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‘From: WAN Speak’

The networking industry is in the midst of a transition to the digital era. The network plays a critical role in the success of digital businesses as many of the digital building blocks, such as IoT and the cloud, are network-centric. This is one of the reasons why there is currently so much focus on network evolution. Technologies such as SDN, SD-WAN, WiFi, segmentation are currently red hot.

However, before moving forward, it’s critically important to go through the exercise of establishing a network baseline. In actuality, setting a network baseline will provide value regardless of whether the network is being evolved or not. Understanding the current state of the network can have many benefits, including planning for growth.

About a month ago I attended an analyst session with Michael Dell at VMWorld. During the event, Mr. Dell stated that he learned many years ago that when things are good for businesses, customers are going to do it, with or without the vendors’ help. He cited Dell’s initial resistance to virtualization as an example. Dell tried to stave off customers deploying server virtualization as it was bad for Dell but customers did it anyway, seriously hurting Dell’s position as a key technology supplier. Chuck Robbins made a similar statement shortly after he took the reigns at Cisco regarding software defined networking. He said something to the effect that Cisco’s job is to help customers through transitions, not get in the way, and that it would never again be dismissive of a technology that was beneficial to its customers.

Navigating By The Dashboard Lights

Every network operations center I have been in always has a big dashboard in the middle with a bunch of red and green lights. Sometimes it’s a simple display showing the layout of the network and other times its something more extravagant like a big spinning globe with a bunch of nodes flashing on it. Regardless of how fancy the display is, the information on it has two common points – the platform is built on the concept of using red and green “lights” to manage whether devices are up or down, also known as fault management and the information is mostly useless to network managers.

How’s Your Productivity?

Businesses spend billions of dollars annually on initiatives to make workers more productive. In fact, ZK Research found that in 2015, organizations spent in aggregate over $12 billion on technology to increase the agility of their organization. The new initiatives are great but what about existing applications? Another interesting data point from ZK Research is that workers claim to be 14% less productive because of poor or unavailable application performance. It’s certainly important to fund digital initiatives but it’s critical to understand that by making the applications that workers are already using run optimally, this itself could net out a double-digit productivity improvement. My advice to CIOs is to ensure that existing applications are being delivered optimally before embarking on new initiatives.

Disaster recovery is certainly an interesting topic. Prior to my analyst days, I was in corporate IT and was part of a number of disaster recovery (DR) teams. It’s my sense that most organizations are very effective on the planning side but not very effective with executing on those plans. I say this tongue-in-cheek but there is some truth to it. One of the reasons why disaster recovery is so hard to execute is because keeping the backup environment in lock step with the production environment is very difficult to do in any cost-effective way. SD-WAN can make that easier.

The enterprise WAN has always been challenging to manage. It can be complicated, slow to reconfigure, lack security and many applications perform poorly over it. High service costs, capEx and opEx while performance and manageability remained an issue – a regular lose-lose. But then along came the software defined WAN – the solution to all problems. Or is it?

 

When it comes to IT projects — be they WAN or any other domain — there’s a general rule of thumb that should be applied but often is not: if the solution is more complicated than the problem, then don’t do it. With many customers I’ve talked to about SD-WAN, the solution has indeed been more complicated than the legacy WAN they were running before. Most agree the network is more agile but operationally more difficult to run.



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