Considerations for modernizing your network

Business applications and the way we use them are undergoing a radical change, and this is leading many companies to modernize their network. Here are some "best practice" considerations for modernization strategies.

In last week's article, "The 2012 State of the Network Report," I outlined some of the key findings from a Network Instruments survey about what is having the greatest impact on corporate networks this year. Survey respondents cited the following:

• Video is beginning to have a big impact on network resource management, with 70% of all participants saying they have implemented or will implement a video-based solution within a year.

• Bandwidth demands are surging. Two-thirds of respondents expect general traffic volumes to increase 25% to 50% in the coming year.

• Cloud implementations remain strong, with 60% of the respondents reporting that half of their applications will run in the cloud within the next 12 months.

• As applications become more complex and tiered, the ability to resolve service delivery issues grows. Some 83% of the respondents have difficulty troubleshooting application issues.

Of course, those of you in the trenches know there are more issues impacting your network than just those listed above. Of key importance is the fact that most enterprises are phasing in the next era of computing, where infrastructures are converging and applications and resources are virtualized and in the cloud.

RESEARCH: The Network World Enterprise Cloud Services archive

OUTLOOK: Data center, cloud fabrics to heat up in 2012

Armed with this information, I talked to some folks in the Hewlett-Packard Networking Group to get their take on what organizations should be doing to modernize their networks to support these emerging and future needs. Their recommendations, in no particular order, include:

• Prepare for the onslaught of BYOD (bring your own device).

• Prepare to support unified communications & collaboration (UC&C).

• Integrate security into every aspect of the network.

• Flatten network layers when possible.

• Segment your network.

• Consider a multi-network environment.

• Opt for a single-pane-of-glass management platform.

Get ready for BYOD: The "bring your own device" phenomenon is challenging virtually every IT department these days. Not only are companies struggling with how to manage these mobile devices and the data that gets onto them, but there's also the issue of how to allow users to connect to the network.

The preferred way will be through wireless LANs (WLAN) rather than lower speed 3G or 4G networks, especially as these personal devices supplant traditional PCs and notebooks in the workplace. Having more users accessing the WLAN means you will need increased network capacity and throughput. If you haven't re-evaluated your WLAN strategy in the past year, it's time to do so. New wireless solutions on the market today improve the users' connection experience while also reducing complexity and resource requirements.

CASE STUDY: IBM CIO discusses Big Blue's BYOD strategy

UC&C is on the rise: Network Instruments points out that video on the network is coming on strong. In addition to video, there's a broad interest in UC&C, including telepresence, Voice over IP, and up-and-coming social business solutions. And, as workers bring their own devices and become more mobile, they will need location-aware capabilities that will allow enterprise communication systems to find them wherever they are working. UC&C will put some heavy-duty demands on your network, so consider how it impacts latency and quality of service.

Security is more important than ever: Attacks on enterprises are becoming more sophisticated at a time when organizations must secure more applications and operating systems within the data center, campus and branch. What's more, the network security architecture must address the needs of both physical and virtual platforms as well as public and private clouds. As you modernize your network, think of security as a process or discipline -- a practice -- rather than a product or set of products. Security should become a cohesive ecosystem of people, intelligence, technology and processes, all working together to protect the business.

Flatter is better: Modern networks today eliminate the need for an aggregation layer. Simplifying data center and campus networks from legacy three tiers to optimized one- and two-tiered architectures increases performance and reduces latency. This also means simplifying planning and management, increasing scale and functionality while lowering operational and capital cost.

Segment your network: According to Gartner, companies that don't segment their network infrastructure will see higher costs and increased vendor lock-in. These days, networks must be designed to meet the unique requirements of the data center, corporate campus, and branch office. By segmenting their networks, enterprises will be able to more easily align business initiatives with the underlying network requirements.

Consider a multi-network environment: In 2010, Gartner did an in-depth study that shows that enterprises with a single-vendor networking strategy often pay more and miss out on technology innovations. The study shows that introducing a second networking vendor will reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) for most organizations by at least 15% to 25% over a five-year time frame. Regardless of whom the incumbent vendor is, network architects and CIOs must consider alternative network vendors to ensure that they deliver a functional network solution at an appropriate cost point.

Simplify network management: I recently talked to one company that has about 30 different versions of IOS in its network, along with numerous different tools to manage the separate components. That's crazy! Obviously this company and others in the same situation can control costs and provide better performance and security if they can simplify their management platform, preferably to a single-pane-of-glass solution that can management multiple vendors' products.

As traditional networks strain under the weight of new applications and services being delivered in new ways, it's becoming increasingly important to consider what you can do -- must do -- to modernize your network.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation. You can write to her at LMusthaler@essential-iws.com.

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About Essential Solutions Corp:

Essential Solutions researches the practical value of information technology, and how it can make individual workers and entire organizations more productive. Essential Solutions offers consulting services to computer industry and corporate clients to help define and fulfill the potential of IT.

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