Here in Toronto, residents are grappling with a quandary not unknown to IT managers: what to do with an aging network in the face of increasing traffic demands.
The Gardiner Expressway was completed in 1966. It’s a raised highway (picture Boston’s I-93 before the Big Dig) running east to west across Toronto. Although a subway system and commuter rail lines take some pressure off the Gardiner, it’s still a major artery used by 320,000 vehicles every day.
The Gardiner is getting old. Since 2012, several pieces of concrete have fallen from the structure, including one that smashed through a woman’s windshield this February. City council is now considering three plans to deal with this crumbling thoroughfare: tear down and replace it with ground-level roads, maintain it as-is, or build a new extension to reroute some of the traffic.
I was reminded of all this during a recent Enterprise Connect webinar featuring Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research. Kerravala was born and raised in British Columbia, so I have no idea if he’s ever been stuck in a traffic jam on the Gardiner. But he does believe today’s IT network (like an aging highway) is long overdue for an upgrade to keep up with changing traffic patterns.
“We’ve slowly been moving more and more of our applications and compute structure to cloud and to mobile platforms. Really, cloud and mobile have transformed almost every part of IT today,” said Kerravala. “One part that really hasn’t changed, though, is the network. So if organizations are going to maximize the potential of these new IT models, then it’s time for the network to evolve.”
Kerravala said many aging networks weren’t made to cope with cloud adoption. “With more and more of our traffic being cloud-based, that means the traffic patterns change and running all our traffic through a single choke point becomes highly inefficient.”
Adding UC to the cloud mix also boosts network demands, he added. “When you combine the growth of cloud-based UC, video conferencing and more of these UC tools being embedded in applications, it’s changing the traffic patterns on our networks. And success for UC is highly dependent on network quality.”
Network issues are already costing businesses, big time. According to Kerravala’s own enterprise research:
– It takes an average of four months to provision new IT services
– 90% of IT projects are delivered late or cancelled
– 83% of a company’s network budget is used just to keep the lights on, up from 75% five years ago
Kerravala pins much of the blame on the traditional WAN, which features a hub-and-spoke model and leaves the perfectly good backup connection passive unless the active connection fails.
“It’s an incredibly inefficient way to design a road system. Yet that’s been the norm in networking for years and years,” he said. “Obviously with more and more traffic moving to the cloud, you should have a connection that connects users with the cloud as quickly as possible.”
That, said Kerravala, is where SD-WAN can help, by enabling more efficient (and cost effective) use of bandwidth. The main idea is that “each branch office would have its own connection to the Internet and be able to access SaaS applications,” he explained.
Shifting to SD-WAN isn’t exactly an overnight endeavor. Kerravala’s list of it SD-WAN “building blocks” includes WAN optimization, mutli-path technology, advanced WAN routing, encryption, traffic shaping, bandwidth-on-demand and hybrid WAN.
Like all three options for the Gardiner, this kind of upgrade requires investment. But Kerravala points out that most networks (like the Gardiner) are still running on architecture designed 30 or more years ago. Patching cracks in the highway is the quickest, cheapest fix. In today’s environment of real-time customer expectations, however, what business can afford even minor traffic jams?