The Growth of the Intelligent Network
Written by Keith Langridge, Vice-President Network Services, BT Global Services
Large companies are starting to see network services as a vital asset at the very heart of their global business strategies. They rely on the network to compete effectively, address economic challenges and take advantage of opportunities to grow.
The network is becoming the intelligent enabler of mission critical business applications and transactions. It must manage a mix of personal and corporate devices, the collision of hybrid cloud services, web transactions as well as different storage options. These factors are combining to give existing networks the workout of their lives.
Use of Cloud Services
We are seeing the growth of cloud-based software which presents the opportunity to do more, and do it faster and with greater flexibility. With no need to buy new hardware, CIOs now have the ability to scale up quickly, and then to scale down just as quickly if forecast demand does notmaterialise. A lot of application and network functionality can now use cloud and data centre technology, opening choices for the CIO to move from capital purchase of hardware and software, to flexible purchase of services.
So, things like business processes and transactions, applications, VPN software, firewalls and IP-set access can be run as software applications and they are therefore much more flexible.
This gives a greater degree of hybrid management and flexibility than current architectures, where most of these run on separate boxes, and the risk of buying to the right scale and ensuring performance sits with the CIO.
There’s a general convergence of telecoms and data centre technology going on and technology players are looking at ways to exploit convergence and lead its development.
In order to make this happen, the more clever suppliers of cloud technology work together to show they can deliver the solutions more cost effectively and with much greater market responsiveness than via a more traditional approach. This, in turn, can lead to significant cost advantages on the hardware and much greater agility from the software services.
In short, the more advanced corporations can do a lot more, a lot faster, with much more flexibility because the services they are using now are all software applications rather than the result of new hardware purchases.
But there are challenges when moving to the cloud and the reality of a hybrid environment means there is highly distributed content with very complex and chaotic traffic flows. Monitoring, securing and accelerating this to ensure an effective user experience is paramount. That is why many are looking to service providers to help them.
DIY or not DIY….
When it comes to the options for the build of a network to support this converging world, CIOs face an exponentially growing set of choices.
Their first, perhaps most important choice is: ‘Do I want to “DIY” my network? Should I buy-in low levels of networks – a bit of bandwidth from A-B - and then provide everything needed to optimise cost, risk and application performance myself?’ Or ‘Do I want to buy managed services from a networked IT services supplier who has already developed optimised offerings and sell these as products?’
But, even for those who choose managed services, they will still have a hybrid estate of networks and services that they’ve inherited, bought or built, and will have connectivity of different types between their locations – and there are a whole load of changes and new offers coming into that market that they have to take into account.
The intelligent network is becoming more relevant than ever. The other thing they’ve got to worry about is the intelligence they embed or put on top of their network to enhance performance.
My message to them is this:
“Your supply choices are becoming ever more complicated. There are new technologies and new price points coming along which give you loads more options for inter-connecting sites and creating your network.”
Some of these new technologies deal with new threats and are driven by concerns over security, and some are new technologies that offer new opportunities driven by the need to optimise application performance.
So then the challenge is making the right decisions - knowing where you should be using Ethernet access or internet access, whether you should be using Ethernet connectivity or IP connectivity. And perhaps most importantly, knowing you’re making the decisions that will give you the lowest cost for the right level of performance and an acceptable level of risk.
The Network IQ
As choices become more varied, and as networks become more complex, they need to become intelligent, and manage themselves dynamically to ensure best mix of cost and performance as traffic profiles change. We call this “the rise in the Intelligent network.” How do we measure intelligence? Well, that is the network IQ.
The questions you need to ask yourself when considering your network IQ are:
1) Is your network ready for the performance and security challenges you face as a business? And,
2) To what extent are your ICT investments and performances linked to your operations and strategic objectives?
Although the amount of money you spend on applications and networks can be a small percentage of your global revenue, if your applications stop working the cost of downtime could be millions. You need to assess the ability of your network to predict and respond to performance metrics for cloud, video and web based services across the entire application delivery chain.
What is the readiness of your network security to proactively visualise and analyse security threats?
The answers to those questions should lead to a multi-dimensional rating of maturity and a network “IQ roadmap” based on gaps between your current state and your desired future state. Having the right network IQ can make all the difference for today’s corporations.
Keith Langridge is in charge of the BT Connect portfolio team within BT Global Services, covering bandwidth services , Ethernet services, IP services based on MPLS technology and dedicated internet access services. He is also in charge of the industry-leading Connect Applications services which link network performance to application performance.
Prior to his current role, Keith drove the BT Global Services portfolio strategy and product development activities, and has managed the division’s capital investment programs.
In the more distant past, Keith held product management roles for BT's hosting and wholesale voice services, led merger and acquisition activities in Europe and ran major projects including the deployment of submarine cables.
Keith holds a degree in Physics from Imperial College in London and is a UK Chartered Engineer.