For End-Users, It’s Really All About the Network

By Damian Roskill

It’s all about the apps, or so the prevailing wisdom goes in our mobile-powered world. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that the network, or networks, are playing a major role. With SaaS and cloud-hosted applications taking over at most modern businesses, and users spread across various offices and locations, the network is what connects them all. There might be an app for every possible user need, but the real sticking point is the networks those apps are traveling. This comes into play most when there’s a user issue, and IT has to ask that well-known question: Is it the network or the app?

The Apps Take Over…

The growth of SaaS applications continues, with recent Gartner data showing a 20% year-over-year increase for the SaaS market segment, for a total worth of about $37 billion worldwide. The promise of SaaS makes adoption decisions easy for a lot of businesses: It’s fast to deploy and can be cheaper and perform better than on-premises software.

SaaS applications are also increasingly targeted toward vertical markets these days. Traditionally, SaaS apps were more broad, with Salesforce and other CRM tools leading the way. Now, though, as users and businesses become accustomed to tailor-made technology, SaaS apps are become more purpose-built too. Healthcare, legal, utility and hospitality industries, among others, all want tools that are built for their particular needs. For IT, this only leads to more complications, since they’re now supporting an even wider variety of applications.

…While Networks Struggle to Keep Up

While all this application development and deployment is going on, IT networking teams are caught between users and providers as they try to find out where problems are happening. Is it the app, or is it the network? It’s often impossible for IT to find out, now that so much of the infrastructure is off-site.

Many network architectures are still largely focused on in-house hardware and connected devices. But the virtualization that took hold in servers is still on its way for networks. Their age has come into the spotlight for IT as cloud and SaaS apps have quickly emerged. One Gartner prediction noted that half of cloud deployments will likely suffer from business-impacting performance issues that will require a network redesign. And research specifically focused on Office 365 deployments found that 70% of businesses reported weekly latency issues using Office 365, and 69% reported bandwidth issues even after network upgrades. A few issues came to light: One, Office 365’s cloud connection is persistent, and second, network service levels weren’t set so that recreational traffic is given lower priority than critical business apps. Aging legacy networks hold back modern applications, and in turn, their users, from the speed and performance they promise.

Network management gets more complicated continually, as new networks join infrastructures. Every time a new SaaS app gets up and running, or a user deploys onto a public cloud, that’s another network that IT has to manage. Networking advancements like SDN have been highly anticipated, with SD-WAN the first technology really taking hold for businesses. Its quick growth isn’t surprising, since it offers IT the chance to improve performance at remote locations, where it can be very tricky to see what’s happening.

Other technologies like NFV and SDN can be used alongside legacy networks, though some may be stopgap fixes until those software-defined technologies grow too big.

Bringing Networks into the Future

The network of the future is reliable, agile and hands-off. Getting there is going to take some big-picture thinking on IT’s part. This first hand account of a network redesign, for example, notes how important it is to have a beginning diagram of a network and take note of the many details involved. It’ll also be important for IT to know what’s going on outside their own department. Many application owners today aren’t part of IT. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

  • Think about architecture differently than you used to. For example, connect branch office applications directly to the internet or SaaS provider network.
  • Actually know what costs you’ll be paying for an app, taking into account any network upgrades needed to support the app in the right way along with the subscription fees.
  • Use all the tools and features at your disposal, like QoS enforcement, to get better baseline performance.
  • Remember the metrics that you used before the cloud and SaaS era. Latency, bandwidth and capacity still matter, and can show you user problems quickly.

For users, daily work seems to be powered by apps. But IT knows the networks are what’s really powering the enterprise. In a world of apps, the network should ideally be the silent partner providing speed and performance, and not causing problems.

The mix of remote offices, SaaS apps and cloud providers makes IT visibility a huge challenge.

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Damian Roskill




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