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Amid Covid-19, all eyes turn to SD-WAN and NFV

November 10, 2020

Song Toh   

VP Global Network Services, Tata Communications

Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of digital transformation like nothing the world has ever seen before. In this piece, Song Toh, VP of Global Network Services, Tata Communications, explores how enterprises can develop a new approach to networks that caters for their specific needs.

Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the digital transformation of businesses across industries. And as a result, the network infrastructure of organisations has also changed significantly.

Previously data centres were the centre of gravity of an enterprise network, but as businesses moved to the cloud, the networks started to evolve.

Covid-19 acted as the catalyst and further accelerated this transformation. As workforce mobility grows, the adoption of connected devices and data-driven digital platforms continues to increase, further expanding the migration of application workloads to the cloud along with it.

The acceleration of demand

No one could have predicted how Covid-19 would turn the business world upside down this year. Much of the network architecture companies had implemented, connecting their offices and workplaces to the cloud through centralised infrastructure, has been undone by the pivot to distributed workforce.

Where users would once access applications and information from company offices, they now need to connect from anywhere in the world.

“IT organisations and their corresponding networks are finding it harder to efficiently manage how, where and who has access of data and applications, and in what way.”

Traditional networks are nowhere near agile enough to cope with the recent surge in demand. In the past, these legacy systems could cope when limited number of people (typically fewer than 30% for knowledge workers), who decided to work from home at a certain time, were trying to connect to the VPN. Now the case is completely different.

Fundamentally the current state of play does not make sense – why, with the majority of a workforce working from home, should everyone connect to their office and then to the cloud?

I believe the deployment of agile SD-WAN or zero-trust clients on devices for users to work from home will be one of the next big steps for global network infrastructure.

SD-WAN enables standardisation and automation of network infrastructure, is quicker to update multiple sites, and provides added security – meaning less need for separate firewall appliances.

All of which ultimately increases application performance and delivers a high-quality user experience across the network, enabling enterprises and their distributed workforce to access documents and apps securely and with an enterprise-grade experience – from anywhere, anytime.

However, businesses must understand that SD-WAN is not just a quick fix on top of their existing not-fit-for-purpose networks.

A business looking to future-proof their infrastructure should anticipate and can evolve with long-term business objectives, needs and limitations as well as predicted technology developments.

A “new normal” for networks

“Our old working patterns, workspaces, and settings will not return even as we tackle the pandemic globally. Now enterprises are looking to build networks that aren’t based on their office buildings but built around their teams and users.”

Networks need to serve enterprise users’ digital transformation at the speed that the current situation dictates. Solutions such as Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) can be used to build these user-centric networks that reflect the pace and agility of SaaS and our new distributed workplaces.

NFV allows enterprises to “virtualise” or run their network’s functions in the cloud. In addition, it allows enterprises to subscribe to network services at their office premises, in the cloud or service provider edge.

They can even modify their architecture by redeploying these functions to another location. This ad-hoc, agile approach reduces operational costs and allows businesses to modify their IT architecture without having to move hardware.

The invisible door to business transformation 

The promise of automation and virtualisation with SD-WAN and NFV is so vast that soon an enterprise’s network will be the ladder to the success of their digital transformation strategy.

“For all their blueprints and plans for successful implementation, if businesses don’t put together a network that is ready to enable them, the vision to operate as a digital business would be hard to realise.”

Businesses must realise that their networks aren’t just a flat superhighway that everyone and everything can jump on to. Given the vast complexity of new hybrid networks that integrate SDN, SD-WAN and NFV, it is no longer viable for everything to just connect to everything else.

What businesses need now is an intelligent platform, that understands the interactions between the digital aspects of a business.

Networks should be seen almost as employees by organisations. Just as leaders understand the strengths and weaknesses of their teams and utilise their skills on projects where they can excel, so too must businesses tailor their new network approach to their specific needs as an enterprise.

Ultimately when it comes to enterprise networks there is a need for speed, one that is leaving legacy networks and MPLS in its dust.

Discover more about how businesses can transform the network for greater agility and security.