We Need to Talk About Networks
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We Need to Talk About Networks

By Peter Terry-Brown, Connectivity & Unified Communications Director, Vodafone Business

Networking TechnologyPeter Terry-Brown, Connectivity & Unified Communications Director, Vodafone Business

By now it’s no secret that technology is forcing organisations to adapt at speed, challenging the way customers, partners, and employees expect them to do business. This need to adapt is unanimous across industries.

In the recent Global Trends Report by Vodafone, 92% of businesses agreed that technology can help them to conquer business challenges. The Internet of Things (IoT) is now connecting devices and transmitting data globally, which is then analysed by increasingly intuitive Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled applications. Very soon, this information will travel over a 5G mobile network at faster speeds and lower latency.

The volume and value of data on our business networks have never been higher.

Yet despite this rapid pace of change, business fixed networks have remained largely static. The Wide Area Network (WAN) remains crucial to many operations - especially large enterprises – but the increasing availability of a more intuitive alternative in Software Defined Networking (SDN) represents one of the biggest steps forward on any digital journey.

Many are familiar with the concept by now - a network which can intelligently adjust to meet business, technology and customer demands. However, as early adopters recognise and celebrate its benefits the potential becomes clearer.

That is why the ability to define WAN through software is revolutionising networks as we know them.

A new era for business networks

Traditionally, networking has always been about linking sites together with the capacity required to ensure service; based on the busiest time of the busiest day of the year. They were static, built to the specification of the network manager’s most extreme need, and complexity kept them that way.

With SD-WAN, many of the traditional limitations of hardware-based networking can be quickly overcome. A software-defined network is configured centrally, meaning that changes can be implemented in real time from a single location. Whether for a multi-country webinar or a flash sale on Black Friday, SDN can adapt in times of greater demand and contract where there is reduced need. This means significant cost efficiencies for customers, providers, and partners.

SDN as an enabler

For most early adopters, the benefits of software-defined networking can be summarised in three words: flexibility, agility, and security. These capabilities represent the foundations upon which the intelligent, automated networks of tomorrow can be built.

For example, cloud traffic varies. This means that today’s networks need to scale up or down as required, all while providing a seamless service. IoT devices require consistent connectivity and big data analytics and AI eat up processing power. Each of these technologies will continue to grow in importance, and all rely on the network.

With SDN and 5G, we could soon see a new customer begin service on the mobile network before moving to fibre over time. This would mean that new site connectivity could happen in days, not weeks. An especially important factor in the age of superfast mobile speeds, when innovative businesses are building both fixed and mobile networks to protect themselves against any outages which lose revenue.

One thing is clear –software defined networks are already delivering significant benefits. Now, many businesses are building on its performance and beginning to test what it might mean next.

Intelligent networks: intelligent automation

According to recent research by Information Services Group, “SDN is the biggest change to the networking and telecommunications industry in the last 30 years.” A big claim, yet as the benefits of SDN become clearer it is a claim which holds true.

A software-defined network can already make changes centrally, and as machine learning (ML) and AI develop in tandem, a view of the intelligent networks of tomorrow becomes clearer.

By pairing AI and ML capability with software-defined networks, businesses can expect to see a self-taught system which anticipates, adjusts and calibrates automatically in times of need. Able to analyse a particular factor such as the weather, a sports match or a spike in traffic to ensure that users always get the best quality of service. It will be able to predict user needs, and this intuition will improve customer confidence through intelligent, quality service.

The foundation of the digital transformation journey.

Of course, like many emerging technology trends it is possible to become lost in a future vision without fully acknowledging the reality today. For most, legacy infrastructure still plays a fundamental role in daily operations, and any disruption impacts business results.

Yet that is why SDN represents such a significant development – it is the foundation which allows businesses to implement new technologies in a controlled, data-driven environment. A network which can flex to accommodate the demands of augmented reality devices, the eco-system of connected machines or the capacity required to stream 4K video.

For years we have discussed and speculated on the potential of these technologies, but bringing them together in any meaningful way has proved difficult. Until now.

SDN provides the agility, flexibility, and availability to accommodate these changes and propel businesses forward on the journey of digital transformation. Perhaps that is why it is considered the biggest change for networks in the past 30 years.

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