There are plenty of shiny new technologies available to enterprise IT teams today. The network underpins business infrastructure, and it’s key to making all these new applications and tools work smoothly. But most businesses don’t have the luxury of starting over with an entirely cloud-driven, SaaS-based infrastructure. In some way or another, they’re stuck with legacy tools. IT teams have to decide what to buy new, what to upgrade and what they might design from scratch if they had the luxury.
Building the best network for cloud and SaaS applications is a proposition made harder by all the legacy networking equipment that most enterprises have lying around. For most IT teams it is impossible to rip and replace the entire infrastructure.
Those routers and servers are sunk costs in the business. The average replacement cycle for that hardware is probably about five years, so businesses aren’t stuck forever. But the challenge is that this replacement cycle is often rolling throughout the organization. So making large-scale changes to new technologies is difficult, since IT has to maintain compatibility with the parts of the organization that aren’t yet upgraded.
The most important part of a cloud migration is to not lock yourself into the same lifecycle with cloud infrastructure. For the most part, it would be difficult to do, but cloud adoption in general requires a different mindset around hardware. It is also a transition from a capex to an opex model when you consider cloud subscription costs and auto-scaling pay-as-you-go models.
The Must-Haves of Modern Networks
The best design is not to throw out the one you already have, but augment it in a way that allows new opportunities to scale the components of your infrastructure that are under the most strain today.
There likely won’t be one big technical change, but rather a series of tactical approaches IT can take to ensure a modern, high-performing network. IT teams can’t redesign networks overnight, so it’s important to prepare for a gradual transition.
Here are some tips to make it a smooth transition:
1. Decide how you’ll use software-defined technology. Choose whether you’ll pair traditional MPLS with a broadband connection for use with an SD-WAN, or another type of routing logic. SD-WAN solutions often replace MPLS outright with dual broadband connections in an effort to save money. The SD-WAN solution provides MPLS-like quality with faster speeds and a lower price.
SD-WAN is a promising way of reducing your WAN cost while maintaining or improving quality. Make sure you understand the support your SD-WAN vendor has for where your apps are hosted, including public cloud and SaaS services, and make sure you have a way to see inside the “black box” of SD-WAN to make sure everything works as expected. This new opaque intelligence actively managing your network sounds amazing, until something doesn’t perform as expected. Then your SD-WAN solution will be blamed for every poor experience. Push for some form of SLA from SD-WAN vendors around quality of service, including third-party validation.
2. Consider the entire infrastructure. As SaaS and cloud applications dominate IT today, the network infrastructure has stretched to encompass WiFi, WAN, public internet, SaaS and cloud provider networks and more. So for example, your company’s network architecture for remote sites may be routing traffic for an internally hosted application back to the central hub. Once that application moves to the cloud, though, it’s not necessary for that remote site traffic to be routed through the central hub. Make sure the new routes are optimal while still maintaining visibility and control for compliance and security reasons.
3. Survey what is actually in use. You can’t optimize what you don’t know exists. IT teams should get a handle on applications in use across the enterprise when considering big network changes or upgrades. Each app has an effect. Real-time applications like VoIP and video conferencing are built into many messaging and collaboration services and every mobile device, all of which are extremely sensitive to poor network performance.
4. Understand your risks. Know what data you are collecting throughout the organization, where it is stored and what security technologies are in place. Fines for compliance regulations like GDPR start in the millions of euros and go up from there. Consider whether cloud security proxies or other gateways for SaaS apps have a place in your infrastructure.
Note also that cloud vendors are offering premium network and security options, like Azure Direct ExpressRoute, as you migrate to cloud services. This can help you improve the performance, reliability and security of apps moved from physical data centers to cloud-hosted options.
5. Find and fix the weak links. In-office WiFi is the most common connection method of devices within the office, and many of these networks were not designed for the load they are currently under. A wireless LAN with MIMO, beamforming and proper channel selection can make all the difference.
If you’re lucky enough to build a new enterprise network today, enjoy. For most in IT, though, bringing the network up to speed for today’s modern world will require lots of careful planning to get a great result.