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How cloud services and flexible networks can bolster Business Continuity

How cloud services and flexible networks can bolster Business Continuity

APACDigital TransformationExpert VoiceTop StoriesWorkforce Management

As the pandemic settles, small and medium-size businesses are struggling to get back on their feet. This is due to the intense Digital Transformation over the past year. Oshadha Ranaweera, Manager for Connectivity Services WAN and ISP, Somerville addresses this and talks to Intelligent SME.tech about how technology, such as SD-WANs, can improve Business Continuity for companies around the world.  

As Australia’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) emerge from the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are realising the rules of the game have changed.

Staff now work remotely; customers are preferring to transact online and supply chains face disruptions that will take many months to resolve. Welcome to the ‘new normal’.

As a result, traditional modes of operation need to evolve. On-premises IT infrastructures, secured by perimeter defences, are making way for distributed architectures comprising cloud-based services and high-speed network links.

This wave of change is already evident. More than two thirds (69%) of Australian and New Zealand organisations accelerated their Digital Transformation last year, according to an IDC survey. Businesses increased their transformation expenditure accordingly, from 45% of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) spending at the beginning of 2020 to 55% in 2021.

A high proportion of this investment is being targeted at cloud platforms, which have become a key tool for delivering new applications designed to be more customer-focused, easily accessible and rapidly upgradeable.

This, in turn, has shone a spotlight on networking. Businesses are realising the networking infrastructure now required is less like the hub-and-spoke configurations of yesteryear and more like a mesh of connections that connect remote workers with data centres and cloud resources.

The need for network resilience

To build these new resilient networks, businesses need to look beyond traditional factors such as bandwidth, contention ratios and wide-area network (WAN) topologies. Instead, they need to focus on providing robust, always-on connectivity between remote workers, on-premises resources and cloud platforms.

In many cases, this change in focus highlights the inadequacies of existing legacy networks that were designed for very different operating conditions. They might have high-speed connections between head office and hosted data centres however, when it comes to connecting remote staff, things slow down rapidly. Many are relying on variable-quality broadband connections and consumer-grade Wi-Fi equipment.

To ensure ongoing suitability for business application requirements and the ever-changing distribution of devices, it’s best to think of connectivity in terms of services. These services are developed, delivered and managed by third parties that focus on building the end-to-end connectivity that businesses require.

The role of SD-WANs

As Australian businesses come to terms with these emerging challenges, many are focusing on the role of software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs). This technology is being increasingly viewed as an enabler of network transformation and a way to significantly improve application performance for users.

By allowing network infrastructure to be monitored and managed in software, SD-WANs allow service providers to dynamically change characteristics. The allocation of bandwidth and traffic routing can be changed to reduce latency and improve overall performance.

As more businesses come to understand the benefits offered by SD-WANs, usage is expected to rapidly increase. According to IDC, Australia’s SD-WAN infrastructure market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 29.6% through to 2024. The company expects it to eventually become the primary means of connectivity within enterprises.

Delivering networks ‘As-a-Service’

The rise of SD-WAN technology is enabling the provision of networks based on service level agreements (SLAs) that guarantee a pre-agreed quality of connectivity rather than simply a set bandwidth speed. This allows businesses to more readily adapt to changing user and application requirements.

It also means businesses no longer have to worry about building networks from point to point. Instead, they can regard communications services as providing resilient IP connectivity between all their networked resources.

They also need to consider how to abstract their applications and databases from the networks on which they are running. They need to ensure that their network continues to support operations, even as technology continues to evolve.

Building a next-generation network

It’s one thing to talk about the benefits of a next-generation, SD-WAN-based corporate network, but it is something else entirely to put one into place.

There are six key steps a business needs to follow to achieve the goal of having a flexible, resilient, and scalable network infrastructure. These steps are:

  1. Evaluate existing network infrastructure:
    Undertake a thorough review of the networking equipment and services currently being used across your organisation. Consider all ongoing costs, such as capital maintenance and equipment upgrades and the skills that are required to keep things operational. Compare this with the potential reduction in business uncertainty, improved reliability and strategic flexibility that would be gained by shifting day-to-day connectivity to a third-party service provider.

  2. Pinpoint weaknesses or performance problemsMany legacy networks tend to be riddled with inefficiencies, so it is unlikely to take long to identify potential areas for improvement. Speak with network managers, end-users and technical architects to better understand what needs to be fixed and how a modern, cloud-based network architecture could help.

  3. Expand network visibility and analytics capabilities
    Building a consistent, scalable and responsive multi-cloud network can significantly improve network resilience. However, it’s also important to ensure that you have the right tools to monitor and analyse ongoing performance. This will allow you to effectively evaluate adherence to business objectives and SLAs.

  4. Address security considerations
    In this era of extensive remote working, expanding network reach, changing usage models, and new application architectures have created new security vulnerabilities that must be proactively addressed. It’s important to ensure your network incorporates robust, AI-assisted security controls that span threat detection, authentication and vulnerability scanning across your multi-cloud environment.

  5. Extend policy-based network automation
    Effective network automation is vital when building networks that are more responsive and aligned with the changing dynamics of today’s business world. Ensure you leverage automation, where possible, so that your IT team can spend less time thinking about the network and more time on improving the business.

  6. Consult a strategic technology partner
    Find an IT partner who understands contemporary multi-cloud environments and the impact they are having on network architectures. Their experience and advice will be invaluable.

Reliable and flexible networks are critical to ensuring ongoing Business Continuity amid constantly changing market conditions. By embracing SD-WAN technology and cloud-based resources, businesses can ensure they are best placed to deal with any challenges that lie ahead.

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