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Why fluid business conditions require liquid networks

Modern organisations need to respond to changing market conditions at a moment’s notice. New competitors, demanding customers, and global crises all require a level of agility that was unheard of in business even a decade ago. Having the capability to react quickly can mean the difference between capturing opportunities or facing increasing obsolescence.

So, who wants to be the network rep who has to tell their business colleagues that their great ideas for expansion will have to wait because the network isn't up for it? Or that they can't provision customers, partners, or employees with the bandwidth they need at the time they need it?

No one wants to be that person, but a lot of folk will be, for the very simple reason that that the evolution of networks has not kept up with the evolution of business.

Now there are some very solid historical reasons for that.

For starters, network requirements used to be a lot simpler. People worked mostly in centralised locations and accessed applications and data infrastructure that was located on site. When wide area links were used, they were there to mostly connect satellite offices, and bandwidth requirements were low and steady.

Fast forward to today, and that same organisation has probably outsourced its data centre to a third-party off-site provider, put some other applications into the public cloud, and signed on for a bunch of SaaS-based services.

It also probably finds itself having to cater to large cohort of road warriors who rarely visit the office, and thanks to COVID-19, that group has probably ballooned to include most of the staff.

Even before COVID, we saw the network needs of organisations changing quickly – especially their need to implement new sites quickly and scale up or scale down bandwidth with ease to flex with demands and avoid the costs of over-provisioning.

For a while it looked like IP-VPN technology using MPLS would be the solution here, taking over from higher-cost, fixed leased line services. While IP-VPN offers much greater flexibility, today we find that clients demand even greater levels of agility when it comes to how quickly connections can be reconfigured.

What is really needed is a method of managing networks that is suited to the cloud era, where administrators can see the performance of their entire environment and manage it from a single interface, with changes implemented in real time.

At Optus, we call this Liquid Infrastructure, which is our way of describing an entirely software-defined approach to network infrastructure management.

The benefits of this approach are plentiful. For starters, by moving the network management layer into a so-called single-pane-of-glass, administrators can now see the entirety of their architecture from one location (or technically from any location, as there is no longer the need to be in a physical NOC). Network utilisation can be monitored in near real time and connection types can be changed out as required, with bandwidth allocations dialled up or down on demand. 

This leads to a lower cost to serve, as bandwidth and links can be commissioned at a moment's notice, and there is no longer any need to over-provision for rare peak workloads. The business can finally have the flexibility it craves, as new end points can be quickly provisioned without anyone needing to go on site.

Furthermore, the flexibility introduced through the implementation of Liquid infrastructure brings much flexibility also in contractual terms. Organisations no longer need to over-commit in terms of capacity requirements when signing multiyear contracts, as they are now able to select the appropriate bandwidth to meet current needs and then increase their commitment over time as demands grow. This allows them to cater for spikes in network traffic as they occur, rather than over-provisioning the network in anticipation of peak events. They can also reduce their expenditure should demand on specific links decrease over time.

In addition to greater cost control, both users and the organisation's customers are likely to enjoy a much better experience as the result of implementing Liquid Infrastructure, thanks again to the ability to increase bandwidth as needed to cater for peak usage. This leads to better productivity for employees who are no longer waiting on unresponsive applications, and similarly, customers are less likely to be caught up in the same bottlenecks.

Over time, network managers will also gain far greater insights into network utilisation and traffic patterns, enabling them to make better decisions regarding optimal network configurations that balance the need for cost control with the desire to provide the best possible experience.

Building a business case for this kind of transformation starts with understanding what is happening in the business itself, how this is served (or not) by current network performance, and then assessing the gaps. Some re-engineering at the core may be required, such as the network termination units needing to be swapped out for more modern controllers.

Liquid Infrastructure is enabled from the networks core through to the customer edge via the deployment of SDN ready devices that can deliver the programmable infrastructure. These devices deliver the connectivity, security and analytics services needed to feed the centralised single pane of glass and ensure full control over even the most remote parts of the network. 

When fully realised, Liquid Infrastructure delivers both better cost efficiency and greater business agility. Your customers and employees can all have the network performance they demand, new sites can be commissioned quickly, and administrators need only pay for what they need.

But ultimately, it means the network is a stronger enabler of business transformation, and no longer puts a stranglehold on the business' ambitions.

For more information about Optus Liquid Infrastructure, click here