Preparing your network for the next disruption in 2024

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2023 was a year full of excitement. The rise of GenAI, recovery from the pandemic, and reshaped working patterns have got many Hong Kong businesses spinning up new digital services. As we approach 2024, the enthusiasm will be replaced by a practical approach towards the trust and reliability of these services, according to networking experts. “AI isn’t only the name in the game,” said William Tam, head of Telstra Purple technical consulting for North Asia. The excitement in GenAI has brought immense pressure on traditional networking architecture. It is increasing the burden on network reliability, which is already stretching to meet the demand of hybrid clouds, remote working, and data-intensive applications.

Tam said the demand for seamless connectivity has skyrocketed with businesses expanding their digital footprints. He suggested businesses review their networking strategy to avoid being a bottleneck of this expansion in 2024.

Don’t let the network become an afterthought

AI often requires data to be easily accessible from multiple sources to train models and make predictions. Businesses that want to develop an AI system to predict customer churn may need data from various sources, such as customer demographics, purchase history, and social media activity.

These applications usually run in a dynamic cloud environment—ranging from private clouds at different locations to multiple public clouds—but businesses tend to concentrate only on integrating the data and neglecting the network architecture. Tam warned that overlooking the comprehensive hybrid cloud networking strategy would compromise the entire digital transformation.

“The challenge lies in ensuring consistent performance, security, andreliability across a dispersed network environment,” he said.

With the urge to launch different digital services, he said many businesses favor fast technology delivery and temporary quick fixes over long-term benefits. As a result, the networking requirement becomes an afterthought, creating technical debt.

Technical debt costs more than TCO

Technical debt is becoming a real problem. McKinsey noted many are paying an additional 20% of the project cost to address the issue. Businesses that delay updating their technologies create technical debt that causes problems in TCO or ROI. It also reduces operational efficiency and brings down employee morale.

“The infrastructure teams are often caught between managing legacy networks and technical debt and meeting incessant business demands for hybrid cloud flexibility,” said Thomas Lee, senior product manager at Equinix. "When the issues accumulate, it becomes more difficult to rectify."

Multi-clouds multiply latency and security challenges

Lee added the issue of latency in a hybrid cloud environment is only going to intensify. He said a study shows that 53% of organizations move workloads between on-premises and cloud environments weekly.

“Without a cohesive strategy, it increases the pressure on networking environments,” he said. “Many networking environments were developed in pre-cloud years and are not designed to support the traffic for hybrid cloud and the latest digital initiatives.”

Security is another serious issue. Almost 41% of networking professionals said providing secure access to applications distributed across multiple cloud platforms is their key challenge, according to Cisco’s 2023 Global Networking Trends Report.

With the focus on data integration, Eric Choi, director for sales engineering for SASE and edge computing at VMware said network security often becomes secondary to data and application security.

This resulted in businesses reacting to security issues without understanding the limitations of their current network to support an environment that extends from the core to the edge, including on-premise, the clouds, end-user devices, and IoT endpoints.

“The network will need to be secure enough at all points of access for the different applications to end users’ different devices,” said Choi. “If the network isn’t reliable, readily available, and secure, the digital initiative will likely fail.”

Future-proofing your network

One way to ensure the network architecture is ready for the upcoming digital initiatives in 2024 is to turn to a comprehensive hybrid cloud networking strategy, said Tam from Telstra Purple.

This strategy comprises technologies that offer cloud-agnostic connectivity with centralized visibility for managing security and performance across the entire hybrid cloud ecosystem. This means a centralized network management for traffic between private clouds, between public clouds, between private and public clouds, and between endpoint devices and hybrid clouds.

To optimize workload between the hybrid clouds, Tam said businesses are extending SD-WAN connectivity across multiple clouds to automate cloud-agnostic connectivity. It enables organizations to securely connect users, applications, and data across multiple locations while improving performance, reliability, and scalability.

The rise of remote working and IoT-related initiatives also means securing the network edge is no longer limited to laptops at the branch office. Choi said the best way to ensure network security with simplicity and consistency is by using Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). It enables businesses to enforce a zero-trust network (ZTN), ensuring all users and devices are considered untrustworthy until verified.

For Choi, combining SASE and SD-WANs also brings additional advantages. “Today's hybrid cloud networking must consider scenarios where threats may infiltrate partner networks,” he said. “The combination offers a significant defense layer while meeting user experience expectations.”

Interconnect with intelligence

On top of this combination, businesses are adding networking intelligence by plugging into an Interconnection Oriented Architecture (IOA). It allows businesses to interconnect their private clouds with public cloud platforms that are hosted within the same facility to move workloads between them easily.

"People think (cloud providers) are somewhere, but basically, most of them are actually inside the same data center," said Equinix's Lee. In addition to reduced latency, interconnection improves visibility and offers centralized control.

Upgrading to hybrid cloud networking to handle the distributed cloud resources can be daunting. But you don't have to do it alone. Tam said managed services from Telstra Purple provide expertise and best practices for integrating legacy networks with modern architectures.

"This the reason Equinix, Telstra, and VMware are working together,” he added. “We believe we have a better solution to address these connectivity issues with a more intelligent networking platform for businesses in 2024."

To learn more about building intelligent Hybrid Cloud Networking, exploring best practices, and gaining valuable insights, download your copy of the Hybrid Cloud report for more information.

This article is contributed by Sheila Lam, Editor of CDOTrends.