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Wide area Ethernet can fuel digital network transformation

Wide area Ethernet might be just what the doctor ordered to help enterprises propel their digital network transformation efforts.

There has been a lot of chatter about digital transformation, or DX, and what the concept might mean to the enterprise. But I think the essence of digital network transformation can be summed up fairly cleanly.

Digital transformation is all about speed.

From a business perspective, DX means being able to adapt to market trends faster than the competition. Companies that can do that will sustain themselves as market leaders. Those that can't will fall behind, struggle to survive and possibly go out of business.

But how do businesses become "fast"? Staples may have an "Easy" button, but I've never seen a speed button businesses leaders could push to get their organizations to move more rapidly. The answer lies in infrastructure modernization. A business can't move faster unless its technology underpinnings allow it to be highly agile and to adapt to market trends more rapidly than the competition. DX is Darwinism at its finest. It's not the strongest or smartest that survive; it's the one most adaptable to change. In business, in order to propel digital network transformation, that requires agile IT.

Bad networks lead to bad experiences

Parts of IT have already. Companies are adopting the cloud at a furious rate. DevOps has moved out of the experimental phase into production. Most application developers think and act "cloud-first." ZK Research estimates that businesses spent about $12 billion 2017 on technology to make IT more agile.

However, business and IT leaders need to understand that digital network transformation requires agility up and down the IT stack. That's because the business can only be as agile as the least agile component and that today that weak link in the chain is the network.

Most of the technologies that enable DX, such as cloud computing, mobility and the internet of things (IoT), are network-centric in nature. As a result, the network plays a huge role in the success or failure of DX projects. A consumer example that's easy for everyone to understand is gauging how TV has changed. More and more people are dumping high-cost cable TV for the likes of Netflix and Hulu. However, what happens to those services if the network itself isn't upgraded? It doesn’t matter how much money the consumer pays to Netflix: A bad network leads to a bad experience.

Digital network transformation on legacy foundation won't work

The harsh reality is the most businesses are plowing forward aggressively with DX initiatives but haven't considered what needs to happen to the network to make those initiatives a success. It makes no sense to run next-generation application and compute platforms on legacy networks. That would be like upgrading the engine in a car but leaving old, worn-out tires on it.

Enter wide area Ethernet (WAE) services. WAE is a technology that has been around a long time but never gained the same level of adoption as other network services such as MPLS or consumer-type broadband services. In some ways Ethernet has always been a solution looking for a problem as its attributes didn't align cleanly with the challenges most businesses faced. Indeed, the network was considered by many to be a commodity -- the basic plumbing if you will -- where the information being transported was best-effort in nature. Because of this, network managers and procurement officers just went with what they knew, even though it was often considerably more expensive.

DX is the problem that Ethernet and WAE have been waiting for. WAE directly addresses the business problems faced by digital organizations. Here are some of the top challenges and how Ethernet addresses them:

Challenge: Increasing volumes of data
Data continues to grow at exponential rates; 90% of all data that exists today, in fact, has been created in the past two years, according to ZK Research. IoT, video, mobile services and other data will only continue to add to the glut. This means businesses must have an agile network where bandwidth can be increased on demand. Ethernet has had this capability for years; bandwidth can be added quickly as well as cost-effectively.

Challenge: Security, regulatory and compliance
There is no topic that comes up more often with business and IT leaders than cybersecurity. Every breach is magnified by the media and can cause irreparable damage to a company's reputation. The rise of consumer devices and cloud services mandates that security moves to the network. Ethernet has well-defined standards with a number of security options. Ethernet also has private network options, ensuring that data will never traverse the public internet. This can make complying with regulatory issues much easier than with other network mediums

Challenge: Reducing complexity
Advances in IT enable businesses to do so much more than they could even five years ago. However, for every Yin there is a Yang and the Yang to increased agility and dynamism is a rise in complexity. SDN, white boxes and other advancements have made operating a network much more difficult. Ethernet is widely deployed in data centers and on campus networks because it's simple to install and manage. In turn, wide-area Ethernet services extend that simplicity across the WAN to branch offices.

DX is now at the top of every IT and business leader's priority list, but success in ensuring a successful digital network transformation depends on IT modernization. This requires a new type of network—one inherently secure, scalable on demand and simple to operate. It's time for businesses to take another look at WAE.

This was last published in February 2018

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