Better late than never – why it’s time to move networking to the cloud

By Markus Nispel, CTO of EMEA at Extreme Networks.

  • Friday, 6th January 2023 Posted 1 year ago in by Phil Alsop

In many organisations, there’s no doubt that the network is late to the cloud party – even when other functions have been enjoying the benefits of cloud-based software and storage for years. This is partly due to the critical nature of networking, which leads IT teams to err on the side of caution, adopting an if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality.

But the winds of change are blowing. Catalysed by the pandemic, we’re now routinely working across multiple geographies, devices, systems and applications. And we expect this experience to be seamless. This is forcing organisations to move away from fragmented offices, data centres and systems – and towards a more unified approach.

We call this the rise of the infinite enterprise. In this new reality, organisations will have to constantly scale and update their systems, networks and applications to fit users’ evolving needs. Cloud-managed networking forms a key pillar of this, simplifying network management, enabling an ‘always-on’ network, enhancing scalability and acting as a springboard for further innovation.

Let’s take a closer look at the ‘why’ behind cloud-managed networking and explore how it's already benefiting forward-thinking organisations in all sectors – from tourism to transport and sports to smart cities.

Simplifying network management

No matter how efficient your IT team is, legacy network management is often very resource intensive. Firstly, it requires in-house employees with the requisite skills, who can be both hard to find and expensive to retain – particularly given the current IT talent shortage. And secondly, it requires employees to go onsite and work unsociable hours to resolve problems when they occur. This eats up yet more resources, particularly as organisations become increasingly distributed.

Cloud-managed networking removes the above burdens from IT teams, enabling them to manage and troubleshoot networks from a single remote device. It's also worth noting that, with the rise of as-a-service models, many organisations are dispensing with in-house network management entirely. Instead, they’re passing the baton to an external managed service provider.

Take the example of Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, which provides transportation and hospitality services for Germany’s tallest mountain. Any network downtime brings ticketing, hospitality and cable car transportation to an immediate halt. This is further complicated by the fact that much of the organisation's networking infrastructure is only accessible on foot in summer, making onsite maintenance difficult.

So, it’s no surprise that Bayerische Zugspitzbahn turned to cloud-managed networking to simplify network management. The move has also enabled it to meet evolving customer demands by providing reliable, lightning-fast Wi-Fi access to visitors – even 10,000 feet above sea level!

Enabling an ‘always on’ network

Today’s employees now expect to work seamlessly with global teams across multiple time zones. Network administrators must ensure that all users receive the same top-tier experience – whether they’re in Lahore, London, Lagos or Los Angeles.

In this environment, releasing updates and patches using legacy software can quickly become a headache, as downtime will inevitably inconvenience at least one group. But not with cloud-native network management apps. Since these are made up of microservices and containers, it’s easy to reconfigure individual components (rather than entire apps), without downtime or interruption to services.

Global organisations aren’t the only beneficiaries here. With cloud managed networking, organisations can automate updates, preventing delays to bug fixes or patches – a frequent cause of security breaches.

This was one of NJ Transit’s key motivators for abandoning its legacy network management solution. As the USA’s third largest public transportation system, it operates 166 rail stations, 62 light rail stations, and over 19,000 bus stops. So, naturally ensuring security and maximising uptime were key priorities, enhanced by cloud-managed networking.

Enhancing scalability

Ultimately, legacy network management software offers a one-size-fits-all solution to a dynamic problem. Conversely, cloud-managed networking enables organisations to create the network they need, as they need it. IT teams can forget about the scaling and upkeep of a wireless LAN controller, eliminating wasted budget and resources.

Looking beyond individual organisations, cloud-managed networking is enabling seamless communication within entire cities and regions. Consider the Swedish city of Borås Stad. Earlier this year, it implemented one of the world’s largest cloud-managed network infrastructures by deploying 3,500 Wi-Fi 6 access points across the city. The new infrastructure delivers fast connectivity, providing secure public Wi-Fi for all citizens, businesses and public services – schools, healthcare, local government etc.

Acting as a springboard for further innovation

Borås Stad perfectly illustrates how cloud-managed networking can be a springboard for further innovation. Thanks to its new cloud-based networking infrastructure, the city has rolled out cutting edge healthcare services, like Wi-Fi-connected medical wristbands that allow doctors to track patients’ heartbeat and location. The phrase smart city gets bandied around a lot. But this isn't some future-gazing concept with self-driving cars and drone superhighways – it’s a reality.

For many organisations, the shift to cloud-managed networking won’t have the same scope or scale as Borås Stad. But regardless of an organisation’s size, it can unlock crucial data-backed insights and predictions with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Take the example of Liverpool Football Club, which migrated to cloud-managed networking in 2022. The Club can now easily access huge quantities of real-time data distilled into digestible reports – such as fan foot traffic, app usage in the stadium, popular concessions and points in the match when fans are most digitally engaged. This data helps to improve operational efficiencies on match days and inform longer term strategic decision-making. Although unfortunately, it won’t help the team win any more matches!

The bottom line? We’re entering the age of the infinite enterprise. Now that organisations are becoming infinitely distributed, it’s important that IT teams can meet users’ wherever they

are and deliver technology that revolves around their needs, not the other way around. Cloud-managed networking sits at the centre of this.