As data volumes expand exponentially, businesses needs to rethink the network so they can prepare for a connected future. Legacy networks can no longer meet demands created by bandwidth-intensive environments, anytime/anywhere access, cloud connections, security needs and – soon – the Internet of Things (IoT).
However, budgets are flat and organizations are under pressure to invest in strategically important areas while cutting costs in other areas. This is driving companies to run legacy workloads – and implement new ones – in the cloud. And with technologies such as IoT and artificial intelligence (AI) on the horizon, there is growing pressure to transform the network.
A major part of this transformation involves migrating resources to the cloud. 451 Research forecasts 60 percent of IT environments will reside in the cloud by 2018, up from 45 percent in 2016. As enterprises shift to the cloud, increasingly they are using multiple clouds and insourcing cloud-based applications to meet their computing needs.
The new reality is enterprises will ultimately operate in a hybrid environment that may include on-premises and cloud-based resources working in harmony to increase agility and improve time to market. Some workloads will remain on premises and others will reside in multiple, different clouds. However they cannot exist in isolation if they are to be effective. The best approach is to host each workload in its own ideal environment, but integrated as an overall hybrid environment.
This will take some work, considering organizations for the most part have a nebulous perception of what constitutes a “hybrid” environment. As discussed in a recent webinar, “How to Get On Top of Your Cloud Strategy,” only 15 percent of organizations in a 451 Research poll are managing multi-cloud environments seamlessly. The rest either have achieved minimal interoperability (32 percent) or manage their cloud environments separately (22 percent).
Achieving the level of interoperability for an enterprise to qualify as “ultra-connected,” as defined by IDC, requires attention to the network. Ultra-connected companies outperform their peers in areas such as increased revenue, time to market for new products, operational costs and customer satisfaction, according to IDC.
When rethinking the network, enterprises need to look at how complex their core network infrastructure has become and whether it has the ability to scale quickly and easily. Complexity creates management and security issues and inhibits scalability, so it’s a critical area as they become more cloud-dependent.
Complexity often results from stitching together multiple networks into a core, which feels like a less expensive approach but creates all kinds of problems. For one thing, you’re only as strong as the weakest link. And the ability to scale is often impaired as well, making it hard for the network to accommodate growth or unexpected needs.
Much of this comes down to a company’s choice of network provider. As you assess your legacy network’s capabilities, you also need to address your network services provider’s strengths and weaknesses. Questions to ask regarding providers include how old their infrastructure is, how many miles of fiber they operate in your area, and how prepared are they to attend your needs as your organization grows and changes. Other questions include whether they provide dedicated, tailored support and redundancy for critical services.
In many cases, there are multiple providers in the mix, which further complicates things. But organizations with an eye on the future should consider having a single provider that can deliver an industrial-strength solution, design, manage and troubleshoot the core network and its components, and comply with established standards.
Multithreading Your Network
As businesses reinvent the network by moving critical assets to cloud infrastructures, planners mustn’t overlook the need for security and reliability. Increased reliance on the cloud also can increase risks for organizations that have a single-threaded network.
Therefore, it makes sense to multithread the network with diverse facilities that are not reliant on a single point of failure in the last 500 feet, the last mile or interoffice facilities. The redundancy of a multithreaded network ensures continued operation even when there is a problem.
Organizations also should research in which areas they can replace legacy solutions with non-traditional technologies that deliver the same level of performance or better at a reduced cost. This might entail utilizing different communications infrastructure or replacing legacy in-house application environments with SaaS services. It could be as simple as moving from PC-based Word and Excel to Office 365 or as complicated as replacing an old, mainframe-based ticketing and service system with a SaaS-based service such as ServiceNow.
Rethinking the network to create a path to ultra-connected status is a multifaceted endeavor. Besides upgrading legacy infrastructure by moving assets to the cloud and addressing security concerns, the distributed enterprise must also address business continuity, performance and bandwidth demands.
There are many options, and engaging with a provider that offers tiered and tailored networking solutions to meet different needs is important. Consider whether you need high-capacity connectivity to the internet or dedicated connectivity to the cloud, whether you have multiple sites that need to securely communicate high volumes of traffic between each other or whether you have two sites that need to exclusively exchange data. Then select your network accordingly.
Addressing network requirements is essential to setting up businesses for the future. Companies that take this on sooner rather than later will be better positioned against competitors to take advantage of promising emerging technologies such as the IoT.
Not sure how to assess your company’s distributed enterprise connectivity? Comcast Business’s Distributed Enterprise Transformation Index, built in conjunction with IDC, lets you see how your current distributed network stacks up against the competition. Visit https://distributedenterpriseindex.com/ to get your free customized report.
 Spiceworks, “The Annual Report on IT Budgets and Tech Trends.” https://www.spiceworks.com/marketing/state-of-it/report/
 CEB, “Digitization Causing Growing Volatility in Corporate IT Budgets,” November 2016. https://news.cebglobal.com/2016-11-03-Digitization-Causing-Growing-Volatility-in-Corporate-IT-Budgets