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A self-driving network can lay the foundations to thrive in an unpredictable world

By Nick Cross, Vice President, Network, Security & Automation, EMEA at VMware

The cloud, and its role in supporting agility, resiliency and innovation, has undeniably been validated by this year’s events. Across the world we’ve seen an exponential increase in the development of cloud native apps, as businesses respond to unprecedented challenges. So much so that IDC predicts 500 million will be developed by 2023, the same total number developed over the last 40 years combined. These apps, running on potentially hundreds, if not thousands of microservices – the individual building blocks that make up an app, that multiple teams can use for single-purpose services – are increasingly distributed and complex, and can find themselves spread across multiple cloud networks.

One of the most prominent by-products of this sizeable shift towards cloud-first applications has been the disruption of physical networking, and the need for an agile and responsive alternative. We’re seeing the widespread replacement and relegation of the clunky physical networking appliances of old, as organisations begin to recognise that this hardware defined, device-centric approach of operating the network is simply no longer fit for purpose.

Organisations need a network foundation that promotes efficiency, agility and security, and one that does so by itself through automation. One that grants application owners the control and freedom to quickly build the app infrastructures required to meet the urgent and critical short-term demands of organisations, and which can automatically adjust itself to business needs whilst remaining subtle and unobtrusive. A software-centric network delivers just this, providing the connectivity needed to power cloud services and the apps that live across them.

Unlocking a seamless user experience: network automation

The drive for modern apps has put the spotlight on network automation. Businesses can no longer tolerate any length of downtime, and as a result, expectations of network infrastructure and the speed with which it needs to act are increasing. Ultimately, this means highly distributed and complex environments require sophisticated, automated solutions.

The physical networking model of old is inherently complex, and resolving issues can be an arduous process. It requires that tickets be created, opened and then manually addressed, and it can take weeks for them to progress through to completion. With these apps living across public and private clouds, this manual process is no longer an option. When you consider that many apps are also adopting Kubernetes in containers, which is accelerating their development and deployment, it becomes clear that changes to the network fabric simply have to happen faster.

The answer to this lies in network automation. By its very definition, an automated network is self-healing, can automatically scale, and replaces manual operations. In doing so, network problems are resolved far quicker, and the costs associated with the network maintenance to prevent major outages are reduced, ensuring improved continuity. Ultimately, automation means organisations don’t have to worry about where anything is running – capacity is simply provided as it’s needed. Intelligent virtualization delivers this automation within modern networks in a number of ways: firstly through zero touch provisioning, which automatically detects and configures physical appliances within a network, and secondly through network abstraction, which allows virtual routes and devices to be built. Finally, it also ensures all relevant policies are followed, helping optimise the performance and consistency of networks.

This potential for network automation is starting to be recognised by organisations, too. A recent IDC survey found that more than 50% of enterprises will be investing heavily in advanced network automation by 2023, specifically to reduce the amount of manual management needed to maintain their networks. The network operators think it too – research by analysts at Futuriom found that 93% believe network automation to be crucial to supporting multi and hybrid cloud strategies.

Solving the cloud era-paradox: achieving invisibility through network automation

Fundamentally, the network is more important than ever, providing the digital nervous system for the applications and data that are paramount to the success of organisations. At the same time, the network should be become less visible to developers and end users alike – ultimately it can best support modern IT by doing its job unattended, simply and effectively, while staying out of the way.

Through automation, organisations can find the answer to the cloud-era paradox – that IT no longer needs to be visible to be successful. Using application policies and abstractions means this new networking type can seamlessly and unobtrusively extend from endpoints to clouds, helping businesses and developers achieve their objectives without having to worry about the architectural and operational details of their network. In doing so an automated network delivers cloud applications the agility, consistency and reliability that are essential to digital transformation strategies, helps get apps and services into the hands of end users faster, and provides the solid foundation needed to weather whatever challenge lies around the corner.


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