Building networks that can deliver under pressureBy Scott Cowling,
How to create a network that can meet today’s challenges and prepare for potential large-scale impacts in the future.
As we adjusted to a new world of increased home working, your network — that was predominantly built to support people working in offices — was asked to cope with different traffic patterns.
We’ve helped our customers with increased bandwidth so they could deal with a huge rise in traffic coming into their VPN gateways from home workers. With one of our pharmaceutical customers, we doubled their VPN capacity within 30 hours to allow over 30,000 people in the Americas to work from home.
We’ve always developed our network, which is available in over 180 countries, to support significant year-on-year increases in bandwidth, so we always have extra capacity to call on. And we have a dual vendor core network that has dual (or multiple) points of presence in 100+ cities around the world giving our services baked-in enhanced resilience. We’ve always prepared for global emergencies, and although Coronavirus isn’t anything anyone expected or predicted, we’re ready to support your business through these unusual times.
Firefighting is the right immediate response
You may have felt like all you had been doing was firefighting, but when things change in a big way at break-neck speed, that’s the best anyone can do initially. The IT priority is keeping your business running, and this means reacting quickly to changing network needs. Once your network is securely coping with your new traffic patterns, then you can start to consider how your network needs to support you longer term and plan for whatever the future holds next.
Your operating landscape has shifted
Chances are, your perception of risk and what’s important to your business have changed with the Coronavirus pandemic. Before this upheaval, cost efficiency might have been driving your decisions, but now stability and keeping the lights are more likely your priorities. Where you may have been taking a stepped approach to adopting workplace solutions, like many of our customers, you were forced to rapidly accelerate your plans to support home working.
Sean Driscoll leads our network consulting arm and works with organisations on their network transformation. I was talking about this change with him earlier and he said: “It’s not just about investing in more bandwidth, it’s about building resilience in places where it was less of a concern before. It goes beyond the capacity to identify the bottlenecks and focuses on the challenges that are now more urgent. What businesses need is a better understanding of what’s happening on their network, allowing them to make smart and informed decisions.”
Visibility underpins smart network decisions
Now’s the time to review plans and think about where planned spend can be paused and redirected into more immediate needs. You may be dealing with cost pressures, so perhaps think about where you can downgrade as well as upgrade. You might need more capacity in an area you hadn’t planned for, and less in other places that usually needs more. Where possible, it can help to focus your team’s energy on dealing with today’s immediate needs rather than any major change programmes aimed at increasing longer term capability.
Increasing visibility using the right tools can give you the opportunity to make better decisions about future-proofing your network. If you can get hard facts about your application performance end-to-end and see where the delivery mechanism isn’t working, you can troubleshoot much faster. This is very helpful, for example, when your IT department is inundated with users complaining their applications are slow and you need visibility of what’s happening across the local ISP network. Based on insight like that, you can then suggest practical fixes such as turning off bandwidth-hungry video cameras or only downloading video content outside core business hours.
Building the network you need
I see this as a two-step process. Short-term, it’s all about supporting new network traffic patterns and reprioritising in the light of changing needs. But there’s a longer-term piece of work that needs to happen, too, to prepare for the new normal and for the potential of other large-scale impacts. Creating a network that’s easier to run in times of crisis, one that doesn’t need the same level of local support because you’ve implemented virtualised and cloud-based services can make all the difference.