A business’s ability to serve customers is only as strong as its network, which must be optimized for performance, availability and security, experts noted this week in several sessions at CDW’s latest Tech Talk.
Whenever a shopper or client needs assistance, the network has to be ready. And teams who increasingly rely on mobile devices and remote work arrangements to get the job done, sometimes at atypical hours, demand the same.
As billions of Internet of Things devices generate vast pools of valuable business data and companies continue to support teams from afar, new and important challenges are placed on IT teams tasked with supporting network infrastructure.
But strategic planning can pay off, both during COVID-19 and in a post-pandemic world where workplace and consumer habits will be forever changed.
“Determining the right network architecture and the right network technology will help you deal with today’s challenges but also set you up for success in the future,” said Patrick LaPorte, senior director of portfolio and solutions marketing for Aruba Networks.
He cited an Aruba report released in August, which found that 3 in 4 businesses are facing a moderate to significant impact to their employees, and that more than one-third of IT decision-makers plan to increase investments in cloud- and AI-based networking.
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Top Qualities of a Strong, Secure Network
Regardless of a network’s size or scope, several key characteristics can help a business weather the storm system consisting of the pandemic, global cyberthreats and competition from other businesses.
In his Wednesday session, “The Network Effect: Five Must-Have Networking Attributes for Navigating Today’s Disruption,” LaPorte shared insights on each one.
The first step: Reduce silos among network tools to increase visibility and boost response that can better target (or avoid) problematic incidents. Network architecture that unifies domains — bringing critical information and services under one umbrella — can “reduce your time to value and reduce your time to resolution,” LaPorte said.
Second, the rise of IoT tools and related threats underscores the importance of a zero-trust policy to make sure devices on the network are used by the right people and for the right purpose. “Trust nothing by default — and then, once you verify that, verify it continuously,” LaPorte said.
Growing complexities of networks and the intelligent yet vulnerable tools that use them, meanwhile, are putting an emphasis on the value of artificial intelligence to lighten the load on humans who perform network security duties (about half of network operations remain manual, LaPorte noted).
“AI is the area that’s going to have the biggest impact on the industry and managing your network,” LaPorte said, adding that industry advancements are impressive but that businesses must seek out vendors with a proven track record and products that incorporate “a tremendous volume and variety of data.”
Another important factor when choosing network technology is the ability to outsource and scale based on need. Look for tools that offer Software as a Service and Network as a Service offerings that can be consumed via subscription models, LaPorte said. Work with a trusted vendor that can offer flexible financing options during a time of uncertainty.
Finally, he said, focus on cloud-native solutions with an “edge-to-cloud mindset” that takes into account how — and where — data is generated: “You need to provide compute storage and networking resources at the place where this data is being generated so you can act on it in real time.”
Other Network Challenges for Businesses to Consider
The more secure an environment needs to be, however, the more complex the design becomes.
Traditionally, this complexity rears its ugly head when it comes to customer experience, but new technologies and approaches are striking a balance, said Chris McCain, director of networking and security at VMware, in a CDW Tech Talk on Tuesday.
The goal: “to find the right technologies that are going to allow us to get the highest level of availability and the highest level of security without making it so difficult to manage.”
McCain, who led a session titled “The Secret Behind Designing Strong Security without Compromising on Customer Experience,” spoke about the challenge.
Network and web application firewalls, network segmentation and endpoint protection are critical solutions for businesses — not only to understand what’s happening on their networks but to maintain continuity of services by reducing downtime or slow response due to a breach.
Businesses may consider a network virtualization and security platform for better manageability without sacrificing the service customers and employees demand. The ability to scale also ensures a plan can be changed to handle whatever comes next.
Said McCain: “Don’t just think about today. Think about six months from now, think about 12 months from now: How is my architecture going to change?”