Enterprises embarking on the complex and error-prone process known as digital transformation are finding that networking is the most difficult piece of legacy infrastructure to transform. Not only was it the last hardware-centric component to go virtual, but it also requires a highly coordinated plan to upgrade key network components without affecting critical functions.
The fact remains that there can be no digital business model without a flexible network architecture. And many organizations are forging ahead with only a scant idea of how the network should change.
One of the fundamental aspects of network transformation is the way in which data itself is evolving, says Joan Wrabetz, vice president of strategic marketing for Western Digital’s Datacenter Systems unit. In the old days, data was mostly transactional and came from internal sources such as ERP and CRM solutions. In the new world, most data will be unstructured and will come from a variety of sources, including the cloud and the rising legions of customer devices. This means networks will have to become increasingly fast. They must dynamically support both broadband and narrowband connectivity and extend far beyond the data center or even the cloud provider, all while accommodating increasingly bursty workloads.
This is expected to create a multibillion dollar global network transformation market by the next decade. Research and Markets estimates that demand for digital-facing systems, solutions and services will climb more than ten-fold from today’s $6 billion to nearly $67 billion by 2022, representing compound annual growth on the order of 62 percent. Much of this will be driven by increased deployment of IT as a service offerings and a growing dependence on virtual infrastructure. It will also lead to greater collaboration between network vendors and providers in order to craft increasingly optimized solutions for key industry verticals.
Already, traditional networking firms are reworking their portfolios in order to accommodate digitally transformed enterprises. Dell EMC recently upgraded a suite of products around open, high-bandwidth, flexible fabric development both within the data center and on the wide area. The package includes the new S4200 Open Networking switch featuring deep buffering capabilities and large-table 10/100 GbE operations, as well as the OS10 Enterprise Edition automation stack that integrates private clouds, hyperconverged infrastructure and software-defined storage. As well, the company has teamed up with Silver Peak, VeloCloud and Versa Networks to create the Ready Nodes platform for accelerated SD-WAN adoption.
The key driver in digital transformation, of course, is the fear of being disrupted by a start-up with a smartphone app. Digital Realty’s Sherri Liebo notes that while technology has a way of yanking us out of our comfort zones, it ultimately leads to both personal and professional growth. At the moment, only one in five organizations has recast its networking strategy around digital transformation, even though firms that have taken this step are already seeing twice the rate of revenue growth. With hybrid, multi-cloud architectures quickly becoming the norm, firms that do not tailor their networks to the new reality have virtually no chance of succeeding in a digital economy. After all, disruption is only a problem for the disruptee, not the disruptor.
If the IT industry is like a forest, then digital transformation is like a fire. Sure, it does a lot of damage, but from the ashes, new opportunities emerge. And sometimes, one or more of the tallest, oldest trees collapses under its own weight, allowing countless others to make a mad dash toward the sun.
Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.