Today’s enterprises face the challenge of a network that lacks flexibility

IT departments today are pressured on a daily basis to deliver new services and applications, and leverage technology to enhance work processes. However, while many companies have been investing in the areas of computing and storage, networking seems to have lacked behind. Networking remains a complex system and process, requiring significant amounts of manual configuration.

To address this, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise technology has introduced new technologies to simplify network operations, offering automation to improve the agility of entire IT operations.

In an interview with Networks Asia, Matthieu Destot is the Vice-President of Sales for Asia Pacific, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, discusses the state of today’s current networks, the challenges it faces, and where it is headed.

Why has the network not been keeping pace with computing and storage?

Computing in recent years has made enormous leaps. In line with Moore’s law, we are witnessing processors double in power every two years, resulting in a steady stream of faster and more powerful smart devices entering the market. Storage has also not lagged behind. It has quickly advanced, giving rise to storage innovations in the cloud, allowing users to access storage anytime and anywhere.

Networking however, has been playing a catch up in addressing these challenges brought about by the data deluge and the wave of new smart devices entering the lives of both enterprises and consumers.

Where does Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise’s Intelligent Fabric fit into a NFV and SDN vision?

A central feature of NFV is network automation. NFV’s software-driven approach offers opportunities to reduce operating expenses by automating processes such as application deployment, maintenance and capacity planning. This means a reduction in equipment costs, as well as power consumption. Additionally, it empowers businesses with a shorter time to market solution, and faster ramp-up of new services and functionality.

Built on the Application Fluent Network strategy, Intelligent Fabric not only delivers a resilient, high capacity infrastructure, but it also delivers automated deployment and self-healing network fabric capabilities to reduce overhead in IT operations.

Today’s enterprises face the challenge of a network that lacks flexibility due to lagging technology, inflexible architecture and complex manual operations. In addition, the cost and complexity of designing, building, deploying and maintaining a network can be overwhelming.

Network architects no longer need to be experts on every protocol. Secondly, deployment time and manual errors are greatly reduced by automating network protocol configurations. Thirdly, through centralized management, devices with common policies are grouped together enabling simpler provisioning and faster results. Finally and most significantly, network operations and maintenance complexity are greatly reduced through centralized moves/adds/changes, self-healing and device auto recognition capabilities.

What does the Intelligent Fabric, SDN, NFV mean for traditional networks?

Despite advances in computing and storage to help achieve business agility, today’s network complexities are not answered by IT departments quickly enough.

Traditional networks are faced with numerous limitations. Firstly, the complexity of traditional infrastructure has paralysing effects. Adding or moving devices and implementing network-wide policies are complex, time-consuming, and primarily manual endeavours that risk service disruption, discouraging network changes.

Secondly, traditional networks suffer from an inability to scale. The time-honored approach of link oversubscription to provision scalability is not effective with the dynamic traffic patterns in virtualized networks—a problem that is even more pronounced in service provider networks with large-scale parallel processing algorithms and associated datasets across an entire computing pool.

What are some of the challenges ahead for the network?

Enterprises today are facing a rising number of security threats, which are also increasingly complex in nature. According to a study by Markets and Markets, global cybersecurity spending will reach US$155.75b by 2017, up from US$95.60b in 2014. This has only been made more complex with the BYOD phenomenon. Employees are bringing a myriad of personal smart devices into the workplace daily, opening up windows of opportunity for hackers to access sensitive and confidential business information.

Along with the influx of personal devices comes increased high-bandwidth traffic. Enterprise networks are now dealing with more data-intensive applications such as live video conferencing and VoIP, making the task of ensuring quality of service an insurmountable task. With such high-volumes of data passing through enterprise networks, manual monitoring is no longer a realistic or viable solution. As such, enterprises need an intelligent answer to managing demanding real-time application and BYOD environments.

Finally, IT departments today are overwhelmed with network complexity and corporate demands for business agility. While enterprises have invested heavily in virtualization in the areas of computing and storage, the network unfortunately lags behind. This necessitates innovation on the part of network providers, to deliver a network that is intelligent enough to take care of itself, so that enterprises can dedicate a greater amount of resources to fulfil core business goals rather than tackling lengthy and tedious network configuration and troubleshooting processes.

Has software become the differentiating factor for vendors as the network becomes white boxed?

While white box switching offers some benefits, it may not be the best fit for all networks. Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) for example, which account for between 20 to 50 percent of GDP through the various APAC economies, would benefit more from a ready-to-deploy solution with the accompanied support from network vendors, as opposed to investing large and significant amounts of time in overcoming un-configured equipment that they are unfamiliar with.

How automated can we make the network? How intelligent can we make the network?

There is a great amount of potential yet to be realized in the network. Despite advances in computing and storage to help achieve more business agility, today’s network complexities have limited IT departments’ ability to quickly respond to business needs.

The Intelligent Fabric has resulted in a network that is capable of self-configuration, self-attachment and self-healing. For instance, it can predict surges in network traffic, allowing IT departments to anticipate problems before they happen, and therefore make proactive capacity planning possible.

The result is a phenomenally quicker deployment time, a reduction in the amount of possible configuration errors, and a network that does not require extensive skill to set up or maintain.

What else can we expect to see impacting the network over the next few years?

With the big data-driven future becoming a reality, enterprises can expect the extensive use of big data and analytics applications, which require a significant amount of network bandwidth. To better prepare for the data deluge, businesses should invest in robust, application-aware network infrastructure that is intelligent enough to self-configure and self-heal, and even provide invaluable insights that will enable them to perform better.

How is data science and analytics contributing to better networks and network performance? 

The expected arrival of bandwidth-heavy applications in the data-driven future has necessitated innovations on the part of network providers to enhance and relook the way data and bandwidth is handled in existing models of network infrastructure. Innovations such as the Application Fluent Network and Intelligent Fabric technology are paving the way to a future of easy-to-deploy intelligent network infrastructure, where big data and insights are delivered to enterprises seamlessly and effortlessly.

How will this all fit into a new or existing network strategy?

Enterprises do not need to worry about complicated setup and protocol configuration. They can simply unwrap the boxes, connect the cables and allow the system to work its magic through self-configuration.

Enterprises can also connect access switches and servers, and the network will take care of the necessary configurations in the fabric. It is even compatible with third party switches so as long as the switches are using standard protocols.

Intelligent Fabric technology not only makes installation a hassle-free process, it also makes the network easy to maintain. When a link or node is down, it has the redundancy and resilience to keep the network running without any impact to the applications.

What should the IT manager look out for when planning and implementing a network strategy?

IT manager should keep in mind the following:

(1)    Network Components/Network Type/Key Features

    Speed & Range

    Security Features

    Hardware Support

    Firewall Features

    Tested Speed

    Cost per access point

    Multimedia Adoption features

(2)    How much time it takes for customers to complete a transaction?

(3)    How quickly can the systems scale to roll out a new product/service?

(4)    How quickly can the services be restored in case of failure?

(5)    How quickly can IT provision/de-provision systems.

(6)    How Network can help in increasing variability in operational expenses

(7)    How Network can help in reducing Cap-Ex expenditures

Along with data science and analytics, how should security and visibility factor into the network of the future?

Enterprise networking is becoming increasingly complex these days. With several applications, including physical security, access control and surveillance moving to a common IP platform, network management has become an extremely important component in enterprise IT.

With the rise in security threats, it is important for enterprises to invest in an enterprise-wide mobile device and policy management system. For instance, the ClearPass Policy Management system in the Intelligent Fabric allows businesses to create and enforce policies that extend across the network to wired and wireless devices and applications, giving them greater control over their network and granting better peace of mind when implementing BYOD policy.

Apart from continued innovations from network providers, IT will also need to look out for solutions that provide greater visibility into its core business processes. As IT continues to be overwhelmed with network complexity and corporate demands, they need a solution that can automatically provide reports and recommendations on how the network is being used or how network traffic can be better managed.

Some vendors are talking beyond BYOD and about BYOA (bring your own apps), will this make a difference to the network?

With BYOA as the next phase of the digital revolution, enterprises will need to consider the security implications of having significant amounts of business data residing in third-party applications and the public cloud.

Additionally, networks will continue to evolve to better cope with the varying amounts of bandwidth that this myriad of third-party applications will consume.

Matthieu Destot is the Vice-President for Asia Pacific, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise