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Get real: three reasons to invest in network infrastructure

13 Mar 2023

Andy Kivell

Head of Connectivity Portfolio, Vodafone Business

Software solutions are exciting. But strategic IT leaders invest in infrastructure first.

Physical infrastructure matters

There’s a new approach to IT infrastructure. It comes with many names. To some people, it’s Secure Access Service Edge. Others use the acronym SASE, pronounced ‘sassy’. We like Secure Connected Enterprise as a catch-all term. But we’ve heard Zero Trust Edge (or ZTE) as well.

You can choose your preferred label later. For now, it’s enough to know there’s an approach to IT infrastructure that puts control and security at the edge of your network, closer to users’ hands. So, while different executive committees use various names for SASE or ZTE, they’re talking about the same thing. And it’s firmly on their agenda.

‘But why talk about infrastructure?’ you might ask. ‘Isn’t that old-fashioned? Doesn’t everything happen in the cloud?’ And you’d be right – insofar as 40% of all enterprise workloads in 2023 will be deployed in cloud infrastructure and platform services. So, absolutely, organisations are migrating to the cloud. But does that make physical infrastructure any less important?

Short answer: no. Remember it only took one faulty refrigeration unit to take down Alibaba Cloud in Hong Kong. A police force, a food delivery platform and a cryptocurrency exchange​ were without cloud-based services for 24 hours because of a single piece of broken kit. So, banish the image of fluffy white puffs from your mind. The cloud doesn’t operate out of thin air. It rests atop physical infrastructure that can make or break your business.

And this crucial observation – that physical infrastructure still matters – leads us to another question…

What’s the right infrastructure for modern work?

Modern working means flexible working: nine out of ten employees want the option of working remotely. So there’s limited benefit to basing a network around a few large data centres. To reach remote offices and roaming colleagues, you need a network with a large footprint that provides access from every edge.

That setup raises questions about security. In 2021, 85% of organisations suffered some form of cyberattack and the average cost of a data breach rose to $4.35 million. So it’s no surprise cybersecurity became a top priority for enterprises. Enter SASE, otherwise known as ZTE.

Secure Access Service Edge emerged as a response to the risks and rewards of the present moment. Taken as a whole, the acronym ‘SASE’ describes a new way of serving network users:
  • ‘Secure Access’ is about giving them a route to the information they need, while keeping the organisation safe from data breaches.

  • ‘Service Edge’ means running services from sites near each user, rather than backhauling traffic to a centralised data centre. As a result, everything gets faster and smoother for users.

No two SASE offerings are the same

While it’s technically true to describe SASE as a cloud-based network, it’s only effective because it uses many physical points of presence (PoPs). This puts global network owners like us at an advantage.

As owners and architects of the biggest public and private networks, we have access to thousands of high-capacity network sites around the world. And we’re actively improving those sites through our Super PoP strategy. (What’s the difference between a PoP and a Super PoP? One of our strategy managers says it’s like the difference between a phone and a smartphone. The leap forward is that dramatic.) The Super PoP strategy means we can introduce SASE and Virtual Network Functions to more business customers.

So choose your communications partner carefully. We’d say we have a particular advantage among ISPs because our infrastructure takes in private networks, internet users and mobile endpoints. It even interconnects with Amazon, Microsoft, Google and other Software-as-a-Service companies. So we can carry traffic to cloud-based applications and back again without passing it to another network (more on that in a moment).

Deploying SASE over a widespread network with plenty of peering relationships is a profitable use of your IT budget. It balances speed, security and simplicity to set your business up for the future.

Three big benefits of fixed infrastructure:

  1. Speed – because you can connect teams to apps and each other, directly

If we’re talking about speed, we have to bring up network peering again. All told, we have around 500 peering relationships. To give one example, we have direct peering connections with Microsoft in over 20 cities globally. And, over the last 12 months or so, we’ve both doubled the number of direct links with the software giant and increased the capacity of our interconnections by 650%.

Because of these links, it only takes one hop for our traffic to reach Microsoft 365. A direct connection deals with the issues that could limit Microsoft 365 on other, less capable networks. Each peering connection comes with back-ups, so traffic handoff is faster, and teams keep working even when a line goes down. Businesspeople who use Microsoft 365 feel the difference as a measurable step change in speed and productivity.

  1. Security – because you deliver security services closer to end users

When users and devices are everywhere, security needs to be everywhere as well.

In the old way of working, businesses would forward remote user traffic to their data centres, inspect it, and send it back again. But the further traffic needs to travel, the longer its journey takes. So that traditional approach to verification becomes impractical when teams are spread out: no longer in a central headquarters but working from home.

Thankfully, SASE or ZTE or – as we like to call it – Secure Connected Enterprise has emerged as a network strategy that’s more direct. Traffic’s inspected at points of presence near the users, before being sent on to its destination. Access to applications and data is more efficient.

And, if you’re worried this efficiency might come at the expense of your data security, don’t be. Secure Connected Enterprise brings a range of network security services together, including:

  • Software-Defined WAN or SD WAN – a network with controls to steer traffic to trusted providers

  • Firewall as a Service or FWaaS – a cloud service that inspects traffic and enforces security policies

  • Zero-Trust Network Access – a solution that only lets verified users or devices access applications and checks identities every session

  • Cloud Access Security Broker – a service that sits between users and cloud providers to make sure businesses are using the cloud in a safe way

  • Secure Web Gateway – a solution that stops an organisation’s users from accessing unsafe web sites

  1. Simplicity – because it’s the foundation for a whole range of solutions

Think about infrastructure first, software second, and you’ll end up with an IT estate that’s easier to manage. Buying software from an Over-The-Top provider might be straightforward in the moment, but soon raises awkward questions about system integration.

We make sure our solutions work together. Take our voice connectivity systems and cybersecurity solutions. These services, which seem so different on the surface, have a common architecture – an architecture founded on our infrastructure. What does that mean for IT leaders? More control. IT teams can set policies based on load conditions, network performance, or even specific application or security requirements.

It’s only because of our network – and our Super PoP strategy – that we can offer a harmonised set of services, covered by a single set of standards, which can be managed through a single portal. Our points of presence are a key strength, and one we’re glad to share with customers.

The right partner gives you speed, security and simplicity

Almost everything we do in modern work – file sharing, record keeping, calling, messaging, emailing, analysing data, taking payments – relies on networking in big or small ways. And, as the demands on networks increase, businesses need to be prepared.

The right infrastructure will empower remote working and, in turn, attract the right talent. If an ambitious professional gets two job offers – one from a centralised, office-bound corporation, and the other from a flexible, forward-looking enterprise – who do you think they’re going to choose?

We’re working hard to deliver the kind of infrastructure that gives our customers a competitive edge. And our dedication has been recognised by Gartner who named us as a market leader in their 2022 Magic Quadrant for global network services.

So, as you make plans for your IT budget in 2023, get real. With the right infrastructure, you can strengthen your organisation in ways you can’t with software solutions alone.

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