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Networking technology is in need of an overhaul: many existing networks are just not robust enough to cope anymore.

The problem is that enterprises are experiencing unprecedented demand on their network and telecoms infrastructures. They need to make services continually available to employees, business partners and customers around the clock.

In addition, data and applications are being served out to more and more mobile and remote users – both employees and customers - around the globe, via web and mobile networks. It requires excellent quality of service, scalability, and speed.

Meanwhile, the nature of the network traffic itself is changing. Explosive growth in web-based communication and collaboration technologies has brought large datasets into play: most notably voice, video and high definition images.

Then there’s machine-to-machine traffic, and Internet of Things and mobile-centric sensors, bringing a greater variety of fast-moving data onto the network. These include location and mapping data, manufacturing and production feeds, more granular CRM, social and e-commerce information, and so on.

Dimitris Mavrakis, a Principal Analyst in Ovum’s Intelligent Networks team, explains, “Today’s networks and telecoms infrastructure is rapidly evolving, much more than any previous point in time. Digitalisation, virtualisation, centralisation and cloudification are just a few trends that are now causing these networks to evolve.”

“Enterprise and telecoms clients demand a lot more today and are accustomed to subscribing or cancelling services in real-time, much like they do in the web world. Both enterprises and telecoms companies are now evolving to meet these demands. But they have a long journey before they become what they aspire.”

Waseem Akhtar, senior manager at Deloitte, says software-based networking will provide the means for networks to evolve and transform going forward. “What is required is hyper-virtualised networking which is neither bottom up or top down, but starts with the control layer and allows you to add virtualised components,” says Akhtar. “These should move you from a physically-constrained infrastructure to a fully-virtualised environment.”

He adds, “The target state will be a network that is virtualised to the extent that the only physical component is the wires it runs over. This decouples the underlying network hardware to consolidate multiple network components onto commodity high-volume hardware.”

Successful IT organisations are doing one of two things to ensure they have robust and flexible networks.

Some are enhancing their own networks with hyper-virtualised or hybrid (public/private cloud) elements. Others are turning to hyperscale public cloud or even multi-cloud services, using providers that have the networking expertise and converged infrastructure in place.

So says Steve Brown, Director of Enterprise Solutions at fibre-optic specialist Viavi Solutions. The manufacturer carried out over 700 interviews of enterprise IT leaders, for its State of the Network report.

It found that over half of respondents said they are using two or more public cloud vendors, with 43 percent using two and 13 percent using three or more.

Brown says, “40% of IT teams say they want cloud and hybrid technology “ASAP”. Two out of three managers were “still working through some details” before adopting it. IT teams need help. They have to manage the challenges of cloud adoption, wrestle growing bandwidth demands – while being restrained by managers. Management must support IT and drive the adoption of cloud and hybrid IT infrastructure.“

So, are traditional networks dead? Deloitte’s Waseem Akhtar says not exactly. “Growth in demand for network resources is a perennial problem – the solutions are evolving and becoming smarter. However, physical network devices are not going away just yet.”

Software-defined networking is being utilised to drive automation, orchestration and more flexibly manage hybrid networks, he says. SDN also helps tailor network configuration to the applications using it; and manages the rate at which changes can be deployed and new functionality added to existing locations, argues Akhtar.

Whilst enterprises work hard to keep up with increasing demand for network resources, telecoms firms are working harder to make their infrastructures more robust, says Michael Lazar, Vice President, Telecom at IT consultancy DataArt, whose clients include Ocado, Betfair and Standard & Poor’s.

For example, says Lazar, network and processing capabilities for high-definition multimedia traffic are continuing to progress.

“Silicon improvements from vendors are constantly pushing the bar on what systems can process and deliver. Wi-Fi capabilities continue to improve with 802.11ac, and it is common to see networking capabilities in enterprises of 10Gbit/s or more.”

“Coupled with Quality of Service enterprise networks are rising to the challenges. Telecoms are actively planning 5G mobile technologies to address density, security, speed and reliability. While challenges remain the future for next generation digital services is looking bright.”

O2 is an example of an IT and telecoms service provider that is creating innovative enterprise cloud solutions, based on O2 Gateway, the UK’s first integrated network to combine fixed, mobile and Wi-Fi.

O2 says that adopting flexible and robust fixed/mobile networking now brings immediate benefits in terms of productivity, cost and security, and future-proofs the IT infrastructure going forward.

O2’s Managing Director of Public Sector, Billy D’Arcy, comments, “Nearly 60% of organisations will be primarily mobile in the coming years, and with simple cloud-based unified communications solutions we ease the digital transformation for organisations so they can focus their time on their own customers.”

Networks are feeling the strain of today’s increased demands, but fortunately there are options available for businesses that are suffering. There are many networking technologies available or in production to help enterprises and telcos keep their networks strong: such as faster and more robust Wi-Fi and mobile; and software-defined networking technologies that will help overhaul the network.

And if you’d rather work with a trusted partner like O2 - which has 30 years’ experience in delivering mobile-centric solutions - managed services like O2 Gateway mean unified communications, mobile/web-based apps and agile operations are available today.

This article is bought to you in association with O2