3 steps to increase the business value of your network

With these three steps you will set your network on a path of transformation, from being primarily about connectivity to being primarily about revenue and innovation.

In 2016, I wrote several columns encouraging readers to begin taking steps to turn their networks into a platform for innovation. As I’ve said previously, forward-thinking companies view the network as an asset, rather than an expense, and leverage its full benefits to enable new services, new sources of revenue, and new ways to compete. But let’s be honest, agreeing in theory is one thing; getting started is something else altogether.

So, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions for 2017, let’s actually peel back the onion a bit. Over the next few columns, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Let’s begin.

3 steps to turn your network into a growth engine for your business

To make it as is simple as possible, here are three things you can do in 2017 to realize this sometimes daunting, but more-important-than-ever, network revitalization:

1. Reach for programmable fabrics

To meet today’s availability and networking performance demands, organizations will require a network infrastructure that is self-healing, highly automated to minimize human involvement and related errors, and optimized for cloud computing and modern application architectures.

In our experience, this is best delivered by programmable or otherwise self-defining fabrics, which provide high levels of automation and simplified management with the help of collapsed and flattened architecture. Programmable fabrics are really good for fast, easy provisioning of network services and capacity. Compared to three-tier topologies, fabric-based networks rely on fewer devices, support higher data-transfer speeds and scale faster. As a result, they offer a more cost-effective, less complex, low-latency network solution that’s highly automated.

By selecting network fabric solutions, organizations can give back time to their IT teams and add further efficiencies by introducing workflow automation that integrates their end-to-end operations processes. Before you look any further, start here.

2. Embrace workflow automation

Most organizations feel hamstrung by the skills and resources they have available internally. This is why automation is more important than ever. However, you don’t want to simply automate within the network. For most impact, consider how to automate across IT domains, giving your teams automated steps for the full operations lifecycle: end-to-end provisioning, validation, troubleshooting and repair.

Vendors can help achieve this by providing lifecycle automation tools that are cross-domain and deployable out of box, which shortens time to value and minimizes the required skills to get started. Cross-domain means you not only automate the network, but also the operations across compute, storage, cloud, applications and more using workflows.

+ Also on Network World: IDC: SD-WAN market to hit $6B by 2020 +

Lifecycle automation is the ability to go beyond just Day 0 provisioning to include validation, troubleshooting and remediation, activities where operations teams typically spend 80 to 90 percent of their day. While prebuilt workflows let your team deploy quickly with confidence, once they become more experienced, open and customizable automation tools will provide a greater level of flexibility to adapt and tailor to more specific needs. This is particularly true as your IT organization also evolves to a DevOps culture of continuous development and continuous integration. Organizations moving to DevOps are able to innovate faster and quickly introduce new services and features that customers request.

Regardless of which solution you choose for automating your operations, consider software that is DevOps-inspired, is cross-domain and thinks in terms of lifecycle.

3. Drive your WANs with software

In 2017, we will see the cloud and network working together more than ever. Software-defined WANs (SD-WANs) will be big enablers of this with practical improvements to how they operate with your existing systems and their availability in a wide variety of packaged solutions and services.

In other words, SD-WAN can boost your performance, improve reliability and potentially reduce costs at your branch sites by sorting traffic between two connections: your MPLS service and an internet connection.

If you’re considering using SD-WAN in your network next year, reach out to your service providers to learn about their new services and capabilities. Service providers have the expertise to master the details of setting up and running IP networks to meet your user SLAs. They also provide direct connections to many cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. And with the right path selection and prioritization, they may provide higher performance than doing it yourself with an over-the-top solution.

So, there you have it.

With these first steps, you have raised both the strategic and business value of your infrastructure. Your network is on a path of transformation, from being primarily about connectivity to being primarily about revenue and innovation. It is on its way to becoming a growth engine for your business and a platform for innovation.

As an added advantage, thanks to the fabric and workflow automation, your people are freed up to spend time on what really matters for your business. Now, that’s a New Year’s Resolution we can all get excited about.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.