capacity to handle applications such as ecommerce, order fulfillment, and customer service can ensure high network availability to support seasonal spikes, sales events and other predictable surges in network traffic.
  • BoD can help enterprises address network events like quarterly all-hands conference calls, live video streaming and other data-intensive events.  

BoD can disappoint, however, if it isn’t managed effectively at the network level. For this reason, many network equipment vendors advocate the need for a software-defined networking (SDN) strategy to help manage network resources more efficiently. SDN provides a single management layer over the entire network topology so enterprises can shift network resources (including bandwidth) quickly to handle real-time demands. With SDN, enterprises can automate networking provisioning for each application, which reduces provisioning time from days down to minutes.

SDN and bandwidth on demand together can enable enterprises to build an intelligent network environment that can prioritize and optimize traffic. This is critical because, as CIOs know, all apps are not created equal. A data backup application, for example, may have high-bandwidth requirements, but only at night, and even then can sustain network latency without ill effect. In contrast, unified communications applications, are very sensitive to latency, but will likely have lower bandwidth requirements at night.

Now more than ever, the network is the heart of the enterprise and the future of the network lies in new technologies like SDN and private/hybrid cloud architectures. These initiatives will allow enterprises to seamlessly shift their network resources based on real-time priorities.