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What SDN and the music industry have in common

Larry Dutton

Larry Dutton

Global Connectivity Strategy Manager

The changing way music has been recorded, distributed and consumed provides a useful analogy for the changes taking place in enterprise networking. First we had the LP, then the far more portable cassette tape, before moving on to the CD, with its superior quality and capacity. But the real revolution came when we moved from hardware to digital – to today’s digital music streaming services. 

This evolution took us from static, modular and hardware-dependent content to fast, flexible on-demand consumption. The real story here is about demand and delivery.  Fundamentally, music is the same as it’s always been – but how we record, distribute and consume it has evolved with technology.

Today, the underlying network infrastructure that connects us to the world is undergoing a similar transformation. With people doing more online and more businesses using cloud services, networks can no longer afford to be static and restricted. It’s time the enterprise network embraced digital the same way music has.

The big-three challenges for enterprise networks 

The traditional hardware-based network is struggling to tackle the explosion of data and applications, fast-changing security threats and new customer demands. 

But simply upgrading digital tools isn’t enough – what’s needed is a new kind of network that can meet these challenges head on. 

  1. Data and app growth
    Network traffic is growing 20 per cent each year, due to increasing demand for cloud services, video streaming and business digitalisation. Every user, app, customer and device mean more data for the network to carry. Hitting bandwidth limits is a big concern for many businesses. 

    But this isn’t just a question of increasing capacity. Networks now need to handle new types of files, and manage bandwidth so that important data is prioritised – all the while keeping the data piles secure.
  2. Evolving security risks
    Whether hackers are targeting your business apps or data directly, or through end-point devices, you’re only as safe as the network that connects them. And cyberattacks like distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) target the network directly, using bots to flood traditional networks with countless requests until systems crash and make your online services unavailable to customers.

    Today, businesses need security that’s embedded within the network and across a growing number of devices – giving them pre-emptive threat detection and protection, and secure access to the cloud
  3. Always-on services
    Advances in technology have led to customers expecting round-the-clock access to online services and digital resources. This means the network must handle traffic during and outside peak hours – so it’s vital you have visibility of what’s happening across your network, and the ability to scale up and deploy new services.

The time’s right for software-defined networking (SDN)

Adding new hardware to an already complex, costly and sluggish network isn’t the answer to meeting the challenges above.

It’s time we changed the delivery model for data – enterprise networks need to leverage software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) technologies. 

SDN automates the configuration of the network’s functionality, making the network as flexible and agile as the cloud – and as simple to use. 
And just like you can virtualise apps in the cloud, with NFV you can now virtualise network functions – so you can add new capabilities when you need them, and remove them when you don’t. 

For example, you can deploy a virtual firewall automatically if you detect a DDoS attack, then remove it once the threat is thwarted. This way, you can secure your network on an as-needed basis, rather than planning for the worst-case scenario – which reduces cost and helps optimise network performance. 

The network is vital for making digitalisation possible

A network that’s not up to the job has a big impact on productivity and growth. It’s also frustrating for people throughout the business. 

Business leaders are constrained by a network that can’t keep pace with their ambitions. 
Tech strategists are tasked with delivering new digital services – but are hampered by an inflexible network that stops them innovating. 

IT and network managers face an uphill struggle meeting the demands of the business and its customers. 

While end-users have less flexibility to work how, when and where they want – and deliver what’s expected of them.   

What’s needed – and what SDN and NFV deliver – is an enterprise network that makes a business more flexible, scalable and agile. One that can support a digital workplace, meet the data and analytics traffic demands of a smart business, and enable new solutions to be deployed faster – Gartner estimates SDN can reduce provisioning times for new applications by 80 per cent.

In short, few things are as critical for enabling digital transformation as modernising the network, because it underpins every other transformative technology. 

If the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and the cloud are the latest songs and artists all businesses want to stay ahead of the competition, they’ll need a flexible, on-demand network infrastructure to access them how they want. Or it’ll feel as smooth as trying to forward to the exact song on Side B of your Walkman.

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