5 Steps to a Smooth Network Upgrade
I don’t have to tell you that the business of networking, while becoming increasingly strategic, is also becoming more complex. The way networks are designed, configured, implemented, and managed is changing in a very fundamental way. Traditionally, networks were designed to be location-centric, their main function to ensure connectivity between offices and workers. But the network’s job description has changed. Today the network is responsible for an expanding list of duties—including new infrastructure requirements (Virtualization, Software Defined Networking (SDN), Cloud Environments), new access paths (Mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)), new traffic (IPv6 and the Internet of Things), and perhaps most importantly, new processes and applications (SaaS, Big Data, Business Intelligence, among others).
The network doesn’t serve the location anymore, it serves the user. The individual user. Their devices, their applications, their data (wherever it may be), and their user experience. Network performance has a direct and powerful impact on user performance and business leaders are taking note. 42% of organizations list improving the quality of the user experience as one of their top strategic goals for network performance. With this level of customization, complexity is a growing concern. In a recent survey conducted by TRAC, 64% of organizations reported that managing their network has grown exponentially more difficult over just the last 12 months.
So it makes sense that – for many companies – upgrades that will bring the network into alignment with current use cases and requirements are on the horizon. 56% of respondents to a CDW survey indicated that they’re planning to make major infrastructure changes in the next year, 38% in the next six months. Network-related initiatives are on the rise, with 53% of IT executives listing enabling networks to support new technologies as a top priority for 2014.
Network optimization delivers improvements across the entire organization—regardless of size. It can generate massive cost reductions; reduce IT requirements; improve uptime, latency and Quality of Service (QoS) for critical services; enable access to new devices, resources, “smart features” and processes; future-proof against anticipated bandwidth and application demands; enhance employee and company productivity; and increase business performance overall. Network upgrades can result in more than a 30% reduction in WAN costs alone. So if it’s not on your short list for 2014, it should be. And while no network initiative has ever come with an “easy button”, there are steps you can take to ensure it goes smoothly—with the right planning, communication and execution.
As you evaluate your networking options, consider the following steps.
Step 1: Understand Your Bandwidth Requirements
Are you migrating applications to the cloud, and if so, what will your bandwidth requirements be? Cisco forecasts that global cloud traffic, the fastest growing component of data center traffic, will grow 4.5-fold from 1.2 zettabytes of annual traffic in 2012 to 5.3 zettabytes by 2017. Overall global data center traffic will hit 7.7 zettabytes in that time. Approximately 17% of that traffic will come from end users accessing clouds for web surfing, video streaming, collaboration and connected devices.
You need to be sure that whatever solution you put in place is scalable and can meet the bandwidth growth that your end users will place on the network. For a quick estimate on your bandwidth requirements, check out Integra’s bandwidth calculator for customized results based on industry, size, and application usage. Additionally, you need to ensure that your network can support your required protocols.
As a network grows and changes, many IT organizations find that they want to move faster than their service provider can accommodate. Make certain that your network solution has the ability to scale easily without long lead times. Ethernet Services allow bandwidth scalability up to 10 Gig-E, with QoS prioritization, and 100 Gig-E is just around the corner. Talk to your service provider about your current needs, but make sure they have the capacity to meet your future needs.
Step 2: Take Advantage of Network Analytics
Network analytics are crucial to understanding how your network is performing and what your customer (and user) experience is. The ability to report on and view the health of your network, throughput and availability are critical to optimizing your network. Unfortunately, these are areas where many IT professionals feel challenged. 36% of IT pros feel that poor insight into network performance and its business impacts limits their ability to manage network performance. Integra’s Ethernet Performance Portal allows users to verify network performance against their Service Level Agreement (SLA) to ensure the business network is operating at peak efﬁciency, with end-to-end reporting on bandwidth usage, network availability and port statistics.
Perhaps even more dramatically, 4 out of 10 IT managers feel concern over their degree of visibility into application performance. Unified Communications (UC) and other real-time applications are making a major impact on network performance, in particular VoIP (listed as the #1 IT initiative). Almost the same number (34%) is actively looking for a tool that can give them insight into application usage. Many security solutions, including Integra’s Cloud Firewall Service, provide application usage, traffic patterns and bandwidth metrics down to individual user level, as well as solving a host of other issues.
Step 3: Protect Your Customers & Business
As businesses move to hybrid cloud architectures, leveraging public services and XaaS solutions (although outweighed by myriad benefits) they find themselves exposed to enhanced risks. When considering your network architecture, evaluate whether or not you have the right security protocols in place. A simple slip and you could be the next Target, facing financial damages in excess of $200 million and climbing, as well as inestimable damage to your reputation. Even if you’re a small business, you still need to put security at the top of your list. Over 90% of cyber-fraud occurs at small businesses—simply because they are often less prepared, and therefore, more vulnerable to attack.
Data is moving at lightning speeds, between storage sites, environments, and servers—creating new points of access for hackers. A recent study showed that not only are virtually all cyber-attacks accomplished easily (96%), they’re completely avoidable with simple controls put in place (97%). At an average damage cost of $188 per record compromised, a breach can cost your company thousands, even millions of dollars. Why take that risk?
You can prevent an incident at 4% of the cost of a breach. As your company shifts data, services and servers into the cloud, security solutions, like Integra’s Cloud Firewall Service, can keep you safe and protected with – access controls, anti-malware, intrusion protection, web security gateways and proxy solutions. For more information, check out Integra’s white paper, Securing Your Business From Internet Threats. When considering or implementing a solution, make certain that it helps defend your network against the threats of today and tomorrow, including sophisticated DDoS attacks, Trojans, and Malware.
Step 4: Prepare Your Network to Meet the Industry Standards of Today & Tomorrow
As discussed earlier, the network—its definition, its role, its requirements—is evolving, faster often than the capabilities of those that take care of it. You need to make sure it has the capacity to grow and connect globally, organically, and seamlessly—by choosing a standards-based, certified solution.
MEF- Certified (Metro Ethernet Forum) Carrier Ethernet (CE) is distinct from LAN-based Ethernet in that it offers ubiquitous, standardized, carrier-class services and network solutions defined by five attributes:
- Standardized Services: Ubiquitously-available, transparent, private line, virtual private line and multi-point to multi-point LAN services (E-Line, E-LAN); best suited for converged networks; available at a range of bandwidths without requiring changes to LAN equipment or networks.
- Scalability: Ideal for the widest variety of business, information, communications and entertainment applications; spanning a range of physical infrastructures and service providers with access and metro to national and international services over scalable bandwidth from 1 Mbps to 10 Gbps and beyond.
- Reliability: Ability for the network to detect and recover from incidents without impacting users; meeting the most demanding quality and availability requirements with rapid recovery time as low as 50ms.
- Quality of Service: Wide choice and granularity of bandwidth and quality of service options; with Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and provisioning that deliver end-to-end performance for converged networks based on CIR, frame loss, delay and delay variation characteristics.
- Service Management: Ability to monitor, diagnose and centrally manage the network; using standards-based vendor independent implementations; with carrier-class Operations, Admininstration and Maintenance (OAM) and rapid service provisioning.
Step 5: Ensure Your Solution is Cost-Optimized.
Budget remains a concern, as always, for IT organizations, as well as resources. One of the ongoing challenges for the IT arm is selling the business executives. Many executives don’t fully understand the business drivers for network optimization projects, and the interrelation between the two. Convincing senior managers that network upgrades are essential, not just to operations but also to business performance, requires IT leaders demonstrate tangible returns and business value for investments—which is never an easy task. Building the case can be challenging in a constantly shifting business and technology environment, where each unit is tied to different performance factors.
But the reality is the benefits of network optimization extend beyond IT touching sales, marketing, finance and even accounting. In selecting a network solution provider, look for the intangible as well as the tangible benefits. Choose a partner who’ll take a consultative approach, working within your requirements and budget to define a feature-rich solution that meets your needs.
Integra offers fully-symmetrical, scalable Ethernet services with the low-latency bandwidth you need to meet evolving business requirements today and tomorrow. Contact Integra today to learn how you can capture the benefits of being an “Ethernet Powered Business.” Our Account Consultants are prepared to answer your critical questions, and work with you to design a custom solution to make your network, and your business, more competitive, more agile, and more profitable.
SVP, Engineering & Network Planning