4 Tips for a successful virtual network deployment

Create a team, and don't bite off more than you can chew

overcoming obstacles / minding gaps / new territory / risk and reward
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As new technologies like software defined networking, SD-WAN, cloud computing and the Internet of Things continue to grow in maturity and adoption, organizations are faced with transforming their networks to keep up with the changes.

Many of these technologies involve using software to automate management of the network or to virtualize the network. Recent research from IDC suggests revenues from networking and communications software will grow from a $6 billion market in 2017 to a $12 billion by 2021.

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Experts who advise clients on network transformation strategies have a series of tips of how organizations should think about pursuing such projects. Regardless of which technology is being implemented, these tips cover the basics of who needs to be involved, how the project should be thought about and what needs to happen for it to be successful. 

Put together a team

For a project to really get going and ultimately be successful, dedicated people are needed. This starts at the top with executive-level support for embracing new technologies and embarking on a network and/or digital transformation project. Beyond that though, IDC analyst Rohit Mehra recommends creating a small team to lead the project. The team is responsible for defining desired outcomes, making a plan for how to achieve them and being held accountable for timelines and completeness.

“It can be helpful to think about digesting the project in bite-size chunks,” says Mehra. “Don’t think too broadly. Narrow it down to specify what your virtual network will help you achieve and what benefits will come from it. Then, pull stakeholders from those teams to execute the vision.”

Members of the team could include network administrators, server and storage admins, application development engineers and security specialists. It’s important to have representation on the team of operators who will be implementing the changes, and end users who will benefit from it.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Forrester analyst Andre Kindness recommends that users should think about how new technology projects can be bolted on to existing systems instead of needing to be started from scratch. “Build atop – not beside – existing infrastructure that works,” Kindness says.

Executing a virtual networking strategy does not require a whole new set of technology, processes and job roles. In many cases, software can be put in place to help automate manual tasks. In other cases, new technologies like cloud computing can be used for individual use cases and certain classes of applications. Embracing these technology changes don’t have to be a complete lift and shift. A gradual, incremental change that uses existing resources to build future platforms is sometimes best.

Plan for the future

If there’s one constant in the technology industry, it is change. Any changes made in your organization now are just the beginning, so don’t think of new transformation projects as a static, one-time upgrade.

When adopting new technology, specifically in networking, think about how the business will benefit from the changes and how business needs will evolve in the future. Kindness recommends that users think about how the technology will be used five years from now and ensure whatever systems and processes are put into place now will be compatible or can be adapted to work with business needs of the future.

Monitor, and mine network traffic

Monitoring the health of the network to sniff out problems, and mining network traffic for potentially valuable business insights are often overlooked.

“Network infrastructures have a wealth of customer information that various business units, such as marketing, can use,” Kindness notes. “Educate the business on what the network can deliver before the business goes off and buys customer insight tools.”

As new software-based systems are used, it can be much easier to get analytics from them compared to hardware-based solutions. This can be especially helpful in terms of security and identifying and troubleshooting problems. Having a view into your network and the technologies being used is the first step toward making sure they’re being used appropriately and no nefarious activity is occurring. Mehra says visualization tools can help analyze data. “If you don’t have the right tools, then the data can be no good,” he says.

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