Enterprises rely heavily on the network and the ability to seamlessly move information across it. On the one hand, networks have to remain open and accessible for partners because of this. On the other hand, it is unfortunately also the network that presents the most threats through both targeted and non-targeted attacks. For these reasons, enterprises have kept investing in security technology despite the very low economic growth. IDC surveys show that security remains the number one reason to upgrade network equipment.
The following considerations remain important in this respect:
* The increasing reliance on the Internet as the computing platform makes enterprises vulnerable to attacks through the net.
* The need to protect transactions and credit card payments. With e-commerce rapidly growing, transactions and payments need to be secure.
* The increasing adoption of data-intensive applications, not only within the enterprise boundaries, but also to automate processes with partners and suppliers, makes companies more vulnerable to attacks that can have severe consequences for partners and customers.
* The emergence of mobile solutions to increase efficiency should at the same time be coupled with security implementations that allow for secure mobility.
* The need to protect sensitive data and respect data privacy/regulation. Local and European governments put rules and regulations in place that make companies accountable for privacy breaches. However, if compliance leads to the deployment of IT solutions that at the same time allow an organisation to enhance productivity, reduce costs, and enable the delivery of new products or services, then compliance is not seen only as a burden.
In order to maintain the benefits of instant communications with employees, partners, and customers, and also to minimise security risks, the network has to make sure that devices and users are 'clean' and authenticated, access is restricted only to those resources that the user is authorised to see, traffic coming from an authenticated device is authorised, policies are enforced network-wide, and unauthorised users and viruses are prevented from damaging the network. Of course, network performance should not be affected while securing the network.
The more efficient the network is the more productive you are. You lose competitive advantage if you are too slow. A network needs to touch all the employees to make applications available across the business but it also needs to be up and running 100% of the time. By their nature, networks are commonly distributed across sites, PCs, and servers and can depend on other devices as well. Availability thus becomes an even more critical and complex issue on networks. A network that is built for business should therefore have high availability systems that typically include redundant hardware (eg, power supplies) and intelligent software (eg, load balancing and failover functionality). In addition, proactive network management software will alert you to network problems that might occur in the near future and will provide you with the tools to prevent them. Also, network resilience, which is the capability of the network to continue to function in the case of unexpected problems, is an important characteristic of a high availability network. For instance, the capability to intelligently reroute network traffic, avoiding unresponsive network segments, is a key feature here.
Global competition has forced enterprises to be increasingly spread out. Many companies also enjoy a growing mobile workforce, such as executives travelling around the world, salespeople operating in the field, and telecommuters working from home. The lines between home and workplace, occupation and recreation, time zones and international borders are fading. In addition, a company's partners and customers are subject to the same trend. Business executives most likely do not realise that in such a distributed environment the concept of improving operational excellence and application availability changes dramatically.
One of the areas where mobility solutions are increasingly being deployed is in the office and in warehouse and factory environments.
The benefits of deploying wireless LAN technology revolve around employee productivity gains for always-connected users, enhanced user experience, rapid deployment of new networks, and increased business flexibility. There are, however, challenges associated with the use of this technology. Budgets are limited and the skills to deploy wireless LANs effectively and securely are often not available. An important characteristic of a business-ready wireless LAN solution therefore is the availability of simple to use and automated installation and maintenance tools. Time consuming tasks such as installation, configuration, channel selection, device discovery, and power adjustments can be automated that way.
Selecting networks for business
Enterprises want to be focused on the business rather than on technology. When looking for networking solutions they should therefore look for suppliers that can help support their limited IT operations and abate their lack of resources in time, money, and trained personnel, leaving them to focus on their core activities. The first decision you need to make in a selection process is whether to build and run the network yourself or whether to outsource it. Also you need to think about the return of your investment and the total cost of ownership. Many solutions on the market are expensive and require extensive integration and deployment. These solutions work well for large enterprises with large IT organisations and the necessary resources, but they are not generally appropriate for other enterprises. Feature selection and analysis should centre on the business requirements and resource limitations of the IT staff. Match your needs with products that are easy to use and deploy to lower your network TCO.
Do it yourself (DIY)
If you have the IT resources and expertise it can be cost effective to implement and select a network yourself, of course with the help of a local partner that understands your business needs. To achieve maximum benefits you need to select technology that is easy to use, and provides immediate and clear benefits. The following vendor and product selection criteria are important in this process and are invariably mentioned by all customers that IDC talks to:
* Quality - This remains selection criteria number one for the vast majority of customers. The product needs to do what it says it will do on the box, no compromises. For businesses with a large IT staff, the availability of many features and functionalities will define quality. If limited IT staff are available, however, one should look for enterprise quality coupled with ease of use and manageability rather than just feature function. This has the associated benefits of lower deployment costs.
* Reliability - Also consistently mentioned in the top three selection criteria. Especially important in network technology that connects employees, partners, and customers.
* Cost - Another one of the top three and perhaps the ultimate decision maker. For when quality and reliability are comparable, it is through comparing the cost - and there are several ways of doing this, as explained in the section on ROI and TCO - that a final decision is reached. Look for a product that will meet your business and technical requirements at the lowest cost.
* Service - This goes hand in hand with quality, reliability, and cost. A quality product for a good price but with prohibitively expensive annual service and warranty cost should be identified in the cost comparisons.
* Product portfolio - Vendors with a comprehensive portfolio can deliver choice and compatibility. With networks becoming more like systems and less dependent on single products, a wide selection of LAN switches, routers, wireless LAN, security, voice, etc, is important.
* Industry standards - It is important to preserve your investments in network technology and to use industry standard products. For instance, the usage of Ethernet across the company simplifies management and maintenance and training. Previous investments in Ethernet can be preserved when migrating to Gigabit and 10-Gigabit.
* Geographic proximity - One of the things that is consistently mentioned by IT managers and directors is the value they place on working with a supplier or supplier partner that is close to them. This means close in terms of geographic proximity, but it implies also closeness in terms of understanding culture and local business issues.
* Features and functions - Focus on the key features and functions that you need, not the ones you are never going to use. Analyse the level of automation and manual time that is necessary to deploy, operate, and maintain the product.
* Ease of use, implementation, and management. Businesses have a need to deploy services faster while lowering the cost of delivery of these services. Test drive the solution prior to purchase to confirm that the architecture and support needs do not overtax your users and IT staff.
If you do not have the resources and expertise you might want to opt for managed services or outsourcing of the network. The benefits of this approach are the following:
* Predictable operational expenditures instead of capital expenditures.
* No need to maintain expensive IT resources or expertise.
* The ability to lower administrative and maintenance costs.
There are many middle roads available between a DIY or fully outsourced solution. For instance, remote network management, managed services, or hosted networks and applications are some of the available flavours. It all depends on balancing technology and business decisions.
ROI and TCO
In addition to quality and reliability, cost is also in the top three buying decision criteria. As mentioned above, if quality and reliability are comparable, it is through comparing costs that decisions will be made. It is important to look at two key cost metrics when evaluating network products and solutions:
* Total cost of ownership (TCO).
* Return on investment (ROI).
What are these two metrics and when are they appropriate? TCO calculates the total capital and operating costs to deploy a technology within a given timeframe. ROI is a comparison of incremental benefits versus incremental costs. TCO is appropriate for comparing options of equal benefit and low differentiation. It can be used to manage a total cost picture. ROI is appropriate for choosing among investment alternatives. It can be used to manage and maximise overall incremental benefits.
For instance, when a wireless LAN solution is installed, a comparison can be made between different vendors on the basis of how much it will cost to buy, operate, and maintain the wireless LAN network. However, before this TCO analysis is done, one should analyse the incremental business benefit of the wireless LAN installation. For instance, employee productivity might rise, which can be measured as a benefit. The cost of the wireless LAN investment can then be offset against the gains in business productivity.
Networking and Internet have changed the way we do business. As a result global competition is forcing companies to do more with less. Networking technology can improve your operational excellence and hence your competitiveness. Improving your network is not just about technology but also about maximising employee productivity, increasing application availability, improving business continuity, and reducing costs.
Your business partners expect you to operate efficiently, react more quickly, and anticipate customer demand better. Today you can get the technology capabilities that large enterprises have - your customers know you can. Gigabit Ethernet, Layer-3 switching, wireless LAN, and network security solutions and technologies can help you compete better and more efficiently. Executives should consider both the technical and staffing costs associated with running a network. Hiring the right experts and affording their services requires time and resources that many enterprises may not have. These challenges underscore the need for a product with an intuitive GUI that is easy to use and cost-effective. Buying a product that is difficult to use and requires extensive training fails to provide the value that enterprises need and can actually increase the cost of network ownership.
For more information contact D-Link Africa, 08600 DLINK (35465), www.d-link.co.za