net.work

The Way Business Is Moving

net.work published by
Issue Date: July 2002

Cutting the cloth: Meeting today's business goals within a constrained network budget

July 2002
Wolfgang Held: network consultant, 3COM SA

Against the backdrop of ever-increasing demands for better quality user experiences and constrained IT budgets, how can companies keep their network infrastructures in tune with today’s goals of the e-enabled business?

The next 12 to 18 months are set to produce perhaps the biggest revolution in corporate networks of the decade. The Internet, which has come to have a significant influence over business communications, has brought many advantages, but it has also placed a tremendous strain on corporate networks.
They have become more vulnerable to security risk and have struggled to deliver performance (speed) to the broad community of users as a result of the centralisation of data and applications.
Burdened by huge silos of information, clogged up with network traffic, in demand from customers and partners, as well as employees, constrained by insufficient bandwidth and brimming with complexity, networks have reached - or are on the verge of reaching - a crunch point.
To address these challenges, organisations will increasingly move towards network architectures that will push intelligence to the edge of the network, where the users are found.
Users will no longer have to compete for the same bandwidth to pull information from the centre.
Businesses will be able to model the performance of their network according to the needs and importance of individuals or groups of users, enabling a consistent and quality experience, regardless of location or connecting device.
User productivity is increased and the efficiency of business processes stands to improve immeasurably.
Wolfgang Held: network consultant, 3COM SA
Wolfgang Held: network consultant, 3COM SA
User-centric networks
User-centric networks are the networks that IT managers have been waiting for. Resolving many of the frustrations of network management today, they deliver the features and performance that network users demand.
In particular, user-centric networks are enabling significant improvements to user mobility, information access and communications - and these are the features that will really make a difference.
The efficiency and productivity of employees often depends on how readily they can query business critical information to check product catalogues, place orders and respond to customer queries.
New technology is emerging that will enable employees to access the network from any location and virtually any device.
For example, salespeople will be able to access product price lists or get the latest updates for an important customer presentation from their laptop devices while waiting to catch an aeroplane.
Equally, companies will be able to equip their production and operations managers with handheld computers, allowing them to access the network to check stock or materials requirements while wandering around the factory floor. This saves valuable time and improves the overall efficiency of supply chain and operational processes.
With increased mobility comes the need to repackage the content available on the Internet and in the corporate network, so that it is appropriate for the location and access device of the user.
A whole multicolour page from the Internet is no use to an employee accessing the Web from a mobile phone. Instead, the same valuable content - the airline departure schedule, the customer list, and the price guide - needs to be condensed to a size appropriate for a small screen and mobile technology.
The innovations that are enabling this repackaging of content are about to hit the market place, improving the functionality available to mobile users of the corporate network. Communications between mobile employees, their colleagues, partners and customers can also be improved through greater use of integrated voice, video and data technologies.
Sophisticated
Sophisticated new solutions provide the ability for users to pick up e-mail messages from a mobile phone and collect faxes and respond to voicemails via e-mail.
Users at different locations can also work simultaneously on shared applications and documents. Two employees on different sides of the Atlantic could, for example, see and hear each other via small Web cams in the corners of their PCs, while both viewing and making edits to the same presentation. Travel budgets are saved, with no compromise in community or productivity.
Impact on business
Providing this richer functionality to users will have a considerable impact on a business. It will improve the quality and security of interactions between employees, partners and customers and encourage closer customer intimacy.
Employees will be more productive and the advanced use of networking technology will give the business a competitive edge, catapulting it to the forefront of its industry.
First step
Delivering such rich connectivity for more users and new services is often a technical nightmare. It is easy to say that IT managers should simply seek out those networking solutions that take away complexity.
However, the key to implementing new solutions and reducing costs is to be found in the level of automation possible. The higher the level of automation, the lower the total cost of ownership.
Standard configuration and integration tasks traditionally absorb significant amounts of time and resources. For example, network management software that performs critical tasks such as server load balancing and Web caching will allow scarce IT skills to be more profitably deployed.
Secondly, standards-based products should be de rigueur within the infrastructure, eliminating human resource intensive interoperability issues.
Example
Based in Honolulu, the Hawaii Department of Education is an example of a company that has benefited from this strategy.
Utilising over 30 000 networked workstations and 1000 servers, the facility procures, deploys and manages LAN equipment for over 184 000 students, 14 000 teachers and staff throughout 261 schools.
At its last network upgrade the institution selected 'intelligent' switches that self configure and facilitate remote monitoring and management. This move alone reduced labour-intensive activities by 30 to 40%.
Looking to the future, the switches selected have a modular upgrade path to gigabit speeds, ensuring scalability of the network to meet needs and budget dictates.
Pay as you grow
Minimising up-front investments is central to a low-budget approach to a network upgrade.
Pay-as-you-grow strategies linked to scalable deployments combine the right capabilities at lower acquisition cost, provided the products can easily be built upon.
If a company, for example, has an always-on leased line connection to the Internet, it might purchase a firewall product to protect against unauthorised access and filter out undesirable websites.
However, at a later stage, it could use the same firewall to provide virtual private network (VPN) connections for home workers and maybe purchase a software upgrade to disallow Internet access to employees that do not have the latest virus scanning software installed.
In another example, a school might purchase a cache to reduce wide area network (WAN) costs and improve Web performance for students. Later a simple software upgrade would enable it to broadly distribute teaching materials, reducing the cost of developing curriculum material.
Business aspirations
In an environment of constrained capital and resources, such pay-as-you-grow networking strategies offer the most realistic solutions.
IT managers can quickly and easily implement the emerging new solutions that will deliver a richer user experience and improved productivity and efficiency, while at the same time providing a scalable IT infrastructure that will allow the company to advance its business aspirations.


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