In a world that is increasingly dependent on technology and bandwidth, the challenges facing network managers, resellers and end users have changed. The competition no longer lies in providing cutting-edge hardware, which is now more widely and democratically distributed than ever, but in giving users the power to work smartly and effectively, with a network that is agile, flexible, responsive and above all, reliable — ideally more so than any network used by competing firms.
Not only must SMBs be sure of their network’s ability to cope with day-to-day tasks and the demands of customers, it must also be able to satisfy the new ‘must haves’ of an evolving landscape. For example, companies of all sizes are now paying attention to big data and their need for increasingly sophisticated analytics to create the highly personalised journeys and interactions that customers now expect.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is another prime example of innovation making demands on business networks. A recent survey of 700 executives found that 60% of businesses were looking to use the IoT to drive new initiatives. The nature of those initiatives will, of course, vary by company and sector, but they will inevitably require the expansion, reconfiguration and scaling of business networks.
SMBs and the Cloud
Even in the era of cloud, that sounds like a huge potential headache for network managers and resellers. Moving an SMB with a traditional locally deployed network into the era of advanced analytics and the IoT will be quite a challenge. Whenever any meaningful scaling-up or innovation is carried out conventionally, managers have to install and maintain generic software and spend time doing this (generally forcing the business to cease, or at least disrupt, productivity). They also have to be on-site to install hardware and/or trouble-shoot the inevitable teething troubles that accompany change. But that is just the way of things — isn’t it?
Fortunately, no. With thought and care, it is now possible to deploy a networking solution that is not just cloud-based, but proactively uses the power of cloud to the greatest advantage of network managers and end users. It’s an approach that paves the way for ongoing benefit, innovation and expansion as technology develops.
Beyond the cloud
Business applications hosted in the cloud are now well established, and show tangible benefits for companies that use them. It is straightforward for resellers and outsourced network managers to make a business case for cloud, even where clients are uncertain. Indeed, the areas of greatest client concern and uncertainty (which include security, showing ROI, monitoring network performance, compliance and governance, analytics and creating cloud-based IP) are highly amenable to the use of third-party experts. Thus, cloud network management generates opportunity for partners but, as we have seen, it can also generate headaches and inconvenience.
Because for network managers and end users alike, merely being cloud-based is no longer enough. To convey real benefits, the network must be intentionally and intelligently optimised to leverage cloud’s universality and 24/7 accessibility from any location. That means using a cloud-based network management that gives administrators flexibility, scalability and all with hands-off control (ideally, even new hardware will be pre-programmed before despatch and link to the network and update as soon as it is plugged in).
When such a network configuration is achieved, it provides clear benefits to end users and resellers/external network managers alike.
For the end user, remote management and hardware pre-configuration can help to reduce network-related downtime and even the downtime that is required (for example, to install hardware) may be scheduled to suit the business. Remote management also removes the element of intrusion and need to adhere to rigid timetables. The cloud network that is designed for simplicity of installation and ease of use is likely to give end users greater confidence, including the confidence to add further capability to their network and thus use data, IoT and other innovative approaches, potentially driving up revenue and generating a commercial advantage.
For network managers, be they in-house or external, centralised management simplifies the IT workload and gives easy access to reporting and monitoring wherever and whenever it is needed. The comprehensive overview of the network that comes with centralised cloud-based management can also help resellers to suggest beneficial scaling and expansion/innovation opportunities to their clients. There is no need for the supplier, or even the network manager, to visit the site for most mundane matters, which allows flexible timing and greater convenience all round.
In short, an approach to network management that is not simply cloud-based, but consciously designed to harness cloud capabilities to optimise the network, can avoid the headaches that often afflict resellers and network managers. This approach provides an easy, scalable solution that is straightforward to deploy. Simple, centrally-managed networking gives managers pinpoint control and oversight of their network whenever they want it, and consequently positions the business to take full advantage of its own data. And in the age of ‘big data’, what could be better than that?