Why data networks must continue to evolve in a post-COVID world

GUEST OPINION: In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations made significant changes to their IT infrastructures in a very short space of time. However, that was just the beginning of an infinite process of change.

One of the first steps many organizations took was to equip their staff to work effectively from home. Reliable networking links had to be established so that staff could be as productive working remotely as they had been in the office.

In many cases additional Virtual Private Network (VPN) links were established. In others, workloads were shifted onto cloud platforms to ensure performance could be maintained.

Because this work needed to be done so swiftly, corners often had to be cut. For many organisations, the result was a networking infrastructure that connected users and resources, but perhaps was not as efficient or secure as it should be. However, as more companies become remote, the edge of the network extended further and further: creating what we call the era of the Infinite Enterprise.

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Ongoing network evolution
Now, in a post-COVID environment, this situation needs to change. Focus must now be on finding ways to offer seamless, high-speed, secure connectivity to data, applications, and users regardless of their location, connection type, or device being used.

Networking is now very much at the core of business activity. Where previously it might have been viewed as an annoying necessity, it now underpins everything from communication to data generation, analysis, and storage.

Network boundaries have also changed. Where in the past the boundary would have been considered to be a firewall or VPN access point, this has now shifted out to the users themselves.

An organisation’s users could be working from home, on an aircraft, or in a hotel. This is now where the boundary is located and IT networking and security teams need to understand the implications this has for infrastructure design and management.

To cope with this change in the concept of network boundaries, network managers need to look well beyond simply providing connectivity. They need to achieve clear visibility into the performance of the network and the workloads being undertaken by users.

The role of automation
Within a complex network environment, achieving such visibility can be a challenging task. For this reason, increasing numbers of IT teams are making use of the rapidly evolving range of artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tools currently on the market.

These tools help to overcome the challenges being posed by the increasing amount of data about network performance and events. In complex environments, it becomes impossible for human teams to make sense of all the data and make any required changes to configurations to improve performance.

This is where AI-powered tools can help. They can review large volumes of event data and flag any incidents that should receive closer attention. In this way, it is not about replacing humans with AI tools but augmenting their performance by removing the tedious task of assessing large volumes of event data.

Acting as a co-pilot, the tools free up IT professionals to focus on tasks that add additional value to the organisation. Additionally, by reducing the number of manual IT tasks like investigating network alarms and creating IT tickets, organizations can continue to grow and expand their network without having to radically increase IT headcount. Productivity can be improved and business results achieved more quickly.

Designing networks in the post-pandemic world
With most organizations continuing to work in a hybrid mode, networks must still be able to fully support staff regardless of their location. For this reason, organizations require networks that are
infinitely distributed, built to scale, and are very user-centric.

To achieve this, three things are required. They are:
One network: To cover all users and resources, organizations will continue to require a mix of networking types and technologies. Regardless of the elements that are selected, they must be deployed and managed as one single network. This removes complexity around configurations and ensures users enjoy the same experience regardless of where and how they are connecting.

One cloud: Again, although multiple cloud platforms may be in use, they should be managed as a cohesive whole. This will improve the user experience and ensure security of all assets is maintained.

A strong technology partner: For these to be achieved, an organization has to select an appropriate networking technology partner. This needs to be someone who can work with the organization to understand its requirements and match the best technology to them.

It’s clear the world of work has changed significantly since the pandemic and is unlikely to revert to the way it operated before the virus appeared. For this reason, networking teams need to understand that the task of evolving and updating their infrastructures is far from over. However, by implementing aids such as AI-powered tools and understanding how the network edge has shifted, teams can be well-equipped to provide the support and guidance that users need both now and in the months ahead.

As AI tools develop further, organizations can take advantage of new features like networking digital twins, which can help ensure smooth roll outs and eliminate weeks or months associated with hardware deployments. Networks may become more complex, but with intelligent tools that simplify management and automate tedious tasks, IT teams can focus on finding new ways to maximize the value of their networks and deliver better results for their organisations.

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