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Network management can sometimes be a neglected afterthought, yet the availability and reliability of the network is essential for a whole host of mission-critical activities. Kevin Drinkall challenges organizations to consider whether they are giving enough attention to their network.

Technology expectations of businesses and employees are growing and changing every day. But the underlying network which enables us to use this tech properly, can’t always keep up. Instead of being the power behind it, networks can often prove inflexible when it comes to getting the most out of technology in the working environment.

This is a huge problem for businesses of all shapes and sizes, who need to adopt new technology to support its staff and processes, and for those wanting to embrace IoT and future innovations to stay ahead of the curve and attract a ‘tech-savvy’ workforce.

‘The whole is only as good as the sum of its parts’ has never been more appropriate in this scenario. With much excitement around the role of technology in the workplace; the connectivity, speed, security and indeed management of the supporting network to make it work is often an afterthought.

Why can’t our networks take the strain?

What might have started out as a few laptops and networked printers, can quickly evolve into a sprawling network of connected devices. From bring your own device (BYOD) and remote workers using specialist software in the cloud, to staff needing access to online systems or documents on the move, through to the rise of smart buildings - the IT manager’s job is now a whole lot more complicated.

Employees and the business expect to be connected at all times, in all places and via the device and means of their choosing. They expect a slick technologically enhanced user experience and any lack of connectivity can lead to frustrations, stress, mistrust in the network and reduced productivity. If the network goes down, is degraded by poor implementations or the wrong type of equipment and design, then connected collaboration will stop, VOIP will fail and those all-important emails won’t send or receive. This will have a huge impact on businesses who rely heavily on being connected to their employees and customers 24/7.

Quite simply, a high level of demand and expectation means that the underlying network can become a bottleneck to productivity. Whilst the use of devices and cloud-based technology might have naturally evolved, the effective management of a distributed network to keep up, can sometimes lag behind.

Adding all devices to one network - without segmenting it into user groups and assigning permission levels – is a potential security risk. As more ‘unknown’ devices – such as personal or guest devices - are added, the potential threat to the network and business increases.

This has created a big headache for those tasked with ensuring everything works how it should and that the security of corporate information is not compromised as networked systems continue to sprawl.

What is the extent of the challenge?

The evolution of workforce culture and working practices has meant that there is an expectation that we can have access to everything now, not tomorrow. We are not limited by office walls or a 9am – 5.30pm day, and reliance on mobile devices and cloud-based systems are becoming the norm.

Businesses increasingly run their operations via cloud-based services – from customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools, and finance databases, right through to mission-critical elements including email, file storage and payroll. Businesses rely on the software as a service (SaaS) model more than they realise, making the ability to connect and access these tools vital to the success of their operation. With poor connectivity, businesses will fail to meet user and customer expectations.

In addition to the mission-critical element of the network, there is also increased demand for businesses and the buildings they use to be ‘smart’. IoT is becoming more and more prevalent in the way we operate, and there is an expectation for both commercial and residential building networks to manage ever increasing numbers of devices.

Many buildings are either going wireless or have a higher percentage of connected devices over traditional wired networks. Businesses, individuals and the devices themselves are driving this change. Devices are moving away from the physically connected world of cables, as workers reject cumbersome, fixed desktop set-ups. Users want flexibility in how they work and hot desking is becoming the norm for many companies.

Taking this one step further, many smaller businesses and young companies are using managed service offices - such as WeWork or Tech Space – where employees can work flexibly. This style of operation means that many businesses and employees are totally reliant on the network and cloud-based services to function, and often have more connected devices than a more traditional or established business.

Look to the cloud to keep pace

With the increase in BYOD, reliance on cloud services and rising adoption of IoT - the stability, scalability and security of network set-up is of primary importance. Whether standalone or cloud managed, businesses need a network infrastructure they can rely on, that will secure their data and provide robust connectivity, anywhere and at any time.

Managing what can be a very complex set of connections and mission-critical services can be difficult. But with so many businesses relying on cloud-based services to operate, the answer for managing and future proofing the network could be closer than you think.

The cloud offers many benefits to businesses and managing the network via this channel is no exception. A cloud-based solution can help to easily monitor who is on the network, at what time – from anywhere and at any time, providing greater flexibility, security and insight into what is going on.

Real-time information about what is happening on the network can also help IT managers to deal with extra demand placed on it or to fix problems remotely, such as boost an access point or scale up or down network capacity as business demands change.

Networks need to be secure, trustworthy and work – businesses function 24/7 – customers expect that and employees expect that. Businesses need to take their own networks seriously.

Isn’t it time you looked at managing your network better and keep on top of business challenges.

The author

Kevin Drinkall is EMEA Wireless and Cloud Market Development Manager at Zyxel.

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