NTT Highlights Importance of Intelligent Network

Power of Analytics

Most companies still see the network as a cost factor rather than a business enabler. Yet the network has long become the backbone of any digitization strategy. NTT Ltd, a global IT service provider, explains what characteristics a modern infrastructure must have.

The network is under pressure in the face of the data explosion, technological developments such as the Internet of Things and edge computing, and the high expectations of users. However, outdated, complex structures slow down the implementation of new business requirements.

There is a lack of flexibility, and an aging, heterogeneous network infrastructure no longer meets increased security and governance requirements. At the same time, employees today demand the same performance for business applications, regardless of whether they are hosted in the data center, in the cloud or remotely.

A modern network that meets all these demands therefore has six characteristics.

Secure: The traditional model of an external firewall and a largely unprotected network interior is outdated. Applications are no longer located only in the company’s own data center, but are distributed across clouds and edge locations. While this increases flexibility, it also increases the risk of falling victim to a cyber attack. Accordingly, communication between the end device, data center and cloud must be secured. Authentication during logon is just as important.

Companies must have an overview of which users are on the network and which applications they are currently using. In order not to risk a bottleneck in data transmission, modern solutions protect not only the path into the company network, as in the past, but also the direct connection of apps between the home office or branch office with the cloud. Against this background, the SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) security architecture is becoming increasingly important. It uses technologies such as software-defined networks (SD-WAN) or Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB). CASB can be used to monitor traffic and compliance with security policies between cloud applications and users.

Integrated: Network design is no longer driven by local networks and IT infrastructures at a company’s site, but by employees working in many distributed locations and places where a company’s technologies are in use – most notably Edge. A modern network integrates all areas in a unified approach. At the same time, the aspect of “security by design” is playing an increasingly important role. Instead of retroactively improving the security of individual systems and applications, as was the case in the past, the network architecture is aligned with applications, data and systems right at the start. By literally building security into the DNA of the network, it is much easier to comply with security, risk and service mandates.

Managed: Networks that are efficiently managed and proactively monitored have been shown to provide higher availability and have fewer critical incidents. To implement such centralized control, companies must first gain an overview of the components and data on the network. Many companies are not in a position to assess whether their network performance is sufficient and therefore in a good position. However, those who can use modern tools to check the communication flow from source to destination for bottlenecks or delays can eliminate possible sources of error in advance and proactively plan the network volume. When checking the end-to-end transmission, the end device, for example the notebook in the home office, must not be forgotten under any circumstances. The network is not always to blame if there are performance losses during transmission.

Automated: With the rise of networked devices, applications and microservices, today’s network environments are typically too complex to control manually. The solution lies in intelligent automation. Specialized software can be used to automate management functions such as planning, resource provisioning, testing and network optimization. This includes, for example, rollout to remote sites by using templates to automate the configuration of individual systems. The next stage is the use of artificial intelligence: AI applications and machine learning help to identify patterns and trends and to generate analyses and forecasts based on them. A large number of “events” in the network then become a few solvable “problems” that IT experts can target.

Immersive: In the virtual reality world, the term immersion stands for “immersion in another world.” In terms of network infrastructures, “immersive” or “unadulterated” means that the network provides the connectivity and performance needed to deliver a rich experience for voice, video and collaboration in a modern workplace. However, many companies neglect the customer experience when it comes to network strategy – despite the realization that the success of an infrastructure is ultimately determined by the user, whether customer or employee. If common office applications are too slow, the video conference is jerky or the website does not open fast enough, this is detrimental to the business. Employees then look for other ways to collaborate, and customers in turn switch to a competitor.

Flexible: Today, a modern network must respond quickly and flexibly to changing business goals or new business models. This includes reconfiguring network and security policies on the fly. Here, too, manual processes are at a distinct disadvantage. Instead, a policy engine that enables the enterprise to create, monitor and enforce rules for access to network resources and data is helpful. The policy engine relies on a combination of network analytics and programmed rules to grant role-based permissions based on any number of factors. This engine also helps ensure that the employee’s machine is free of malware before it is approved for the network.

“Topics such as IoT, edge computing, hybrid working or multi-cloud are on the agenda of many companies – however, very few are aware of how important an intelligent network is for this. Only if the network infrastructure is robust, secure and flexible can new requirements be implemented quickly and efficiently. Under no circumstances should the network be reduced to the issue of connectivity and seen as a mere cost center. Rather, it is the elementary business enabler,” explains Jörg Jakobi, Director Presales GTM Networking at NTT Ltd. “Companies must also keep in mind that technology is merely a means to an end. This means that the first thing to do is to define the business requirements and plan the measures for network modernization in line with them.”