Can the hybrid network deliver user-centric computing?

Cloud computing has brought with it a new style of IT: one that offers enormous business benefits in terms of cost saving, innovation and revenue generation. But perhaps most fundamentally, for the first time it puts the user center stage.

This shift has meant that today’s computing is fast moving towards a ‘user-centric’ worldview. The IT department is no longer the supplier of IT services, rather primarily a broker or advisor. In so doing, it needs to adapt to how the user works and not vice versa.

The cloud is also changing the way applications and services are delivered and consumed. Users are no longer happy with the one-solution-fits-all approach. They demand choice, speed and above all, flexibility to fit in with their work routine – be it from the desktop, mobile or cloud.

Significant challenges

Never before have such hefty demands been put on CIOs and IT infrastructure to ensure employee productivity. Users are increasingly mobile and demand more options for where and how they work. They want to collaborate and communicate easily and efficiently in real time, with security becoming inherent in the user experience. At the same time, IT is being re-positioned at the very core of business, supporting new opportunities and associated revenue streams.  

So-called ‘user-centric’ cloud computing provides fast, transparent and secure delivery of application and services to any endpoint, regardless of the location. It provides users with device and access flexibility, availability and continuity – and above all end-user freedom.

Without a positive user experience and an acceptable level of network performance, user negativity takes over, which has a knock on effect on business productivity and efficiency. But how do enterprise’s make sure users are getting the best from their applications?

Know your user

Despite business transformation, there is sometimes a disjoint in enterprises between managing network performance and delivering applications to enable new ways of working. Without a clear understanding of what users require, it is impossible to get the best performance out of the IT infrastructure.

By listening to the user, IT departments can identify the best way to manage the infrastructure of the IT estate. What type of applications does the user need access to? How complex are they? How and where will the data be accessed? These are all key questions that need to be answered.  

Collaboration tools, for example, require a higher bandwidth if voice and video traffic are to be added. This intelligence is critical in choosing the right network and performance optimization tools.

IT trends are stressing networks

Major advances in IT that are fast catching the attention of CIOs, such as software as a service (SaaS), private clouds and bring your own device (BYOD), increased mobility and data/voice convergence are putting pressure on enterprise WAN and stressing the capacity of the links.

In a user-centric world, enterprises require improved security, low latency, high reliability and support for any device in any location, whose services are critical to the success of digital transformation programs.

Software defined networking (SDN), combined with network function virtualization (NFV), is bringing an unprecedented level of digital control to global IT networks. It eliminates the expense of upgrading individual links, allowing for application and traffic prioritization, while enhancing provisioning and security.

Destressing your IT team

SDN/NFV can not only take the burden off your WAN, but it can also take the weight off your IT teams by making network-on-demand services possible with one-click ordering via a self-service portal or through instant provisioning.

IDC is forecasting strong growth for software-defined WAN as enterprises seek to optimize their cloud strategies. The market research company estimates that that worldwide SD-WAN revenues will exceed $6 billion in 2020 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 90% over the 2015-2020 forecast period.

“As public and private cloud use continues to grow, WAN performance becomes critical to latency-sensitive and mission-critical workloads and inter-datacenter business continuity,” said Rohit Mehra, Vice President, Network Infrastructure at IDC. “Accordingly, as enterprises plan and implement comprehensive cloud strategies, WAN architectures need to be considered alongside, and in conjunction with, datacenter infrastructure. Moreover, as enterprises move business processes to the cloud, there is a greater need to fully integrate cloud-sourced services into WAN environments to ensure application workload performance, availability, and security.”

SDN rejects proprietary hardware for an open, programmable global network that can be centrally managed. With NFV, features such as firewall/proxy and acceleration, can be virtualized and delivered directly from the network, allowing for zero touch provisioning when further functionality is necessary.

Security and routing policies can automatically readjust if there are security threats or data traffic congestions, for example. The SDN controller provides a central point of control to distribute security and policy information consistently throughout the enterprise, enabling SDN to be used to manage security throughout the enterprise.

As well as being able to improve network visibility, performance and management control, SDN/NFV makes it easier for IT departments to deploy innovative services, such as real-time HD video conferencing.

A window on the IT landscape

In order to deliver successful user-centric computing, IT departments need to be able to visualize their entire IT estate so that they can dynamically allocate resources on demand and scale up and down according to requirements.

Today’s users want to take their cloud with them, wherever they go. Previously IT started with the technology and worked its way around to the user, now it is a case of thinking in reverse. The user and usability come first in the cloud.

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Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.