Why networks hold the key to next-generation workspaces

Changing demographics and the scale and speed of enterprise adoption of such innovations as smart phones, tablets, social media, cloud-based services, HD video and the growing Internet of Everything have overwhelmed IT’s ability to harness these transitions to more effectively drive business through next-generation workspaces.

In terms of user mobility, the next-generation workspace will be untethered, dynamic, cost-sensitive, employee engagement-oriented, and very flexible. It will be optimized based on the work style of the users. In an open, very dynamic work environment, users can work from any location where the profile of the business follows them.

To optimize the workspace, IT operations need the flexibility that comes from automation and the simplicity to fulfill customer, partner and business needs and innovate. Further, giving users the flexibility to collaborate not just within the office but also globally is equally important.

Hence, the next-generation workspace builds on critical understanding of where people are, where they are working and where they come together. Such intelligence will also significantly influence how businesses optimize their real estate investments to minimize cost.

“Users will be able to engage with the technologies that the business makes available to them,” says Dave West, CTO of Asia Pacific and Japan at Cisco. “The workspace is intelligent enough to turn off the lights when nobody’s there and to power down the ports in the wiring closet when no one’s using those ports and to provide services to the employee based on where and when they need it.”

And since the next-generation workspace will be hyper-connected, the network lies at the heart of every transition. “The current state of IT is not scalable because the complexity chasm between the amount of budget required to run IT and the amount that’s available continues to grow,” says Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. “For IT to adapt to the current business climate, it must move to a faster IT model starting with the network.”

Organizations transforming the workspace have to adapt to new connectivity requirements; make it easy to provision and scale; reduce wiring and cable costs; support new Power over Ethernet (PoE) devices efficiently; and ensure secure network access, among other considerations.

Disruptive wave

The advent of 3.5Gbps and 6.8Gbps 802.11ac Wave 2, for instance, will introduce LAN-like multi-gigabit speeds over wireless network and enable unprecedented scale and flexibility in the enterprise workspace.

Since Cat5e and Cat6 cables have a reduced maximum length when used for multi-gigabit speeds, such as 10GBASE-T, the NBASE-T Alliance industry-wide effort is developing 2.5GbE and 5GbE over twisted pair copper cabling to extend the life of legacy cabling and avoid the need to rip and replace cables or run multiple cables between switches and access-points.

Built on NBASE-T specifications, the Cisco Catalyst Multigigabit Technology, for example, auto-negotiates 100Mbps, 1Gbps, 2.5Gbps, and 5Gbps speeds on existing Cat5e and Cat6 cabling, eliminating the need to upgrade cabling infrastructure for 802.11ac Wave 2.

Another benefit is the added flexibility to power Wave 2 access points (APs) over existing cables without changing the cable layout or pulling new electrical circuits in ceilings or walls. Support for PoE, PoE+ and Cisco Universal PoE (UPOE) delivers 15W, 30W, or 60W to APs or downstream devices on multi-gigabit ports.

By providing 60W UPOE to power more downstream devices – IP phones, IPTVs, surveillance cameras, virtual desktop clients, etc. – efficiently, organizations can bring five times current data speeds to the workspace using existing networking and cabling infrastructure.

Further, by connecting these downstream devices to a compact switch such as the Catalyst 3560-CX, the 10Gbps links will provide users with a LAN-like mobility experience. Role-based access control can also secure any departmental data.

These switches create next-generation workspace possibilities. The silent, fan-less operation of 240W PoE compact switches means that they can be deployed close to users on every desk and connected to the corporate backbone. This alleviates the need for wiring closets overhead.

Beyond the office, retailers can deploy POS terminals, phones, security cameras and APs at lower costs with cable consolidation. Hotels can keep phone and internet access available for guests during power outage aided by the Cisco UPOE pass-through. Cruise ships can reduce network cabling by as much as 80%, leading to lower vessel weight and lower fuel consumption.

Strategically, support for open standards and interoperability allows IT to adapt the infrastructure over time without fear of lock-in or ‘rip and replace’.  

Agile and open

A key enabler is the Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module (APIC EM) – a holistic architecture for centralized automation of policy-based application profiles – that can evolve the network to provide agility, programmability and openness.

The controller sets a low-risk, incremental approach to adopting software-defined networking (SDN) technologies. It automates the deployment and compliance checking of network policies across the network for threat detection and remediation and the provisioning of end-to-end infrastructure to rapidly deploy applications and services.

“SDN is all about being able to make changes in the network at a faster rate than what we could do historically, not to do that manually but in a way that could be operationalized,” says Mark Krischer, senior consultant of Enterprise Networks for Asia Pacific and Japan at Cisco. “Historically, IT projects were measured in weeks and months. But as you move to the next-generation workspace, the business is going to expect things happening in days, if not hours.”

Hence, “today’s IT leaders need to focus on enabling business innovation through a highly agile technology environment,” Kerravala adds. “However, no amount of investment at the compute and application layer can deliver the necessary level of agility until the network itself becomes a highly agile resource.”

This is a QuestexAsia feature commissioned by Cisco.