Security, energy efficiency 'hidden' challenges in network

IT productivity, security and energy efficiency presenting "invisible" challenges to enterprise networks which companies will need to address, says Cisco exec.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Changing user behavior and enterprise environments have created "invisible" challenges associated with security, IT productivity and energy efficiency for the corporate network, according to an executive from Cisco Systems.

Speaking to the media here Tuesday at an event for its partners in Asia-Pacific including Japan and Greater China, Cisco's vice president of worldwide borderless network architecture, Ross Fowler, said security in the past was simpler to manage as employees only accessed information in the company's data center from the desktop terminal in the office. Thus, organizations only needed to deploy security measures such as firewall to protect corporate data.

However, with today's sophisticated security threats such as advanced persistent threats, it is no longer enough to "keep bad guys out with the old strategy", noted Fowler.

In the event that cybercriminals gain access to an organization's network, it needs to know when the intruders entered, which parts of the system the intruders had penetrated and what data was accessed, he said. It also has to make sure that nothing was taken in the intrusion, he said, adding that herein lies the responsibility of the network.

According to Fowler, stagnant IT budgets also present another challenge especially amid the growing number of devices and applications used within the company. Here, the introduction of network management and automation tools can help ease the administrator's job, he said.

The network can also play a role in increasing energy efficiency, he noted. Aside from energy-efficient network switches, which only constitute a "miniature" portion of an organization's energy use, the Cisco executive said the network can play a bigger role in reducing a company's overall energy cost.

He explained that networks can be tapped to monitor connected-devices, switching these off or putting the devices to sleep when they are not in use.

Aside from reducing energy costs, such networking tools can also allow companies to apply for green rebates offered by governments, he added, pointing to a German customer which discovered that savings it gained from adopting energy-efficient networks overrode the cost of its network refresh.

Visible challenges for network
Aside from these "invisible" challenges for organizations, Fowler also highlighted mobility, cloud and virtualization as well as immersive collaboration as "visible" challenges associated with a network infrastructure.

He added that increasing mobility and the consumerization of IT have resulted in more end-points accessing the corporate network, including devices that connect without the IT department's permission. Citing various studies, he said 13 billion devices connect to the network today and this number is projected to grow to 50 billion by 2020.

Edzard Overbeek, Cisco's president for the Asia-Pacific, Japan and Greater China, said many mobile devices in the market do not include network connection ports, relying instead on wireless technologies such as 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi.

This underscores the need for enterprises to beef up their network support and ensure these wireless connections can be sufficiently supported, he said.

A keynote speaker at the partner event, Overbeek also noted that the emergence of cloud and virtualization will transform the traditional client-server setup to become an "everything-as-a-service" model.

Fowler added that cloud and virtualization have changed the way the corporate network delivers applications. In the past, enterprise data centers handled a limited number of applications, he said, noting that with cloud and virtualization, the variety of applications it supports has now increased.

Another challenge associated with enterprise networks is immersive collaboration, where video communication is delivered in a way that replicates a face-to-face conversation "as close as possible", said Fowler.

Such video content will need to be delivered not just to a few end-points but a variety of user devices, he said, noting that by 2015, two-third of the world's mobile traffic will be video-based.

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