The Unified Network: Big Benefits, Bigger Problems?
The new face of IT is convergence: adapting, linking and unifying technologies that might seem incompatible at first but offer substantial benefits when managed together. Consider the unified network, in which wired and wireless connections are handled simultaneously using a single management portal. Despite the obvious benefits of this method and increasing IT budgets to support it, problems persist. Are effective solutions on the horizon, are they mere flights of IT fancy?
It’s no surprise that companies are interested in wired and wireless convergence. While Ethernet-based wired connections provide superior download speeds and reduced latency, wireless networks are critical components of enhanced mobility, allowing workers to leverage mobile devices around the office, guests to access limited network services and companies to escape the confines of eternally cabled desktops. Unified networks also empower unified communications services, which allow staff to work from anywhere by providing a critical bridge between wireless solutions and traditional wired offerings.
Wireless and wired connections are fundamentally different. This is no surprise for IT teams, who must confront the reality that effective network management — which includes planning, provisioning, configuring, monitoring and event reporting — is complex and nuanced. Part of the problem stems from elements that are unique to wireless oversight, such as connection reliability, performance and monitoring. Even more challenging is the need for effective security controls that are adaptable enough to handle both wired and wireless connections but also rigid enough to deliver solid protection. As noted by TechTarget, there’s also a prevailing industry attitude that many single-pane-of-glass solutions are more trouble than they’re worth.
First in this problem are low-bar-to-entry solutions that promise ease of management but lack more complex functionality. In effect, they’re starter kits that don’t give IT enough control over the network and don’t automate enough tasks to make this loss of control worth it. Single-vendor solutions typically have a better reputation, but — no surprise — introducing third-party tools and solutions often wreaks havoc with the network. This effect is due to both the proprietary nature of many tools and how difficult it is to maintain consistent software updates across a wide array of products from multiple vendors. Thus, many companies are left feeling fleeced and convinced that truly unified network management is simply a myth.
Bridging the Gap for a Unified Network
So what’s the solution? It starts with organizations recognizing that network management no longer happens exclusively on-premises. Much like the evolution of perimeter firewall defense into something more agile and adaptable, companies need to rid themselves of the notion that network oversight starts at the local server and moves outward. Instead, it’s more accurate to say all network connections and devices are equally valid start and end points, and thus they demand the same level of support.
This paves the way for effective IT disruption by leveraging the cloud. It’s important to note that the cloud is not inherently wired or wireless. Rather, it exists as a malleable framework ideal for unifying disparate services or bridging the gap between seemingly incompatible functions. For example, running multiple workloads across various operating systems in the cloud is possible because each instance can be logically separated while still sharing the same pool of resources. The same applies to wired and wireless management: Similar functions can be converged, while necessarily divergent processes can be handled independently. Meanwhile, security, updates and event management are empowered by the cloud through its role as network fabric rather than foundation.
The unified network has evolved into a minor myth: Solutions that claim ease of access lack complexity, while robust offerings limit scope. But cloud computing offers the flexibility and stability required to customize wireless systems, standardize wired connections, effectively integrate legacy hardware and provide an adaptable security foundation.