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Post-Covid working will need a new approach to IT systems

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Businesses faced with a ‘new normal’ in which staff need to be able to work wherever is convenient for them should start by finding suitable alternatives to their existing network architectures.

With so many employees having moved out of their traditional workplaces during the coronavirus epidemic, remote ways of working are likely to be the ‘new normal’ for some time to come. IT and communications infrastructure that provides staff with a complete and reliable workplace anywhere and any time will help to prepare businesses for the uncertain future ahead. Key to this change is secure remote access, ensuring tight identity management and control as the new corporate network perimeter becomes anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

Organisations embark on digital transformation on the assumption that it will yield results. But flexible solutions and new technologies only come into their own if the underlying infrastructure is architected to make it possible to optimise them.

Enterprise networks have had to accommodate huge changes in the past weeks and months, placing agility and security front and centre in the minds of many IT directors. For some, this may well have brought home the fact that traditional business networks are well overdue for an upgrade. Cloud computing, virtualisation, growing automation and mobility, new forms of collaboration and the emergence of the internet of things have all been placing increasingly high demands on IT infrastructure.

Digital business transformation requires us to think again and create a new network model. Businesses need a reliable network to exchange information between colleagues and sites, customers, partners and markets. Sensitive business applications, such as real-time data analysis and voice and video connections, are demanding when it comes to the network performance required to ensure they run smoothly.

MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) is often used as part of enterprise network architecture to guarantee a predictable connection quality. But the higher levels of performance and better end-user experience it offers often come at a higher price.

Enter SD-WAN, or software-defined wide-area network, an overlay technology that can intelligently utilise all types of network connections depending on what’s needed. SD-WAN can run over MPLS as well as make use of less expensive internet connections, 4G and LTE. As many enterprises already use several different connectivity types across their wide-area networks – creating so-called ‘hybrid WANs’ – SD-WAN can be a great option.

It can be configured to actively choose the ideal connection for a specific application, or even to combine multiple connections as needed. And if the primary connection is overloaded, SD-WAN will automatically send traffic over a secondary connection.

It can also differentiate between traffic types and make decisions that improve performance of critical applications. Say the line is congested because someone on the network is watching football via a livestream – SD-WAN can limit the livestream traffic and automatically prioritise traffic with a higher business value.

Intelligent software-defined solutions such as SD-WAN can immediately improve the performance of existing applications through ‘application-aware routing’, automatically choosing the best connection option to ensure the best performance. The built-in intelligence can also be used to eliminate the need to maintain the expensive separate connections that businesses typically have reserved for traffic from any applications that have a low tolerance for jitter or packet loss.

This makes SD-WAN ideal for supporting solutions such as SIP trunking (‘unified communications via the internet’), where the quality of a voice call is audibly impacted if a network connection is degraded. Security integration is also simpler, allowing for performance customisation and soft changes using templates to speed up any changes.

Offering employees technology solutions that give them more freedom to work in the place, time and way that suits them best paves the way for new working models to emerge, with higher productivity and improved efficiency. But that goal will only be achieved if these solutions are quick and easy to implement and are able to deliver security and performance. Traditional network architectures don’t flex to meet all the requirements of a modern workplace. In order for digital transformation to be successful, you first have to transform the network.

Paul Ruelas is senior director, managed services product management, at GTT.

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