Digital Workplace Transformation: Directions on Connections
I regularly talk with our clients about the immense value presented by moving to cloud-based management of their devices, delivery of applications to any device, anywhere, and creating rich productivity, content, and communications experiences with today's SaaS-based tools and platforms - "Get out of the device business…", "Reduce your infrastructure demands…", "Simplify your IT/business relationship…" as well as others.
In my client sessions, I've noticed a new conversation that's starting to occur frequently, particularly now that we're moving forward in many cases with large-scale implementation of these digital experiences in the cloud, and moving with clients to a user-first, cloud-centric workplace model - What about the demands on connectivity infrastructure?
Like the rest of the traditional IT landscape, user connectivity architecture is typically focused on internal LAN/WAN networks providing access to on-premises infrastructure and data centers - Their geographies usually relative to specific user, application, or compliance needs - in a particular organization. Since Internet connectivity is sometimes more cost or performance efficient in certain geographies or, in some situations, bears significantly less compliance or regulatory requirement based on where the entry and exit points are, many organizations have become creative with how they deliver Internet connectivity to their internally networked users.
Some of these scenarios are based on consolidation, some are based on decentralization, and some on specific nuance in the WAN design of a given company or division. Some may simply be by-products of legacy, coupled together networks from previous merger and acquisition activity, and others based on the sophistication required by legacy technologies, such as VoIP telephony, Unified Communications systems, or specific content delivery/quality-of-service and application platform requirements. Most of these legacy Internet connectivity designs in today's corporations will require a fundamental change to effectively deliver cloud-centric transformative workplace and user experiences.
While Digital Workplace Transformation will bring with it the opportunity to create significant simplification value and additional flexibility of use cases amongst lines of business, these benefits are largely reliant on the simplification of user connectivity- Namely, reduced reliance on internal access (direct to the data center, that is) for the user device. Such a change to the internal/external access paradigm will need likely be transformative and disruptive itself and require significant architectural change, but many of the outcomes will lead to lower costs and operational expense, in addition to what is already expected of the changes in the end-user computing space:
- Significant reliance on high-bandwidth Internet connectivity, even for on-premises employees might be a challenge in converged and consolidated scenarios where Internet access is provided at core data centers, and is limited to today's low demand for external applications. In most situations, local ISP connectivity at individual offices may be more affordable than MPLS services powering today's LAN/WAN interoffice connectivity scenarios. Many new Internet Access Points in the corporate network topology may be required, and in some cases, the entire user-side network may simply be an Internet connection.
- The Digital Workplace transformation that most organizations are going through or planning aren't capturing the requirements nor the investments and values associated with removing internal network connectivity at-the-desk and replacing with switched connectivity to the Internet via either wired or wireless technology. Network hardware vendors are producing innovative products in this space to allow for protected, secure, cloud-managed LANs to be created for facilities of all sizes to have their own Internet Access solution. These solutions can also vary by campus or office location within a given organization, ensuring that the right connectivity parameters, performance and local demand/provider values are considered, maximizing value wherever access is required.
- In this Internet-Connected Workplace scenario, the data center, or WAN of data centers, really begins to become its own cloud-service-like entity, with its outbound and incoming services being based on externally-faced applications and services, coupled with on-demand VPN for legacy services that are unable to transform in-kind, provided by an application delivery or content delivery gateway. The new workplace paradigm no longer requires a user to maintain a system-wide IP connection to the internal network for an increasing number of web-enabled, SaaS, and cloud applications, including user data services in Enterprise File Sync services, collaboration, and messaging use cases. The outliers can be managed through Application Delivery solutions, and secure gateways, lowering the attack surface of your critical infrastructure, by removing user end-points from the internal WAN altogether.
- The long-term benefits go beyond capital and managed costs, and extend into the same value proposition of the rest of the Workplace story - Simplicity drives lower support costs overall. Users are more capable and empowered. Self-support, when coupled with the right self-service and self-repair approaches, can significantly reduce the "soft costs" of delivering IT services: user downtime is reduced, service desk utilization decreases, and the experience is an empowered one that attracts top talent and allows for increased innovation.
- This "connectivity renaissance" goes beyond the user segment of the network. In the data center, when significant server and storage infrastructure is replaced by the cloud, demand for those centralized superhighways to the Internet are replaced with different demand from applications and application delivery platforms that will now need to integrate and communicate with cloud services over this Internet connection, rather than across the raised floor, or over the WAN to other areas of the internal schema. This change in demand will likely change the requirements for that connection and others, as well as your MPLS requirements in the data center itself - But that's another blog post.
One thing is for sure; Creating your Digital Workplace is as much about re-thinking access and connectivity, and considering those value points, as it is about revolutionizing the user experience.