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Is Networking the New Killer App?

There was a time when applications and software systems lived at the top of the mission-critical list. But with so much now depending on the network, could this be changing?

When companies talk about “killer apps,” they are referring to applications that are so critical to their organizations that if they didn't have these applications, their organizations might not function at all.

Historically, killer apps have been software systems. Many of them function as operational “drive chains” that run across every corporate department. Popular examples are ERP (enterprise resource planning) and SCM (supply chain management), while others such as ERM (enterprise risk management) help companies assess risks for the business decisions they plan to make.

In every case, the supporting IT functions that enable these crucial applications -- like storage and networks -- were seldom considered. Instead, they provided an invisible backbone that was part of system deployment in IT, but not thought of by management.

Now this might be changing.

The deployment of edge IoT (Internet of Things), WI-FI 6, and 5G networks is bringing new capabilities that are enabling internal business operations and e-commerce for virtually every company, and these improvements are only being made possible because of improvements to the network.

Should the network itself be considered as a killer app?

The Network as the New Enterprise Drive Chain

Describing systems like ERP and SCM as the drive chains of companies has always made sense because these systems touch every corporate function and dictate the business processes throughout an organization.

This will continue to be the case with these systems, but it is equally compelling to regard the network as a new organizational drive chain. This is because of its necessity as an enabler for automated IoT and industrial manufacturing, e-commerce, facility and environmental tracking and checks, field work, sales, engineering, etc. In short, without a robust and secure network, most business processes today simply won’t work.

The New Network-Driven Applications

How companies use the network depends upon what their line of business is, but most are either enhancing or considering enhancing network capabilities in these three areas:

1. Migrations to 5G

Organizations over time want to migrate to 5G networks. This will help them manage the volumes of data that they can expect to see each day with the velocity that their business operations will require. Stock trading transactions are one example that call for 5G. Industrial manufacturing with its IoT data streaming in from myriads of robots, devices, appliances, and equipment is another. With the move to more remote employees who use video conferencing and collaboration tools, 5G’s speed, which can be up to 100 times the speed of 4G will also improve the fidelity and dependability of these applications.

Unfortunately, 5G is expensive. Few organizations will be able to afford a total “rip and replace” of their existing 4G (or lower) networks, so they will have to carefully plan just how they will incrementally make the move to 5G, and which business operations and systems they will need to support first.

2. Internal implementation of WI-FI 6

WI-FI 6 enables multiple devices and applications to use different streams of the WI-FI frequency band.

What this means for organizations is that more bandwidth-intensive applications and business processes can be run simultaneously.

One of the early implementers of WI-FI 6 is education, which must support many simultaneous broadcasts of video training and education. As organizations use more unstructured big data like video, there will be a need to move these heavy data payloads form point to point within the four walls of the enterprise. WI-FI 6 can do that.

However, like 5G, WI-FI 6 is expensive to deploy. It requires new network infrastructure investments, and an agreement between business stakeholders as to who gets the WI-FI 6 service first, while other applications (and departments) wait their turn and remain on older and slower WI-FI networks.

Deployment planning for WI-FI 6 should include strategic meetings with key business decision makers to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding who gets WI-FI 6 first. and how much is going to be spent on it.

3. Cloud network infrastructure

Companies are using multiple clouds, and they will require robust networking to ensure that cloud resources and systems are always available to support the business.

The need for robust networking with cloud is everywhere. Vendors of major business systems like ERP are all moving to cloud-based versions of their software. The cloud also supports IoT, video, and audio collaboration tools. Cloud is increasingly used for a storage by companies because it is available on demand and doesn't require a budget exception for an unforeseen capital investment. But -- if the cloud network infrastructure fails, all these systems and resources are potentially in shut down.

For this reason, network strategizing must occur on several levels:

  • First, there must be sufficient network infrastructure investment to support the network security, resources and bandwidth needed for mission-critical enterprise applications.
  • Second, there should be backup networks and failover plans that are incorporated into enterprise disaster recovery plans.
  • Third, network staff training and development may be needed so the scope of network expertise can be extended beyond the walls of the enterprise and into the domain of the cloud.

How CIOs Should Address Networks

Because of the dependence companies now have on their networks to deliver critical IT, networking is no longer an ancillary function. Instead, it’s becoming the new killer app.

This places new demands on CIOs to ensure that networking has a front seat at strategic and budgetary tables.

Since most network managers come from highly technical backgrounds, they may need be reoriented and retrained in management and soft skills to meet the demands that will be placed on them as they sit in meetings with CEOs, CFOs, and others, and are called upon to explain in plain English why a certain network topology or approach is needed.

Within IT itself, it may also be timely to review the current social hierarchy of the organization. Historically, the applications group has always commanded the most prestige and the highest strategic role. This role may now have to be shared with network pros as well.

What to Read Next:

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Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer