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While the network has always been the most important component of any digital transformation project, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of the network in a bigger way. Everything and everyone – from suppliers to partners to employees – depends on the network to connect with each other and do business or collaborate. The quality of access for applications determines the business priorities.

Any downtime in the network can lead to serious repercussions, and so networks are the most important technology for enabling a digital business. While networks connect people, applications and devices, their efficiency and reliability depend on the underlying technology infrastructure. With more and more users connecting to the network and demanding low latency and more reliable connections, there is a huge need to relook at the network, as it is truly the foundation of any digital transformation initiative.

Today, the transition from the offline world to the digital world has brought in many challenges for network administrators. They now have to manage the huge inclusion of remote workers and associated application usage. This has put huge pressure on existing networks, as administrators try to manage high bandwidth usage from applications used for video conferencing and remote collaboration.

In a remote working setup, organizations typically struggle with bandwidth consumption and reducing latency. If there are more remote locations, then the costs of bandwidth can be very expensive. There can also be huge latency issues, as enterprise traffic gets routed from the location to the data center, which is then routed to the cloud. The other big issue is bandwidth costs. Typically, all enterprise traffic going to a data center is routed through MPLS. This is expensive and has a negative impact on application performance due to increased latency. Enterprises try to solve this problem by adding more bandwidth, which is not only inefficient but also expensive. The other critical aspect is security. Administrators need network security tools that will empower organizations to quickly detect malicious attacks and ensure strict monitoring of access in corporate networks.

Modernizing the network

With most legacy networks based on dated security and governance protocols, enterprises today need an efficient way to ensure that their networks are ready for enabling digital transformation. Overall, the goal should be to ensure that all users have access to a reliable network and can access any application without any connectivity issues.

Some of the key considerations for modernizing a network include:

Network design: An outdated network technology infrastructure can pull down the performance of any well-designed application. The network design must take into account the key critical services that are used today, and the key applications that will be increasingly used in the future. Parameters must then be set for measuring the quality of service and the performance of the network. This must also take into account bandwidth and latency requirements, as video-based applications will require more bandwidth.

Explore the potential of SD-WANs: In a remote working scenario, SD-WANs make perfect sense, as they enable organizations to create reliable connections to cloud providers directly from branch offices or data centers. SD-WANs can help enterprises programmatically manage loads and network resources (firewalls, VPNs) using software-based capabilities. SD-WANs also help enterprises to decide to route traffic in the most optimum way or the most cost effective one.

For example, an SD-WAN setup can route all Microsoft Office 365 communications directly to the cloud, instead of routing it to the data center and the cloud. This helps in optimum utilization of bandwidth and also reduces latency. SD-WANs also have the capability of measuring the quality of network for factors such as latency and packet loss, which makes them suitable for delivering a reliable performance across any network. As the architecture of SD-WANs are transport service agnostic, it allows enterprises to choose any-to-any connectivity over different transport types, whether it’s commodity internet, MPLS or fixed wireless/5G.

SD-WANs also allow organizations to prioritize important applications and allocate bandwidth accordingly. For example, different policy profiles can be set for different applications like emails, video conferencing applications, office productivity applications, etc.

Use the power of automation: Given the complexity of today’s networks and the huge management challenges in ensuring service assurance, network automation is critical for ensuring a high-performance network. By using technologies such as AI and ML, service providers can proactively resolve and restore any service outages. The few service providers who have used automation across their network have experienced a consistent improvement in service levels. Many network service providers have experienced easier management, reduced time to identify and fix problems and an overall improvement in service levels.

The COVID-19 pandemic can be used as an opportunity by organizations to redesign their network. With more digital services being added every day, the network will be the key to deliver reliable connectivity. The next frontier of end user experience will increasingly be dependent on the network. This will make the network the most critical part of any digital transformation initiative, and organizations must look at modernizing their network in a big way, if they want to fully realize the potential of their digital transformation initiatives.