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There’s no point having an F1 car if you don’t have a specially-designed track to race around. Similarly, the four emerging components of the digital revolution - social, mobile, analytics and cloud apps - need the right networking and data centre infrastructure to get the best out of them.

These disruptive technologies offer businesses unprecedented opportunities to reach and connect with customers; transform internal processes; operate faster and create more useful insights from business data.

However, handled badly, they can drown you in data; waste vital resources as you grapple with next-gen tech; and give your departments secret ‘shadow IT’ tools that could compromise your security.
A strategic and managed approach is vital for businesses to get the best results from the latest digital transformation technologies. But so is having the right infrastructure that will support agility, new ways of working and sustainable digital transformation.

Virtualised data centre infrastructure, that uses ‘converged’, software-centric networking technologies, is emerging as the must-have platform that can deliver next generation digital services that meet both customer and employee expectations.

The problem with traditional networking solutions is they are proving to be rigid and hard to manage, lacking visibility and control.

Most organisations recognise the need to build platforms that enhance agility and the ability to innovate and cope with digital disruption. The problem is, many find it hard to create the necessary infrastructure from their existing fleet of servers, or to retro-fit their existing data centres with the necessary technology.

First-wave efforts to overcome these difficulties through cloud have often delivered disappointing results because of their piecemeal implementation and problems of control.

Instead, the approach needs to involve cloud-optimised platforms – preferably a managed private cloud service, or public cloud, or a hybrid combination. Cloud has matured and come of age, say the analysts.

Sean Hackett, Managing Director, Advisory Services at 451 Research, comments, “Cloud is rapidly entering an entirely new phase, one destined to prove far more transformative and disruptive than the initial phase of cloud computing. It is driving comprehensive transformation of digital assets in organisations of all stripes as IT decision makers begin to view this emerging cloud construct as a proxy for the transformation of IT itself.”

Analyst firm IDC says that between 2014 and 2020, enterprise spending on Software Defined Networking (SDN) applications and services, including virtualised network and security, will more than double. "Cloud computing and the 3rd Platform (which supports mobile, social, cloud and Big Data) have driven the need for SDN,” says Rohit Mehra, VP Network Infrastructure at IDC.

Brad Casemore, Datacenter Networking Research Director at IDC adds, “While networking hardware will continue to hold a prominent place in network infrastructure, SDN is indicative of a long-term value migration from hardware to software in the networking industry.”

The biggest trend that determines the design and usage of modern data centres is the need for resources to be highly available and fluid - driven by more demanding and time-critical business requirements.

Virtualisation enables servers, storage and networking to be reconfigured instantly as demand fluctuates. The challenge that many organisations face in modernising their existing infrastructure is to deliver the required cost and performance metrics, using infrastructure that isn’t as easy to manage or reconfigure.

Today, however, converged connectivity and infrastructure offerings, such as O2’s Gateway and integrated O2 Virtual Data Centre, offer organisations a structured way to modernise their core platforms to deliver business agility. (O2 Gateway is the UK’s first truly integrated network to combine fixed, mobile and Wi-Fi.)

With solutions like this, businesses get the core cloud benefits of: a shift to opex from capex; and the ability to boost or throttle back services as demand requires. Uniquely, since O2 control the endpoints, there is end-to-end visibility and a management of the performance of the applications and services. This level of service management gives the best performance, reducing friction for end-users adopting the service . O2 Virtual Data Centre also offers the prospect of freeing up hard-pressed IT staff from day-to-day running of data centres, to the much more productive task of consolidation and optimisation of legacy apps and the provision of new, business-driven services.

O2 operates a secure Wi-Fi service for the restaurant chain, McDonald’s, which has over 1200 restaurants across the UK. O2’s service includes the WAN that underpins it and a backup 3G solution. The additional advantage provided by Wifi analytics gives new insight into customers’ behaviours in their restaurants.

McDonald’s IT Services Manager Doug Baker explains, “We were looking for a partner to manage the end-to-end experience. We wanted a provider that would give us the whole managed service, from our data centre, through the WAN, out to the restaurants and ultimately to the customer.”

Baker adds, “We needed a network that could support a constant, seven-day-a-week, 365-days-a-year business. Especially as well over half of our restaurants are open 24 hours a day.”

Jack Linnett, Product Manager, Telefónica UK, says, “O2 Gateway is much more than just connectivity. It is the foundation for digital transformation. You can add new services easily to allow the technology to grow in harmony with your business. We can provide tablets to make the most of O2 Wifi, encourage employee flexibility with cloud services and improve communication with Skype for Business.”

“As a result, IT departments regain control, employees can work from anywhere at any time, and customers get a much better service. Ultimately, everyone benefits from simple and flexible connectivity,” says Linnett.

Managed cloud infrastructure and services, like O2 Gateway and Virtual Data Centre, can deliver the infrastructure that enterprises need for digital transformation.

The next step, according to analysts and IT consultants, is for enterprise IT leaders to consider the most important business processes where cloud makes sense – such as mobile and analytics – and determine whether existing suppliers for other core enterprise technology are best placed to offer innovative and reliable products. Now is a good time to look at your options before your next stage of transformation.

This article is brought to you in association with O2.