[Column] Willie Schoeman: Four big trends in cloud-enabled network evolution
As a new army of remote workers who need flexible "anywhere, everywhere" access grows, an entire continuum of cloud solutions is taking over. Countless laptops and mobile devices continuously connect to services like Microsoft's Office 365 and Salesforce.com or AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform applications. There is only one problem – the old-school enterprise networks haven't been able to keep up.
Since the days of desktops and data centres, many have hardly changed and have been trapped in a cycle of temporary solutions over an ageing and outdated infrastructure that can't handle the load. But why have networks fallen behind?
Businesses are ill-prepared for network evolution
The reality is that many organisations treat adapting to a cloud-based system as an afterthought or as just another infrastructure fix, leading to a "patchwork approach". Issues are only addressed when something breaks, ultimately costing the business plenty of time and money on fixing legacy technology instead of investing in future solutions. In the modern workplace, data needs to move at the right speed, and this is only possible if organisations have their networks set up correctly.
Companies need to abandon short-term "patchwork" fixes and focus on fundamental network upgrades for the cloud. Those old network bottlenecks limit innovation, escalate costs and open potentially disastrous security holes. The solution is a new network approach that uses a programmable layer to deliver instant scalability, fast automation, more flexibility and better security.
Cloud-enabled networks are the bedrock for flexibility and intelligent connectivity that allows innovation in the Cloud Continuum. Key technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning, the internet of things (IoT) and augmented reality/ virtual reality (AR/VR) for the metaverse, need a resilient and responsive high-capacity network to unlock business transformation.
You cannot have a stagnant network in a fast-evolving digital world
The world of networks is rapidly changing. Today's networks must be able to meet a broad, changing set of needs, and provide employees with seamless connectivity to data, applications and platforms from anywhere and everyone. But this change isn't happening in a vacuum. At Accenture, we identified four significant trends contributing to network evolution.
Compressed (and continuous) transformation – Digital transformation has moved extraordinarily in the past few years. People's needs are now very different to what they were two years ago. Cloud-enabled networks need to do more, with more data and faster response times. Organisations need modern software-defined networks to keep up with this compressed transformation, high-capacity (such as speed or number of users) requirements and real-time responsiveness.
Network hardware moving to software – Moving from hardware-centric to software-centric networks has had massive implications. Now network software can run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTs) hardware. Like in a vast marketplace, organisations are shopping around. They must determine what they need, find it, integrate and run it. It can feel overwhelming, and companies need guidance to decide what they need and find what they want. New as-a-service business models allow you to pay by use versus buying outright. These changes impact the speed and agility with which you can spin up or spin down a modern network, creating flexibility.
Software-defined networks accelerate change – Traditional networks had tightly integrated hardware, software and associated tooling. But as software takes over, traditional networks are being replaced by agile and scalable software-based solutions. The cloud powers these software-based networks, and hence the rate of change in features and functionality is exponential. As a result, modern networks are now intelligent and more reliable.
Need to build zero trust security from the beginning – Companies need a new, holistic approach to safety. A zero-trust model – "never trust, always verify" policy for users, workloads, networks, and devices – can reduce the risk of potential attacks and enable a more resilient environment. Adopting an end-to-end zero-trust network security strategy is critical and adds a new layer of complexity.
Organisations need guidance to get it right
Organisations must get networks "right" and give how complex it has become. They need help with their networks and connectivity. More than 75% of executives expect external partners to play an essential part in the rollout of 5G solutions. Companies must choose partners that fully understand the opportunities for 5G, software-defined networks, low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, and Wi-Fi.
There are hundreds of network technology decisions: do we prioritise usage, does the business value outweigh the cost it will take to transform and run the network, or do we upskill the legacy engineers and create new, higher-value jobs integration capabilities overall continuum architecture?
Accenture's new Cloud First Networks practice can help you make unbiased technology decisions truly best for you. We design, build and operate these networks so you can focus on your core business and customers. The power of the cloud turns an old network into a new one by driving high capacity, flexibility, real-time responsiveness, intelligence, reliability and security. We can help evolve your networks to accelerate your business transformation.
Willie Schoeman is the Managing Director within the Technology business and Cloud First Lead at Accenture in Africa