The Network as a Transformational Strategic Asset

It’s hard to tell when during the last four years that enterprises starting thinking differently about their networks. It could have had something to do with enterprises expanding their global footprint, and needing reliable network connections among co-workers. It could have had something to do with the shift to the cloud, and the fact that users just want access to data; they don’t want to notice that the data is off-premises.

It could have had something to do with one or more facets of virtualization, including virtual desktop interfaces, where users could launch processing power or access data on any server where either was available. It could have had something to do with the increasing importance of business continuity, and the ability to transfer workloads anywhere to accommodate downtime, whether intentional or unintentional.

In truth, the heightened focus on the network probably had something to do with all of them. Somewhere along the way, networks stopped being tactical and started being strategic. CIOs and CEOs alike now recognize that high-performance network services are core to supporting their business strategy; that is, their ability to quickly share data internally, distribute data externally, and to collaborate globally.

A new IDG Research Services study verifies this shift in perspective on the part of enlightened enterprises, and how quickly that shift has taken place. In 2011, only 38% of IT leaders perceived their network as a strategic asset; i.e., a way to advance organizational goals and create competitive advantage. In 2015, that percentage jumped to nearly half: 49% now view the network strategically, even transformational.

Given this significant shift, how can enterprises make their network strategic? How can enterprises build on the technology they have and make their network even more transformational? One method is to apply the value of virtualization to the network itself, through the use of software-defined networks (SDN) or network function virtualization (NFV). Virtualization provides a way to bring scalability and flexibility to networks as enterprises move to add (or increase) cloud, web, and mobility access.

In addition, as enterprises evolve their expectations of the network from tactical to strategic, they need to better link the application to the network itself. By applying the concept of “class of service” to the applications, enterprises gain a clear sense of which applications require which class of service, so they can route network applications and traffic streams as dictated by their needs — whether based on the business need, the time of day, the level of security, or other ramifications.

In this new paradigm, enterprises can no longer think of networks divorced from what runs on them, nor can they apply a “set and forget” mentality. Enterprises must apply a new dynamism to how they deal with their network. When the network becomes strategic, so too must its management.