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The network is the backbone that enables connectivity across edge devices and things to applications with and across multiple clouds. Any impact on the network can cause a huge impact on the business too. The critical importance of the network and its impact on the overall business is corroborated in NTT’s 2022–23 Global Network Report, which states that an overwhelming 93% of respondents recognize that their organization’s most pressing business and digital transformation challenges can be linked to and directly affected by the network. More importantly, 72% of respondents believe that low levels of network maturity are negatively affecting their delivery and goals. This has a clear impact on financial performance. Top-performing organizations are more than three times as likely as underperformers to be in an advanced state of network maturity, and organizations with high network maturity are more than twice as likely to be in an advanced state of digital optimization.

Redesigning the network

Today, despite the criticality of the network, many organizations have not invested sufficiently in their networks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations made quick fixes to enable hybrid work, but this is clearly not sustainable in the long run. With a fast rate of cloud adoption, a hybrid mode of working and constantly increasing security threats, the network has to be reinvented to ensure that it is ready for the business.

With business needs changing, organizations need to have high speed and low latency in their networks. Networks also need to have integrated security and flexible to be able to embrace cloud-based models. Future networks, hence, need to be adaptable for ensuring the success of cloud-first strategies and identifying and malicious traffic patterns and neutralize emerging security issues before they become a problem.

Factors to be considered for transforming your network

The network landscape is changing. Many solutions that are currently in play for just a few organizations will become standard within just two years. For example, almost 8 in 10 top performers of the respondents in NTT’s 2022–23 Global Network Report say their operations include 5G technologies, compared with only 55% of all other organizations. Similarly, local data center networks, multi-cloud networking, container networking, SD-LAN, SD-WAN Cloud Interconnect and edge computing were all in play among more than 7 in 10 top performers, but in only just over 4 in 10 of all other organizations.

With multi-cloud, the network forms the foundation of a hybrid, distributed work environment that has multiple connected devices and rising bandwidth needs. And while the network used to be a legacy issue for many organizations, with little need for interference beyond keeping it stable, there is now a rising need to innovate. Software-based networking allows organizations to embrace network innovation while remaining agile, adding technology to the network or swapping technologies as needed. This is also driving the modernization of the network, alongside trends such as automation and AIOps, all in a multi-cloud environment and with tighter security.

The network now has to support a new way of working and the increased adoption of multi-cloud. There will hence be a big need for visibility of what's happening on the network, and a big shift to more intelligent networks. With an increase in hybrid working, security threats now come from everywhere – on-premises, in the cloud or from the IoT sensors that organizations are adding to the network. Every new device brings a new security threat. This is increasing the criticality of network security and will require higher levels of access control.

Key steps that can be taken today

To succeed in a dynamic environment, organizations need agile and flexible networks that can help them keep up with the ever-changing technology landscape. First and foremost, networks have to be modernized with the right hardware in place. Organizations must also invest in network analytics tools, as insights from networks will be key for taking decisions. This can help in proactive scheduled maintenance of networks in resolving issues before any possible performance degradation such as outages or congestion.

Automation can also play a huge role in improving the performance of the network without much human intervention. At NTT, we have been using the immense power of AIOps and predictive network analytics operations to proactively detect and alert enterprises of a majority of issues before they impact business health. Automation can help enterprises provision resources on demand, which automatically allocates and deallocates resources based on demand. The ultimate goal is to move towards autonomous networks through the ability to automatically monitor, analyze, control and recover. Organizations must hence invest in automation tools that help in areas such as software patching, improving the security posture, inventory management and change and configuration management, among others. AIOps allows organizations to differentiate themselves by looking at tons of historical data across multiple points in time, across devices, endpoints and locations, and detect patterns just by looking at the data.

To balance costs with network innovation and performance, consider the network-as-a-service model to consume and pay just for what you need while allowing you to access the latest trends in technology. This is a strategy worth considering at a time when global corporate network spending is rising.

Last but not the least; consider partnering with investing in a technology partner that can move your organization away from legacy network assets. This will help your organization obtain greater network availability, scalability and performance. Legacy network assets create technical debt (which affects two-thirds of organizations) and require significant manual network support. Organizations must spend adequate time and energy to find a technology partner that can help them deliver and maintain a fast, secure and agile new network that’s supported by new cloud operational models, and keep innovating and evolving your network to make it future-proof.

Author: Mr. Arun Pathak, Vice President- Managed Network and Collaboration Services, NTT Ltd. In India

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