The next generation of enterprise networking architecture will transform the network into a strategic asset that allows businesses to tightly align their IT resources with business priorities. 

That’s the word from Paul Ruinaard, regional enterprise sales manager at Cisco Systems SA. He says that the network is taking on an increasingly important role in a world where companies are transforming their technology infrastructures in preparation for new IT strategies such as service-orientated architectures (SOA).
Says Ruinaard: “The network is the veins and arteries of the business, touching every part of the organisation and its IT infrastructure – applications, servers, client devices like PCs and PDAs, employees, customers and business partners.
“As such, it is a logical place for companies to start transforming their technology infrastructure in preparation for new paradigms such as on-demand computing and SOAs.”
Companies are starting to shift their attention from using IT to contain costs to exploiting technology for competitive advantage. CIOs recognise that they need to streamline and standardise their IT infrastructures to provide a platform they can use for the deployment of the agile, business process-driven applications enabled by SOAs.
SOA is an approach to software design that is meant to allow organisations to focus on business processes in their application development, rather than focusing on lower level integration and application issues.
Up to 70% of an average organisation’s annual IT budget is consumed by operational costs, leaving only 30 percent for investment in new business solutions, says Ruinaard.
As such, deploying an architecture that can be managed more efficiently and cost-effectively can free up funds that an organisation can use to deploy applications that improve its business processes and give it a competitive edge, while increasing ROI.
Ruinaard says that most companies’ IT budgets are chewed up by a number of operational costs: the expenses of getting numerous old and new systems supplied by various vendors to talk to each other; the costs of managing and maintaining these disparate systems; and under-utilisation of IT assets such as bandwidth and storage space.
Next-generation networking technologies will tackle these problems by managing distributed applications and services through a unified and centralised platform.
Networking vendors are embedding features and functionality that were once discrete applications into the network itself. For example, next-generation networks will offer security applications such as authentication, authorisation, and accounting (AAA) and middleware that allows different systems to talk to each other as a part of their basic functionality, says Ruinaard.
All of this functionality will be centrally managed as a common, integrated platform that stretches across networking requirements such as internal communications; mobile connectivity; voice, video and data; and collaboration with business partners.
In addition, resources such as storage can be pooled across the network to allow for more efficient utilisation: storage units that once used only 20 percent of their capacity as a standalone device can be used more efficiently so that the business doesn’t unnecessarily invest in new technology, for example.
Says Ruinaard: “Such an architecture will offer numerous advantages: it will drive the costs of managing and maintaining networks down and create funding that CIOs can use for strategic projects.
“In addition, it closes many of the present gaps found in information security because of the numerous security platforms and systems most companies need to manage, and it also improves the resilience of the infrastructure.
“A more integrated network also improves access to information, which means that employees, customers and business partners have faster and more reliable access to the data you want them to see.
“But perhaps most importantly, such a network gives companies a robust platform on top of which they can quickly and flexibly deploy the applications and business services that will give them a competitive advantage.”
Ruinaard points out that deploying this sort of environment turns into a competitive advantage for a business because it enables easy collaboration between employees spread across disparate geographical sites, mobile working and streamlined sharing of information.