No one needs telling that the pressure on their network infrastructure is growing.
In fact, those participating in a recent Freeform Dynamics research study were all too aware of the escalating challenges. Whether it's mobile working, cloud adoption, digital customer engagement, more diverse branch networking requirements, or simply the hunger for more capacity, performance, reliability and security within the business, we are told that things are going to get messy if they continue on their current trajectory (Figure 1).
The problem is that investment in networks is too often not keeping pace with the growth in demand. But if IT professionals have such clear visibility of the problems that lie ahead, why don't they just put in a request for the funding and resource required to get themselves on a firmer footing?
A couple of issues stand in the way of progress, and they are linked.
Firstly, when faced with more complex and extreme problems to solve within the network, a frequent assumption is that these are best tackled with specialist equipment. In the research, for example, we picked up a strong preference for best-of-breed over multifunction devices. When you start thinking like this, the prospect of taking on the capital costs and additional integration and management overhead can easily become daunting.
This leads us to the second issue: lack of management air cover. Senior budget holders are frequently unaware of the gap that is opening up between evolving business needs and the ability of the network to meet them. While the risks are obvious to technical staff, business execs are often reported to just not get it.
When these two factors are put together, many IT pros end up lowering their sights. While they would love to acquire the latest specialist kit, along with the resources and skills to run and implement it, they just can't make the business case (Figure 2).
As a result, IT teams end up lurching from quick fix to quick fix, and over time the network and tooling used to run it becomes even more fragmented and disjointed.
Strengthening the infrastructure so it is able to deal with what is likely to happen over the next few years need not be as complex or expensive as is assumed.
Many of the functions hitherto available only in high-end, specialist kit have become available as features embedded in multifunction devices.
Solutions such as application delivery controllers (ADCs) and unified threat management (UTM) boxes are now extremely capable, to the point where their core functionality is on a par with best-of-breed options. Whether it is performance optimisation or better security, they get the job done just as well in most environments. The additional cost and hassle of best-of-breed solutions need only be incurred in exceptional circumstances.
The call to action here is for channel partners to bring IT staff in their customer and prospect bases up to speed on some of the advances of the past few years.
In fact, if you take some of the pain points highlighted in the research, these can easily be used as hooks for account development calls and new business campaigns, particularly if you align product/service packages to the specific concerns that are clearly front of mind.
However, an important ingredient in outreach activity is assistance with the internal sell. This could be in the form of assessment and planning tools, business case templates and coaching, or simply material/arguments to help engage business execs in terms they will understand and appreciate.
In many ways, this is about bridging the gap between business trends and objectives, and the practical realities of keeping the organisation properly and safely connected. One of the obvious points to make is that money will be spent on additional network capacity, performance and security measures at some point anyway as most organisations will not have the luxury of doing nothing.
Better to invest proactively rather than reactively, as the ROI will be greater, and the company's risk posture improved.
Dale Vile is research director at Freeform Dynamics
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