Enterprise networking is nothing like a home network. At home, the worst problem you will suffer is normally weak WiFi, or a temporary signal failure. Enterprise networks are much more complex, with support for many more users, multiple SSIDs and boasting a much greater feature set – and that’s just the access points.
The network is the backbone of a business. It connects all employees to a central database, facilitates contact between them and has to work with many different types of devices and software. Installation and set-up of the physical cables is a difficult task, let alone management.
Thanks to the cloud, a lot of the complexity has been removed from enterprise networking. However, as executives at network specialist Colt told us, pain points still exist.
- Legacy infrastructure
“Enterprise networking is still largely based on a traditional model, similar to the enterprise IT market before the cloud,” said Colt product manager Mike South. That is, many businesses still rely on physical cables, rather than looking to the opportunities offered by technologies like software-defined networking (SDN) or network functional virtualisation (NFV).
Joachim Sinzig, a Colt portfolio manager, is more scathing: “The WAN is typically an expensive, administrative nightmare, with lead times for bandwidth running into months,” he said. “It’s no secret that most enterprise IT managers and CIOs hate their wide area network.”
New start-up firms like Uber and Airbnb – “Born in the cloud, as Colt CEO Carl Grivner calls them – are not held back by existing legacy infrastructure, giving them the opportunity to craft their business models as desired, without worrying about disruption. The best way for a traditional firm to compete is through a well-planned digital transformation.
- Lack of scalability
Physical infrastructure puts a severe limit on a firm’s ability to scale their network up or down. “Lead times are still measured in weeks, bandwidths are fixed and configuration changes need to be manually requested,” said South.
Take the example of a university: during term time, it needs a very high capacity for data flows, but that drops off sharply when the students go home for their holidays. Legacy infrastructure simply does not have the flexibility to scale bandwidth up and down as desired, unlike SD-WAN connections.
“Technological developments in Software Defined Networking (SDN) have enabled the introduction of on demand network services, bringing the cloud experience to connectivity,” South continued. “Customers have direct control over their services via a customer portal, and new connections can be delivered in near real-time with bandwidths that can be flexed up and down to meet application demand.”
As Sinzig said, many IT leaders hate their WAN; not just because of its limitations, but because of the cost. Grivner told us, “There is a rapidly-growing enterprise appetite for SD-WAN, driven by the demand for reduced costs, reduced dependency on the supplier and improved speed of delivery.”
By 2019, Gartner expects 30 per cent of all enterprises to use SD-WAN in all of their branches, compared to just one per cent in 2015. There are many advantages to doing so, and not just in network flexibility: payments are less locked-in, too. Many SD-WAN providers offer their services on a subscription model, rather than long-form contracts.
“To reflect the demand in the market and ease the issue of pricing, providers need to be competitive when going to market to capitalise on the interest running up to 2019,” Grivner concluded.