Published/updated: December 2015
By Dale Vile
No one needs telling that the pressure on their network infrastructure is growing. In fact those participating in a recent Freeform Dynamics research study were all too aware of the escalating challenges. Whether itís mobile working, cloud adoption, digital customer engagement, more diverse branch networking requirements, or simply the hunger for more capacity, performance, reliability and security within the business, we are told that things are going to get messy if they continue on their current trajectory (Figure 1).
Click on chart to enlarge
The fundamental problem is that investment in networks is too often not keeping pace with the growth in demand. But if IT professionals have such clear visibility of the problems that lie ahead, why donít they just put in a request for the funding and resource required to get themselves onto a firmer footing?
Well there are a couple of issues that stand in the way of progress, and they are both linked.
Firstly, when faced with more complex and extreme problems to solve within the network, a frequent assumption is that these are best tackled with specialist equipment. In the research, for example, we picked up a strong preference for Ďbest of breedí over multi-function devices. When you start thinking like this, the prospect of taking on board the capital costs and additional integration and management overhead can easily become daunting.
This leads us to the second issue - lack of management air cover. A message that comes through loudly and clearly is that senior budget holders are frequently unaware of the gap thatís opening up between evolving business needs and the ability of the network to meet them. While the risks are obvious to technical staff, business execs are often reported to just not get it. To be fair, when you are running a business, a discussion of the companyís communications infrastructure is probably as interesting as talking about the plumbing Ė you just want people to take care of it. Sadly, when these two factors are put together, many IT pros end up lowering their sights. While they would love to acquire the latest specialist kit, along with the resources and skills to run and implement it, they just canít make the business case (Figure 2).
Click on chart to enlarge
As a result of this, IT teams end up lurching from quick fix to quick fix, and over time the network and tooling used to run it becomes even more fragmented and disjointed.
The reality, of course, is that strengthening the infrastructure so itís better able to deal with whatís likely to be thrown at it over the next few years need not be as complex or expensive as is frequently assumed. While we must be careful not to trivialise and over-generalise, the truth is that many of the functions hitherto only available in high end, specialist kit have become available as Ďfeaturesí embedded in multi-function devices.
Solutions such as application delivery controllers (ADCs) and unified threat management (UTM) boxes are now extremely capable, to the point where their core functionality is on a par with best of breed options. While you may not get all of the fine-grain tuning options, most customers never do much with these anyway, so to all intents and purposes ADCs, UTMs, and other general-purpose offerings donít represent the compromise they arguably did not so long ago. Whether its performance optimisation or better security, they get the job done just as well in most environments. The additional cost and hassle of best of breed solutions need only be incurred in exceptional circumstances.
The call to action here is for channel partners to bring IT staff in their customer and prospect bases up to speed on some of the advances that have taken place over the last few years. In fact, if you take some of the pain points highlighted in the research, these can easily be used as hooks for account development calls and new business campaigns, particularly if you align product/service packages to the specific concerns that are clearly front-of-mind.
However, an important ingredient in outreach activity is assistance with the internal sell. This could be in the form of assessment and planning tools, business case templates and coaching, or simply material/arguments to help engage business execs in terms they will understand and appreciate. In many ways, this is about bridging the gap between business trends and objectives, and the practical realities of keeping the organisation properly and safely connected. One of the obvious points to make is that money will be spent on additional network capacity, performance and security measures at some point anyway as most organisations will not have the luxury of doing nothing. Better to invest proactively rather than reactively, as the ROI will be greater, and the companyís risk posture improved.
We wonít pretend this will be easy, as spend on infrastructure is always hard to justify because itís difficult to link it with specific business initiatives. But driving campaigns around strengthening the network are worthwhile, even if the prospect doesnít respond immediately. The one thing for sure is that something will break or get uncomfortably close to its limits at some point in the future, whether in the area of performance or security, and when this happens, thereís a chance theyíll remember that you told them so, and give you a call.
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