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Business continuity & resilience

As COVID-19 paralyzes businesses and society worldwide, nearly every technology company – and almost every business – is desperately determining how to use its arsenal of technology to combat the increasingly severe disruption caused by coronavirus.

The first withdrawal, amid the sharp uptake in business continuity and resiliency efforts is to backburner digital strategy. Today, with 80 percent of revenue growth hinging on digital offerings and operations by 2022, IT leaders should continue transforming their operating models, says a recent KPMG research paper. Companies that continue to invest in their digital strategy, while balancing short-term efforts with long-term measures, will emerge from this pandemic more competitive. Sound models that incorporate the best people, processes, and technologies remain critical in good times and bad.

Business continuity cannot be undermined. As COVID struck, we went through a surge for a few weeks, where customers were solely focused on business continuity and getting themselves prepared for this work-from-home environment. The vendors, in turn, were solely focused on the immediate virus response, getting both their respective teams and the customers up and running. They then took a breath for a couple of weeks and seemed to step back.

It seems every customer is at a different phase right now on how they are deploying, and it is going to be very industry-specific as to who moves forward and when. For instance, with higher education, while the educational institutions used anything and everything they could to get students online back initially, now they find it imperative to go a step back and build the real robust long-term architecture that they need, and the vendors are working with them to do that.

Healthcare sector is another vertical that is expected to make investments. Telehealth is finally here, poised to change the landscape forever. The industry will continue to work and build out a more robust architecture to support telehealth as opposed to what it put together as quickly as it could over the last few months.

Investments are expected from across the board, public sector, service providers, financial services, and higher education. The hospitality, the leisure, and the travel sectors are expected to struggle some more. So, it is going to vary greatly by industry.

As of now, any customer, who potentially could be at risk in three months to six months, and anticipates trouble ahead, is on a pause, aware that they have been impacted. Any company that is aggressive right now, seeing liquidity or solvency issues ahead, is planning and working on resolving it. There should be better visibility in the next 60 days or so.

Leading vendors, wanting to ensure their order books do not suffer, have financing programs for their customers in place, so that if they need to make investments, they are not handicapped.

At the vendor’s end, with respect to infrastructure platforms especially, demand on networks has never been greater, with users looking for secure connectivity, reliable performance, and consistent experiences. This has led to customers evaluating how to expand their capacity quickly, how best to protect their teams, and how to keep their data secure, while keeping their business productive.

It has also required enterprise IT to rapidly set up, deploy, and provision mobile offices or mobile healthcare clinics. And IT teams around the world have been simply astonishing in what they have made possible.

Boosting business resiliency

While digital innovation is important, boosting business resiliency should also be part of every business transformation. It starts with enabling critical activities the organization requires to keep moving forward – bandwidth, VPN access, and so on – in the near term. Long-term resiliency includes optimizing service delivery while reducing threats and vulnerabilities – cyber, natural disasters, pandemics, and otherwise – to the business.

Ideally, business continuity will evolve and be exercised more as a strategic rather than simply an operational discipline. In such a scenario, departments are communicating and working in concert rather than in siloes.

The key is a transformation punch list to not only survive the pandemic but also thrive on the other side of it.

Scale cloud and XaaS.The pandemic offers an opportunity to reframe funding around cloud and everything-as-a-service (XaaS). An organization that had migrated one quarter of its IT assets to cloud and XaaS may advocate to scale that to 50 percent or greater over the coming year.

Boost process automation. Whether it is robotic process automation, machine learning (ML), or the hybrid of both that comprises intelligent automation (IA), there is a great opportunity to start scaling up investments in ML and other advanced automation technologies to augment a capacity constrained workforce. It would require extending RPA, ML, and IA from their centers of excellence more broadly throughout the enterprise. And while pockets of consternation about automation consuming jobs remains, bots cannot save productivity from a pandemic.

Scale DevOps. Expand automation of software development testing, as well as IT service management (ITSM).

Fortify data analytics. Companies will look to augment their data analytics strategies to take the pulse of their operations.

Such measures, most of which are linchpins of ongoing digital transformations, will leave companies well positioned for the new normal. Organizations that double down on the most important advancements to allow them to emerge more competitive are going to win.

What’s the future of network equipment?

In 2020, every company in networking is going to have to face significant pressures, and the COVID-19 problems are only going to exacerbate what would have been significant challenges, and risks, even with a healthy global economy.

What’s the future of network equipment? That’s the real question, and it’s a difficult question to answer.

If basic network equipment is going to be under increased price pressure, then the emergence of an open-model approach is inevitable. In fact, we have been seeing efforts to establish open-model networking in the network operator segment of the market for a decade.

The separation of software from hardware here is one driver behind the vendor’s proposed shift to a more software-focused business model. Software is where features live, even in appliances like routers, and so it seems likely that the hardware side of the duo of the future will commoditize. The obvious question here is whether it is possible to differentiate vendor software for gadgets like routers, from open-source software for the same devices.

Tom Nolle, President, CIMI Corp’s has a very interesting way of looking at this, in his blog. “Cisco, always a leader in thinking about how to optimize sales in any situation, has addressed this challenge through the notion of a control/management ecosystem. Basic forwarding devices live in a management and policy world, defined by initiatives like ACI. Even if this world is created by open standards to appease network operators’ fears of lock-in, it would take time for the open-source movement to address this new higher layer of network software functionality. Let’s call this new layer the policy layer, for reasons you’ll see below.

The task of creating a policy layer for an IP network in open-source form would be somewhat like creating the Kubernetes ecosystem; you assemble symbiotic elements around a central, pivotal, element. However, while Kubernetes is likely to play a role in policy-layer definition, it wouldn’t be the central element because most open-device deployments would, like real routers, be physical appliances in a static location. Kubernetes is a great anchor point for cloud-application models because it’s about deploying the pieces. What, in a network control and management layer, is the critical anchor point?

Resorting to the world of poetry, Alexander Pope in particular, “Who sees with equal eye as god of all…” is Pope’s question, and if Pope were a network person, he’d likely say “the central controller”. I think that networks are built around a vision, a vision of universal connectivity but subject to policy controls that could limit what of the connectable universe can really be connected, and how well. Think of this as a sort of SDN controller, or as the controller that some propose to have in a segment routing approach. This controller may act through agents; it may be physically distributed even though it’s logically singular, but it’s the place where everything in a network should be looking.

Policies define the goals and constraints, associated with the behavior of a system of devices or elements, which of course is what a network is. Policies define the services, the way infrastructure cooperates, and the steps that should be taken to remedy issues. Policies, properly done, can transform something so adaptive and permissive it’s a risk in itself (like an open-IP network) into a useful tool. Finally, policies may define the way we unite cloud thinking and network thinking, which is crucial for the future of networks. Network vendors have been pushing policies for a long time, and it may be that policies are about to pay off.

Of course, policies can’t be a bunch of disconnected aspirations. Any policy system requires a means of applying the policies across discontinuous pieces of infrastructure, whether the discontinuity is due to differences in technology or implementation, or due to differences in ownership and administration.

You could view this future equal-eye approach as one that starts with the overall policy-layer models, and from them drives lower-layer functions appropriate to the network technology in use in various places. We don’t have to presume uniform implementation of networks, only universal susceptibility to management, if we have something that can apply policies. The most mature example of this is the cloud, which suggests that cloud tools designed to support some sort of hybrid cloud or multi-cloud federation could be the jumping-off point for a good policy story. Cisco’s ACI and prior policy initiatives align better with the older network-to-network policy federation of the past than they do with the cloud.

Interestingly, Cisco’s rival Juniper bought HTBASE, one of several companies that specialize in creating cloud virtual infrastructure. It was a strong move, weakly carried through, but it probably took out one of the few possible targets for network vendor acquisition in the space. Cisco, to get a real position above the network in the cloud, would have to buy up somebody a lot bigger, and that would be pretty difficult right now. For the other network vendors, things are even sketchier. Nokia and Ericsson are laser focused on 5G, which isn’t anywhere close to where “higher layer value story” would mandate they be thinking.

This would have been a great time for a startup, or better yet a VC stable of related startups, to ride in and save the day. There doesn’t seem to be any such thing on the horizon, though. VCs have avoided the infrastructure space for over a decade, and they’ve avoided substantive-value companies in favor of an option for a quick flip, which this sort of thing wouldn’t create. It seems to me that the cloud providers themselves are the ones most likely to drive things here.

Cloud providers will likely build the framework for contextual services, as I’ve already noted. They might also end up building the framework of the control/management ecosystem that will reign over the open-model technologies that will be a growing chunk of the network of the future. However, vendors like Cisco, or even Juniper, could give them a run for their money.

We’re clearly going to take a global economic hit this year, a hit that could make buyers even more reluctant to jump off into a field-of-dreams investment in infrastructure. If that’s the case, then a policy-layer-centric vision of the future might be an essential step in bridging the gap between a network that hauls stuff and one that is stuff.” 

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