Intelligent networks: a software-defined future


By Andrew Robson – Software Defined Networks Lead, Interactive
Monday, 21 August, 2023

Intelligent networks: a software-defined future

A colleague recently said that like people, technology flourishes in the correct environment. No matter how sophisticated your technology and people are, they will only reach their full potential when surrounded by security and resilience.

This is especially true for managed services. Over recent years, we’ve witnessed a shift from traditional hardware-centric networks to software-defined networks, and this is revolutionising how businesses operate.

While there is a powerful drive to inject intelligence into our network technology, the convergence of technology and human expertise is paramount to enabling software-defined networks to flourish.

Technology is here to serve humanity, not define it, so how can businesses embrace a software-defined future?

The changing nature of networks

Networks have evolved significantly over the last five years. Traditional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks, once considered the gold standard for business connectivity, have given way to more agile and cost-effective SD-WAN (Software Defined Wide Area Network) solutions. SD-WAN enables organisations to manage their networks more efficiently by decoupling the network hardware from the control plane and managing it through software applications.

This change has been rapid. In 2022, 43% of enterprises were using SD-WAN, compared to just 18% three years prior. IDC predict this to grow at a compound annual growth rate of almost 30% by 2024.

If you’re not taking advantage of this seismic change in the way networks operate, you’re going to be left behind. The challenge is understanding how to leverage this change.

Optimising your optimisations

It’s important to remember that a network has the intelligence to recognise problems and address them simultaneously. This is integral to maintaining a competitive edge for any organisation. SD-WAN enables exactly that.

From prioritising critical applications to dynamically routing traffic to optimising bandwidth usage, SD-WAN helps businesses achieve improved performance and cost savings. The shift from MPLS to SD-WAN represents a transformative leap in network infrastructure, making businesses more adaptable and agile in today’s fast-paced digital environment.

With the exponential growth of connected devices and the increasing demand for bandwidth-hungry applications, IP scalability has become a pressing concern. Fortunately, SD-WAN come to the rescue by offering flexible, scalable and future-proof solutions to handle this mounting demand.

SD-WAN can enable businesses to scale their networks seamlessly and accommodate an ever increasing number of devices and data traffic. This scalability empowers businesses to embrace emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and big data analytics, without worrying about network bottlenecks.

Dynamic path selection is another essential capability brought about by SD-WAN. By intelligently choosing the best path for data transmission based on real-time conditions, businesses can ensure optimal performance and uptime for mission-critical applications.

Solving new challenges

With the rise of remote work and the global nature of businesses, the expectations for high-speed, secure and reliable remote access have increased dramatically. SD-WAN provides the necessary agility to support a distributed workforce and ensure employees can collaborate seamlessly, regardless of their location.

Moreover, cloud-based networks have become the new norm, as they offer unparalleled scalability and cost-efficiency. According to Check Point Research, up to 98% of global organisations utilise a cloud-based service as part of their daily operations. SD-WAN is well-suited to facilitate cloud adoption, as it can optimise traffic flow to and from cloud service providers, ensuring a smooth and efficient user experience.

As technology evolves, businesses must exercise caution against falling into the trap of solutionism, where expensive technology upgrades are pursued without a clear understanding of their actual benefits.

Instead, businesses should encourage the development of creative and bespoke solutions that align with their unique needs. Jumping on the software-defined bandwagon blindly can lead to suboptimal outcomes. Businesses should work with technology partners who understand their specific requirements and can craft tailored solutions that drive their success.

The power of partnership

Working with people who understand technology as well as human decision-making will put businesses at the forefront of their industry. By partnering with teams that understand the intricacies of the back end while keeping the end user experience at the forefront, businesses will have access to bespoke solutions to address their specific challenges and goals.

Managed service providers are a good example. They offer cost-effective solutions compared to maintaining an in-house network team, and bring specialised expertise. This means businesses are well positioned to leverage the potential of SD-WAN and stay ahead of competition.

Remaining solution and brand-agnostic is also a crucial aspect of a technology partnership. This approach liberates businesses from being tied to outdated and ill-fitting network architectures. By working with a technology partner that focuses on understanding the human decision-making behind technology adoption, businesses can make informed choices that align with their long-term goals.

It’s clear that the shift from hardware-centric to software-defined networks has opened the door to enhanced agility, scalability and efficiency. At the same time, we must keep the human element alive in all technological solutions, as this is when businesses will be empowered to unlock opportunities for growth and success.

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