Would you design your corporate network the way it is today if you could start again from scratch? If you are anything like the 400 participants in a recent Freeform Dynamics research study the answer is almost certainly “no”.
Most networks contain multiple generations of equipment acquired in a piecemeal manner over the years. Many devices are hard to manage and have a feature-set that’s limited by today’s standards. Integration between different components that make up ‘the network’ is often lacking, and working around the disjoints, constraints, and inevitable failures is no fun for administrators.
A question of money 

But when performance problems, outages and security incidents occur as a result of old equipment and a fragmented infrastructure, it’s still the team responsible for operating the network that gets it in the neck. No one in the business remembers those requests for funding to do some serious modernisation work to tackle the real issues. If you bring up the question of money, they simply remind you of the fact that when they approved that last essential upgrade, the effect was only short lived.
So in a world in which budget holders often fail to appreciate the need for investment in infrastructure, how do you make the case to get network modernisation prioritised? Well it’s never going to be easy, but a good start would be to remind those holding the purse strings that some of the changes they are driving within the business have implications from a network perspective.
Business demands
Mobile access, remote and collaborative working, along with a greater reliance on analytics and information access, together mean demands on the network are increasing significantly from activity within the workforce alone. Add to this the growing need for digital engagement with customers and electronic hook up in the supply and demand chain, and it soon becomes clear that continuing to ignore some of the structural and management challenges translates to a tangible business risk.
The research tells us that these risks manifest themselves in the form of application performance and availability issues that in turn have a negative impact on employee productivity, customer satisfaction and operational efficiency. Changing access patterns then lead to a range of new threats that need to be managed from a security perspective.
And now the good news
While these dynamics are arguably not news, the evidence suggests that a level of complacency frequently exists among business stakeholders about the ability of their systems infrastructure to keep up with the rapid pace of change. Put this together with weariness among IT professionals, whose warnings and requests often fall on deaf ears, and it’s clear that a lot of accidents are waiting to happen out there.
The good news is that many of those responsible for looking after corporate networks understand what needs to be done. The shortcomings and the need to address them were generally well understood by participants in the study. We also picked up an appreciation of the need to think differently in some respects. This included the notion of implementing network-level security around individual applications and data stores rather than relying on the traditional network perimeter approach.

Dale Vile is research director & CEO at Freeform Dynamics

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This was first published in May 2014

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