Top 10 issues for network managers in 2004

With the networking architecture poised to change once again, network managers must examine the top issues in networks this year...

strategy With the networking architecture poised to change once again, network managers must examine the top issues in networks this year and make a strategic plan

Businesses should devote considerable effort in 2004 to developing a strategy for networking. The implementation of such a plan will enable network managers to prioritise and gain perspective on pressing issues such as negotiating contracts, controlling costs, increasing uptime and securing enterprise assets from malicious intruders. Here are 10 areas to focus on.

Network architecture

What will be the long-term network architecture and how should the current infrastructure evolve?

The rapidly changing world of networking can only be successfully addressed by defining a strategic network direction and plan. We continue to be surprised and dismayed by how many enterprise network managers do not have a well thought out, long-range view of their critical networking assets.

Telecom contracts/pricing

How can enterprises negotiate the best possible prices for network services and equipment and the best terms and conditions?

Turmoil will continue to plague the market for network services and hardware. Suppliers remain almost desperate to retain and grow revenue streams but also know that they must become more profitable. However, this volatility has moderated and there is a return to stability on the horizon.

This is still a buyer's market - but not for long. Hence, enterprises should renegotiate their contracts now, especially for network services. Market changes mean that enterprises need to reconsider nearly all contractual aspects, including the sourcing/pr-ocurement strategy, ongoing supplier management, pricing, revenue commitments and pro-visions for contingencies.

Cost reduction

How can network managers reduce and control costs and maintain/improve service levels and expanding networking capabilities?

During the past few years, network managers have been able to live within tight budget constraints because of the rapid drop in network service prices. Network services typically constitute more than half of an enterprise's total networking expenses. As these prices begin to stabilise, network managers will need to look elsewhere to achieve cost savings.

As a first step, an in-depth analysis of the enterprise's networking total cost of ownership should be conducted. Such analysis will help focus cost reduction activities on areas that will yield the largest payoff.

High-availability networking

What actions must network managers take to minimise downtime and protect enterprise assets, including the network and people?

The major time drain of an enterprise networking organisation is troubleshooting and fixing problems. Precious human resources can be freed to work on more strategic projects by improving infrastructure reliability. This begins by analysing the network for single points of failure, with a focus on access facilities; or the network element most likely to fail. The goal is to deploy high-availability networks over time.

Network security

How can network managers ensure that access to applications, data and users are not compromised, both physically and logically?

Recent malicious worm and virus attacks have increased the already heightened concern about network security, as have numerous revelations about security issues, especially concerning Microsoft products. Additionally, enterprises are rapidly deploying capabilities such as wireless, which, although beneficial, can leave the firm susceptible to threats.

In-house or outsourced?

What is the best sourcing strategy?

Sourcing is perhaps the single most strategic decision facing telecom managers. Sourcing decisions can make or break a networking organisation. Network managers not only have to decide on a supplier, but also which services they will need.

The decision is not as simple as whether to outsource the operation or keep it in-house. Separate sourcing decisions can be made for virtually any network component or function. Except when networking is part of a large IT outsourcing deal, few enterprises outsource networking entirely.

We expect that most enterprises will selectively source networking elements. Networking organisations must first define their sourcing selection criteria before making a major sourcing decision.

Emerging technologies

With so many new network technologies, which will provide the largest benefit?

Network managers are faced with more technology decisions than ever before. Many of these options achieve similar objectives. As the industry recovers, the number of options will increase rapidly.

In 2004, enterprises focus their efforts in three key areas: voice over IP, IP networking services (especially multiprotocol label switching) and wireless Lan.

Networking improvements

How can a telecoms service best improve efficiency, productivity and positioning within IT and the enterprise as a whole?

There are four key areas to enterprise networking:

  • Network strategy, planning and design

  • Sourcing approaches to key hardware, software, service and support items

  • Management of the telecom operation

  • The performance of the network relative to enterprise objectives and requirements.
New users and applications

How can the enterprise networking organisation meet the needs of "road warriors" and emerging application models such as video streaming?

During the past decade networking capabilities have expanded dramatically from voice and data connectivity. Users are no longer confined to their offices - they may work from home or in the field. Additionally, users can now include business partners or customers.
In addition, legacy applications are being rapidly supplanted by new approaches including web-based models, web services and even grid computing.

Value-added services

What will be the role of the enterprise networking organisation in business applications?

Network managers have typically been heavily involved in applications involving voice. Telephone systems are feature-rich and call centres are essential elements of customer relationship management. IP telephony is a natural extension and offers the promise of transforming major business processes.

Network managers can take the lead here. In other areas, especially wireless applications, they have lost the initiative. It is of paramount importance that managers make the networking infrastructure more application-aware and focus on network-centric applications.

Jay Pultz is vice-president of research at Gartner

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