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The Evolution of Network for the Hybrid Workplace

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By Genius Wong, Chief Product and Technology Officer, Tata Communications

The last several months have significantly altered the digital transformation journey for most organisations, especially with strategising on aspects of business continuity and digitalisation, and ensuring the productivity of a remote and distributed workforce.

As organisations move forward, besides continuity and resilience, the ability to offer high-quality digital-first experiences for employees, customers, and partners will become the cornerstone for digital investments. This is increasingly a critical need; in a recent survey, only 46% of CEOs and COOs believed that their organisations were strong at offering a high-quality user experience across their value chain.

Taking this a step further, many global organisations now recognise the need to transform their conventional networks, which have been operating on a hub-and-spoke model, to now cater to emerging dynamic business requirements. Nearly half of the survey respondents stated that their firms’ productivity decreased during the crisis due to connection problems.

Here are some of the common areas that enterprises could be wrestling with, in the new hybrid world as well as the transition to deliver quality digital experiences for employees and customers.

Transitioning to Cloud First and Internet First
Traditional enterprise network architectures were neither architected for the cloud, nor were they intended to facilitate digital transformation (IDC, 2020)

In a hybrid workplace, organisations want to drive seamless consistent collaboration both internally and with customers in a secure manner across the globe. A key enabler to achieving this is to embrace a cloud-first and internet-first strategy. By taking this step, they are moving away from a distributed architecture and hub-and-spoke enterprise-grade network. As a result, their reliance on traditional enterprise networks and fixed design is no longer an impediment to operations.

However, migration to cloud and use of the internet creates two major challenges:
1) Network architecture design to enable accessibility to data and apps on cloud; and
2) Ensuring security. True, working from anywhere will include the use of the public internet to access corporate critical applications and systems.

Organisations need to ensure they can deliver secure and seamless remote access to core enterprise applications over untrusted networks and strike the right balance between ensuring security and not making access too difficult. There is also the added complexity of managing multi-internet service providers across the globe and navigating the varying geographic regulations, which can quickly become a major overhead with a global distributed workforce.

Embedding more intelligence
By the end of 2024, 75% of enterprises will shift from piloting to operationalizing AI, driving a 5x increase in streaming data and analytics infrastructures (Gartner, 2020)

The new architecture for this hybrid work environment not only needs to be agile, scalable, and flexible, but also to adopt AI and ML, for example, using AI to help with capacity planning and managing network in a more dynamic and agile fashion. AI and ML along with associated data analytics will help simplify service and network management. Using ML companies can carry out predictive and proactive management of the network by looking at data and trends to take preventive measures quickly. These will be key industry trends and will continue to evolve as we move into 2022.

Optimising and building a new hybrid network for efficiency and productivity
The pandemic has resulted in a recalibration of cloud strategies, where collaboration, mobility, and virtual desktops are rapidly moving to the cloud to enable a distributed and secure workforce (Gartner, 2021)

This new network architecture, embracing internet, cloud, and intelligence, will need to support both the new digital business model and the new hybrid work environment. Solutions need to reduce cost but also provide consistent user performance, a uniform Service-level agreement (SLA), and complete visibility. One example of a use case is that of a global bank looking to achieve superior site-to-site communications and accelerate cloud adoption.

To enable this they need to adopt a strategy that provides internet connections to all its different branches across India from a public cloud provider. This would help it not only reduce cost but also optimise performance. Similarly, with a pharmaceutical company that is perhaps migrating its global network from Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) to a hybrid environment – combining both MPLS and internet would help it achieve cost savings and provide a ‘single pane of glass’, giving greater visibility and control across all networks. In each of these scenarios, these businesses save money as well as gain a flexible network, required for a productive hybrid workplace.

Building an agile network architecture
By 2022, SD-WAN will be adopted by 67% of organisations (IDC, 2020)

In a hybrid world, the key is to find the right balance of connectivity between the office and your remote workers. To do this you need to examine:

– Where the traffic comes from and how to redirect it such that the access gateways are not congested
– How much data should be on the internet
– How much can be ‘burstable’ and how much can be stopped? For example, one country could be in the midst of a lockdown while another country could be seeing workers going back to the office
– Ultimately, how you can dynamically sense and shift traffic around

To address this, you need an agnostic network that deploys quickly to meet dynamic business needs. Software-defined networking (SD-WAN) is part of the solution; for example, a new site can be provisioned remotely. In addition, there is also a need for on-demand solutions, especially with connectivity to a major data center and cloud provider. The panacea is to essentially be able to select the kind of connectivity capacity you need by time, by day, and for how long you need it – all under the customer’s control.

Protecting your business from the new risks that are exposed in this new model
Corporate, guest, trusted, and untrusted devices all pose a risk to the enterprise if I&O leaders do not properly coordinate when and how they will be connected. (Gartner, 2021)

Security is key in enabling a hybrid workplace, moving from a perimeter-based security model with IP addresses and locations to an adaptive access-policy approach using integrated identity endpoint management and security tools. This approach allows enterprises to evaluate the risk based on user identity and device trust. It’s about enabling a continuous complete risk assessment of the endpoints or unified endpoint management.

Finally, true agility will be network on demand; dynamically moving connectivity up and down with an assured SLA. Using AI and ML, this provisioning could be automated – the activation and downgrading capacity all taken care of without human intervention.

To conclude, no longer are the internal network and external network two separate worlds. Enterprises need an integrated policy across both, which means they can start to deploy new technology and reap rewards. It’s time to create a truly dynamic network for an unpredictable hybrid world.


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