November 11, 2022
Most networks evolve in response to changing business needs and external pressures. This process is natural… but it’s not what we’re talking about today.
Today, we’re looking at network transformation—the wholesale redesign of an entire business network. For many businesses, network transformation is among the most important, costly, and above all, intimidating initiatives they will embark on in 2022.
So what’s it all about?
What is Network Transformation?
Rather than a gradual evolution, network transformation is a fundamental redesign of an entire business network, including (but not limited to):
- Public, private, and hybrid-clouds
- Wide Area Network (WAN) and Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN)
- Data centres
- Remote user connectivity
- Network security infrastructure
Network transformation initiatives are typically of high importance to the business and are usually only undertaken when absolutely necessary. For example, to support business needs such as the mass shift to remote working forced on businesses worldwide by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other common motivations for network transformation include:
- A business-wide shift towards hybrid and multi-cloud
- Supporting a broader range of network-connected devices (e.g., including IoT/smart devices)
- New or altered business models, e.g., offering a new SaaS product
Why is Network Transformation a Big Deal?
Traditional business networks shared several common hallmarks:
- Most work happened on-premise
- Users mainly connected to internally-hosted applications located in a data centre
- Security was located at the network perimeter, and everything inside was trusted
- Remote working was limited and relied on VPN technologies to ‘tunnel’ through the firewall
Up to a point, this approach worked reasonably well. As technology and business needs changed, business networks could evolve slowly in response. However, the reality of business in 2022 is radically different to what we saw a decade ago.
Instead of the above, we now see:
- Users connect from anywhere in the world
- Users connect via a broader range of devices (PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc)
- Applications are rarely self-hosted—even critical business applications like ERP solutions are routinely delivered via a SaaS private cloud architecture
- Often, users connect remotely to access applications that are also delivered remotely
- As network perimeters have expanded beyond all recognition, traditional perimeter defence strategies are no longer fit for purpose
This new paradigm is so radically different from what business networks were designed to deliver that—for many businesses—gradual network evolution is no longer enough. Instead, the only option is to completely redesign and rebuild business networks from scratch.
The Elephant in the Room: Cybersecurity as a “Business Blocker”
In the past, cybersecurity had a bad reputation for blocking transformation initiatives. Solving security challenges was difficult, and security teams often delayed important business initiatives while determining the best route forward.
This is no longer acceptable.
For some time now, businesses have been under pressure to “transform or die,” and COVID-19 was the final nail in the coffin. In the early days of the pandemic, businesses had no choice but to solve the mass remote working challenge overnight… whether or not their security team signed it off.
While most businesses have now addressed the need for mass remote working, they still face significant challenges that can only be addressed via network transformation. Often, these initiatives are highly time-pressured, and security teams must find a way to support their timely delivery while keeping cyber risk to a minimum.
What’s Needed for Effective Network Transformation?
1. Define your strategy
A core network transformation strategy is essential to ensure your initiative starts (and stays) on track. The most important component of your strategy is deciding what your initiative needs to achieve to be considered a success.
Common examples include:
- Enable current and future business requirements
- Support a developing IT strategy and workloads
- Support teams across the business to expand their capabilities while staying secure
2. Understand your inventory
Asset management has always been challenging, as has connectivity between assets, servers, and the cloud. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it—you must know precisely what devices, services, and applications you have, where they are, and what they are supposed to be doing.
This is a fundamental component of IT Service Management (ITSM) and has been since the 1980s… but many businesses still struggle with it. If you want to transform your network to support new business needs while staying secure and maintaining uptime, it’s time to get it right.
3. Choose your operating model
Building your network piecemeal without a firm plan is a bad idea. Implementations and network models that seem to address individual business needs will eventually cause issues if they aren’t combined carefully. For example:
- Moving to a hybrid cloud model
- Incorporating SD-WAN
- Adopting a new connection model for remote users
- Adopting MFA or Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) solutions
Any of these projects can potentially have a huge positive impact on the business… but each requires planning, investment, and (most likely) upgrades to people, systems, and processes to achieve successfully. And, without a centralised and agreed-on operating model, it’s not uncommon for businesses to find out (usually too late) that projects, implementations, and technologies conflict with each other, causing unforeseen problems.
To avoid this, decide centrally which technologies will be used and supported and which won’t—and without a solid business case, don’t deviate from these decisions.
4. Be business-oriented
Technology is an incredible business enabler, but it’s not something to be chased for its own sake.
It’s easy to get hung up on the latest ‘must have’ technologies. Still, the cost can be significant, and it must be clear that new technology will deliver quantifiable value to the business—for example, by enabling higher revenue or reduced risk.
5. Be realistic
Network transformation is often a huge initiative that takes time to achieve—often more than initially expected. Being realistic in your planning and roadmap development is essential because it can be the difference between a project being:
- A complete success, and;
- A total (and costly) failure
If you’re unsure what timescales are realistic, seek advice from an experienced source.
Similarly, you should be realistic about the resources needed to deliver the project successfully. Most network transformation projects are large enough in scale to constitute their own programme—including dedicated personnel resources. To maximise your chance of success, and avoid costly delays, ensure your initiative is adequately resourced.
6. Never Disregard Security
Security is no longer the ‘hurdle’ it once was. Many security teams don’t have the authority to delay network transformation initiatives while they find a suitable way to minimise risk.
However, this does not mean businesses should accept a lower security standard for new network architecture, which would open them up to an unacceptable level of cyber risk.
Instead, security teams should be involved in network transformation initiatives from the very beginning, working alongside IT to create secure-by-design network architectures that protect against cyber threats without harming user experience.
We’re Here to Help
At CyberOne, we can support your network transformation initiative with next-generation network security solutions that protect your business against current and future threats—while supporting the agility and performance required to meet your business needs.
And, because our security solutions are embedded into your network architecture, it’s easy to scale and adapt them as your needs change.
To find out more, or to arrange a consultation, click here.