Dispelling "F.U.D." in the Brave New World of Software-Defined Networking

The world is changing… at least my world of networking. It’s evolving into a long overdue state. As a result, my skills have to evolve. So, I might as well extend my comfort zone with this whole blogging thing while I’m at it. Who said an old dog can’t learn new tricks?

To kick it off, I want to address this change I mentioned: SDN. No, I’m not going to subject you to yet another definition of software-defined networking, or an overview of the many different vendor options. I get to pontificate about that enough doing my day job. Instead, I want to talk about the real issue here: FUD.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt: the weapons of choice for any good smear campaign. FUD is being wielded in the SDN discussion with brutal cunning. I’m just waiting for an election year-type ad spot with homeless engineers and an ominous voiceover telling us how the proponents of SDN are destroying our great nation.

Clearly, the whole concept is an evil plot perpetrated by Hydra to undermine the networking staff in IT and allow world domination. Captain America 3 is going to be a box office smash with that storyline.

In all seriousness, most people are uncomfortable with change… even more so when the outcome of that change is uncertain. Unfortunately for SDN, we’re still trying to define that outcome. We know that we want it to be a state where businesses are more agile and productive, but we don’t know quite how we’re going to accomplish that on a global scale across a multitude of technologies and vendors. That’s where the FUD comes into play.

Many in our industry are slinging mud and/or stirring up uncertainty in attempts at self-preservation. Some are doing it to postpone the inevitable, while others are doing it out of their own lack of understanding. Regardless, the results are the same: those with the most to gain in this transition are at odds.

Related article: Why We’re Joining the OpenDaylight Project

Businesses are excited by the promises of SDN, and they’re actively looking to craft strategies that will help them gain an edge with their customers and employees through technology. Network engineers, on the other hand, are the targets of the FUD. They’re constantly being told that SDN is going to drive them to extinction in favor of programmers. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even if network configuration and provisioning were to suddenly shift tomorrow from CLI to Python or YANG or whatever, would it really make a difference? Good network engineers have learned multiple CLIs over the years… even if they’ve only dealt with one vendor.

Some have even succumbed to that whole GUI thing. So, learning a new set of commands and UI is trivial for most engineers. Not to mention, no change is going to occur overnight. It’s going to be a gradual evolution that may have more than one appearance in the end.

There’s plenty of time for good network engineers looking to evolve themselves to pick up the necessary skills along the way.

Don’t be fooled by the new skills piece, though. The value of network engineers isn’t their ability to configure boxes–it’s their ability to design elegant systems, understand complex protocol relationships and reduce technology issues to the lowest common denominator rapidly for resolution.

So, what if we even go as far as automating configuration and provisioning? That just means that network engineers can spend more time on strategic initiatives that will actually challenge them and leverage their true value. You know, those things that have occupied slots 3 through 5 on the to-do list for the last 18 months, but have been repeatedly usurped by the latest fire drill.

Of course, there’s also that crazy concept of integrating the applications and network to provide greater awareness. How terrible would that be? I mean imagine what crazy things might come of actually knowing the requirements and real-time status of applications on the network. Dare I say network engineers may never have to deal with another “Hey, the Internet is slow today” call again… ever?

Yes, change is scary, but it’s also very exciting. It’s a chance to learn new things, to make new contributions and to lead. Network engineers aren’t going to suddenly be hanging out on street corners with “will route for food” signs.

The good ones will simply find themselves in new spheres of influence collaborating with different teams on how their combined skill sets will improve IT. Maybe they’ll even start bartering with the programmers: You teach me YANG modeling, and I’ll teach you link state protocols. The sooner we can all get past the FUD and embrace this reality, the sooner we can move this industry forward.

This is tech. If we’re not here to innovate, then why are we here?

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Wrangling the IoT: The Next-Gen Architecture We’ve All Been Waiting For

Technologies like AI, the IoT, virtual reality and data analytics are no longer enterprise luxuries, but means of survival in an era of rapid digital disruption. They’re transforming traditional processes, redefining roles and responsibilities, and reimaging the customer/brand relationship. Consider that five years from now, more than one-third of skills needed in today’s workforce will look different because of technological advancement. Three years from now, 100 million consumers are expected to be shopping in virtual reality. Data algorithms are now being used to positively alter the behavior of workers.

These technologies are no longer the basis for science-fiction movies like “The Terminator” or “The Matrix.” They’re here and now. Today, millions of people can watch chatbots argue with each other for entertainment. People are spending days in virtual reality, essentially living in an alternate universe.

Who’s to say that far-reaching movie plots like “Her” and “I, Robot” won’t become reality 30 years from now? We can’t say for sure, however, one thing we do know is that businesses must transition from legacy, hierarchal architecture to a next-generation platform so they can flexibly respond at today’s speed of digital change.

In a recent blog, I explored five key areas of this next-generation platform that every business must consider: next-gen IT, the IoT, AI/automation, an open ecosystem, and the customer/citizens experience. I tackled the first of these five areas: next-gen IT. Now, let’s explore what businesses should know about a next-generation platform in terms of the IoT.

The Only Way to Bring Legacy into Today’s Next-Gen World of IoT

Capitalizing on the IoT is an exponential challenge when core systems and applications are still running in a legacy-dependent environment. To succeed, companies must bring legacy into today’s next-generation world of IoT—a process with its own set of unique challenges.

For starters, the IoT is a vast and loosely defined concept. Some define the IoT simply as sensorous technology. Others, the interworking of various embedded devices that can collect and exchange data. The way I see it, anything that can connect to either a network or provide any sort of service (not just data collection and exchange) should be considered part of the IoT. Because virtually anything can be considered part of the IoT, it becomes difficult to implement one single solution designed to target all IoT requirements. Because of this, we see many IoT solutions on the market today (i.e., Bluetooth, WiFi, ZigBee, LPWAN) that support a range of different requirements.

These solutions also typically don’t use IP protocols, making them impractical in today’s world of any-to-any communication. With billions of connected devices in use today, companies must migrate away from non-IP technologies towards converged architecture to begin building process workflow automation based on IoT analytics. For example, consider a utility company that can automatically notify customers of the impact of an impending weather storm based on predictive analytics from sensors deployed throughout its power lines. The provider can then increase the reliability of their services while keeping customers informed on the severity of the storm using real-time data. As you can see, breaking the silos between various “data sets” (Big Data) is the key to building workflows that are impactful to customers and/or citizens.

The end goal of the IoT is to create automated (and in many cases data-driven) processes that generate the exact business or customers/citizens outcome you’re looking for. The right technology foundation is essential for turning this goal into a practical reality.

So, what’s the answer? An open, software-enabled, meshed architecture platform. This next-generation platform makes it easy to migrate from legacy architecture to begin securely deploying IoT devices that drive higher levels of efficiency:

  • Open, SDN architecture supports unmatched levels of IoT intelligence. The platform continuously learns and changes conditions as needed via constantly updated traffic flows. Consider, for example, asset utilization reports that detail up-to-the-minute operational activity, enabling decision makers to change course as needed for continual improvement and cost savings. Meanwhile, an open-sourced ecosystem offers programmable APIs that allow companies to customize their IoT services and applications to meet their exact needs.
  • End-to-end network segmentation delivers built-in, point-to-point security for up to 168,000 devices that can run on any vendor’s network. This is achieved through three core components—hyper-segmentation, native stealth and automated elasticity—that work in unison to effectively isolate and filter traffic from IoT device to destination. End-to-end network segmentation is inherently designed to secure the IoT ecosystem, and yet only 23% of companies currently have such a solution deployed.
  • An SDN-based IoT controller seamlessly manages the integrated IoT environment. Based on a multi-protocol controller that manages all service modules within the framework, the IoT controller can assign service profiles to open networking adaptors, manage interfaces into SDN program environments, expose north and southbound APIs, and more.

The fact is this: the IoT is a reality that’s only going to substantially accelerate. Three years from now, it’s expected that companies will be spending up to $2 trillion on IoT devices. Five years from now, analysts predict that the IoT will save consumers and businesses $1 trillion per year. In this same period, though, it’s expected that more than 25% of identified enterprise attacks will involve the IoT. During this time, many businesses will continue to struggle with IoT security and management.

We’re only seeing the beginning of what can be achieved with the IoT, but these possibilities are limited without the right technology foundation. The last three decades have seen humans manually providing input to generate desired outcomes, whereas digital enterprises are now using sensors as the input mechanism, combined with sophisticated automated workflows. Scary one may say, but nonetheless our reality.

Think about it: does a self-driving car need any input from humans? Not if the vehicle knows the driver’s calendar, destination and location of people you may need to pick up. It will automatically take the preferred route to keep you on time, find the closest parking space (smart parking), and even, if required, let people know you’ve arrived. At this point, humans are simply going for the ride! This is exactly why the right IoT foundation is so critical to digital transformation. It’s imperative that businesses invest in a next-generation platform that can deliver the simplicity needed to connect, secure and manage the ever-growing number of IoT devices. At the end of the day, a meshed architecture platform represents the best—and arguably the only—way to effectively reduce IoT breaches, rapidly innovate, and improve IT staff efficiency. The possibilities of IoT are seemingly endless for businesses with this foundation.

Up next, we’ll be tackling the third key area of a next-generation platform: artificial intelligence/automation. Be sure to check back soon!

The 2020 Network Is Here: Stop Visualizing and Start Deploying

At this point, it’s safe to say you’ve heard of digital transformation and the radical changes it’s driving within the enterprise as we approach the 2020 network. For example, up to 45% of activities that employees are paid to perform can now be automated. Companies are working overtime to identify security solutions that defend against vulnerabilities found in 70% of IoT devices today. The average business now offers customers up to nine engagement channels to be used across a vast array of devices.

Organizational boundaries are blurring. The speed of change has become relentless. Networking as we know it has been redefined. All of this, of course, has significantly changed the role of IT within the modern-day enterprise.

The days of troubleshooting computers and running phone lines are dead and gone. Today, IT represents the foundation for numerous key areas of business, many that far surpass the norm. CIOs are emerging as leaders of customer-facing functions, responsible for driving digital user experiences organization-wide. Business owners are strategically using IT to accelerate their core revenue-generating activities. Half are now collecting ideas through business unit workshops facilitated by IT. Driven by digital transformation, IT has changed to the point of no return.

Digital transformation, however, is far from over. Research makes it clear we’re only getting started. Consider the vast changes expected to occur over the next three years alone. Gartner predicts that by 2020:

  • 100 million consumers will shop in virtual reality
  • 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen
  • Algorithms will positively alter the behavior of billions of global workers

By 2021, 20% of all activities will involve at least one of seven digital giants like Amazon, Facebook, or Apple. By 2022, a blockchain-based business will be worth an estimated $10 billion. It’s clear the potential of trends like the IoT, cloud, big data analytics, and robotics is far from fulfilled and will only accelerate substantially as we move forward.

This all leads to one very important question: what will the network of 2020 look like? This massive, continued change will surely place unprecedented demand on IT infrastructure looking ahead.

Almost a year ago, Principal Analyst at ZK Research, Zeus Kerravala, aimed to answer this question via an article published to Network World. In it, he outlined key challenges that lie ahead for companies looking to capitalize on digital transformation (i.e., lack of automation, nodal configuration, multicast deployments), as well as what the network of 2020 will look like. Terms like simplified, mobile-centric, enhanced for contextualized customer experiences, and hyper-converged rounded out a comprehensive list of components, all which are just as valid today as they were this time last year.

Over the last year, however, Avaya has worked to streamline the 2020 network by condensing the technology into five key areas that businesses across every industry must consider: deep and wide automation, improved scalability, built-in security, mesh architecture, and an open network ecosystem.

Five Key Areas of the 2020 Network Every Business Must Know

  1. Deep and wide automation:

    As enterprises start aligning IT around their core business priorities, they must work to support two levels of automation: the first for automating the network architecture itself, and the second for automating various business workflows. The first involves eliminating complex, nodal configurations (traditionally required for service deployment) in order to easily add capacity and scaling capabilities. The second involves adopting a powerful, open workflow engine to increase productivity and overall efficiency. Network and workflow automation are essential for achieving the utmost business success.

  2. Scalability:

    Traditionally, scaling your architecture required that you replace your existing nodes with faster ones. In today’s smart, digital world, however, companies must evolve traditional scalability from legacy hierarchal architecture to fabric-based architecture. This move will enable them to add capacity at will and simulate nodal configuration, much like VMWare did with the introduction of server virtualization. The industry needs an end-to-end simplified virtualized network.

  3. Built-in security:

    The static configuration of legacy architecture will never offer the right level of network security needed today, nor will it support the future of the CX. As such, companies must work to eliminate legacy downfall when deploying next-generation architecture. This means sharpening the blurry, gray areas of network security—for example, when employees’ devices begin fading in and out of Wi-Fi when roaming in the parking lot. With more connected devices and more ways than ever to compromise them, it’s imperative that the 2020 network deliver any-to-any, end-to-end, built-in security. In other words, end-to-end network segmentation complemented by sophisticated authentication, encryption where needed, and real-time threat protection.

  4. Meshed architecture:

    The 2020 network epitomizes freedom of deployment. It means companies can move away from traditional hierarchal deployment and finally mesh their architecture. No more linearly connecting parts. No more limitations of Ethernet loops. A natively meshed architecture will empower organizations with unparalleled resiliency and scalability end to end (not just within the data center). At universities, for example, this means hyper-segmented, end-to-end connection across multiple campuses. At a bank, this kind of connectivity can be deployed between branch sites taking full advantage of cloud-based services. The user possibilities and business outcomes are seemingly endless.

  5. Open ecosystem:

    We live in a world of software-defined everything: SD-WAN SD-storage, SD-data center. The fact is that we’re rapidly and inevitably moving towards an open-sourced ecosystem. To prepare for this reality, businesses must ensure those vendors they invest in offer open APIs. This enables them to truly customize solution features and capabilities to meet their exact business needs. The 2020 network will no longer just endorse proprietary systems—but businesses need to continue to be cautious about how to take full advantage of open-source code without increasing business risks through vulnerabilities.

It’s imperative that organizations educate themselves on the 2020 network, not only visualizing it but taking the necessary steps for deployment. The future of networking is here, and it’s going to influence and shape your business. To learn more about these five key areas of the 2020 network, read IDC’s all-new Networks 2020 preparedness report, sponsored by Avaya.

Continuous Learning: Propelling Forward in a Rapidly and Inevitably Changing World

Whether we realize it or not, advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT) have transformed the way we think about the world around us. From how we protect our schools to the way we navigate our streets to how we shop for groceries, such technology now lies at the heart of practically everything we do today.

Just as these technologies have changed the way we live, they have changed the way we work. Today’s rapid pace of innovation has transformed nearly every business task, process, and workflow imaginable—so much so that industry analysts estimate that up to 45% of activities that employees are paid to perform can now be automated.

This digital disruption—or what many are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution—without question redefines traditional roles and responsibilities. In fact, research shows that in five years, more than one third of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed. Even more, analysts estimate that 65% of children today will grow up to work in roles that don’t yet exist.

While we do still see employees that specialize in one skill or expertise, we’ve mostly moved away from the days of hiring an employee for just one job. As technology evolves, so too do the skills required to innovate and propel forward. Looking ahead, employees must have a propensity for continuous learning and adopting new skills to be able to recognize and respond to today’s speed of digital change.

Consider how technology has changed the marketing paradigm. As recently as 10 years ago, marketing platforms like Marketo and HubSpot had only just been founded, Facebook was still in its infancy, and the first iPhone had newly hit the market. As technologies like cloud, social, mobile and big data evolved, however, we suddenly began seeing new tools specifically designed to enhance digital media, social media marketing, and mobile marketing. As a result, companies began searching to fill roles for social media coordinators, digital campaign managers and integrated marketing planners—jobs that were unfathomable 15 to 20 years prior.

Fast forward to today and we’re seeing the emergence of new technology for marketing, such as augmented reality, geofencing, and emotion detection. The continual emergence of new technology perpetually creates skills gaps that must be filled by employees who are passionate, motivated, and invested in their own learning. These kinds of team members are committed to developing new skills and leveraging their strengths to outperform.

But not all employees can easily identify their strengths or develop new skills. This is likely why nearly half of employees today feel unengaged at work, with nearly 20% feeling “actively disengaged.” At the same time, companies are struggling to align employee strengths with organizational priorities. Employees may have certain strengths, but employers may find those skills don’t directly increase operational efficiency or performance. This is why nearly 80% of businesses are more worried about a talent shortage today than they were two years ago.

So, what’s the answer? Employees and employers must work together to identify what roles are currently filled, what skills are still needed, and who best exemplifies those skills. For employees, this means taking control of how they grow their careers and improving for the better. For employers, this means displaying an unwavering commitment to employee reinvestment by understanding key areas of interest to effectively fill skills gaps.

At Avaya, for example, we’re leading an employee enablement program under our Marketing 3.0 strategy. The initiative is designed to help strengthen our marketing organization by equipping employees with the right competencies that reflect our culture, strategy, expectations and market dynamics. By doing so, we can ensure we’re recruiting and managing talent in the most strategic way, putting the right people in the right jobs with the abilities to perform at maximum potential every day. By having each marketing function participate in a simple knowledge profile exercise, we can begin objectively determining development opportunities that best meet their needs and the needs of our business.

As technology continuously evolves, it’s crucial that employees have a propensity for continuous learning and that organizations foster an environment for this learning. In the words of former GE CEO Jack Welch, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

We live in a world that is rapidly and inevitably changing. Employees should embrace this change to thrive, and must if they wish to propel business forward. As employers, we are responsible for strategically leveraging our resources to align employee strengths with organizational needs to succeed in this environment of constant change.