Network reliability to win over innovation in 2012, says Cisco survey

Cisco’s first TechWatch 2012 report finds network reliability as opposed to innovation or performance is the most important factor for network architects in the new year ahead.

In the newly released Cisco TechWatch 2012 survey, 53% of IT professionals report that network reliability  and security will be more important than network performance and flexibility in the new year, but they remain upbeat about 2012. It appears that high aspirational goals for deploying network reliability technology that can innovate and drive their organisations forward are taking hold instead. SearchNetworkingUK met with Ian Foddering, Cisco UK & Ireland CTO, to find out what he foresaw as the key problems for networking architects in the new year.

The economy is dominating the headlines right now; how do you see this affecting the networking industry in 2012?

Ian Foddering: There are two major sources of tension for these professionals in the coming year: The balance between the desire to innovate and funding ‘business as usual,’ and [the balance] between control of new technologies and the ability to empower users. Of the 250 executives we interviewed, 53% say IT strategy considers network reliability  and security to be more important than network performance and flexibility. This ties in with the shift to considering IT as a strategic asset that drives company performance, but there remains a cost-cutting focus at the same time due to the turbulent economic forecasts in the country. The main challenge the industry will face is balancing that user empowerment need with the limitations they must work to within their infrastructure. The apparent lack of funding could hit hard.

Your report suggests that this lack of funding will be frustrating for decision makers as they look to spend on innovation and driving organisations forward. Can this be achieved?

Foddering: It can be achieved, and organisations do want to do it, but the problem stems from declining budgets as companies lock down expenditure to survive the volatile economic conditions. There is wide interest in breaking into the cloud more, for example, but in a prevailing atmosphere of treading with caution, delivering on these expectations will require some determination from CIOs and CTOs. The ultimate business decision makers need to be convinced that investment will be worthwhile through an in-depth built up strategy. Proof that the project will deliver on these expectations will mean winning the fight for the resources to create long-term, sustainable innovation. The trouble is that fight often takes longer than one might anticipate, and processes are bound to slow up as companies begin to look to weather the storms more.

The other option for innovation you identified is the idea that IT leaders will be forced into tradeoffs and making compromises in 2012. Do you think this is the right approach?

Foddering: The report implies that a significant number of IT leaders believe that in order to be secure, companies have to compromise oncollaboration, user empowerment and network performance or flexibility. However, I don’t believe that this is a tradeoff they have to make. Companies must balance commercial needs and avoid the tensions set between control and empowerment, but there is no need to sacrifice innovation in the name of budgetary control, or limit security and control of data in order to achieve employee autonomy.  The days of a company perk being a company car are fast translating into the new generation wanting to know what a firm’s IT policy is -- this alone should be a driver for real business change and talent acquisition schemes. New technologies across devices and the boom in social interactions mean change is a necessity rather than an intrusion nowadays.

So what would you say are the keys to making these changes to how network executives work?

Foddering: With proper planning and long-term technology investment through traditional capex models or through alternative investment initiatives, it is possible to balance these seemingly contradictory goals. There is a strong business case to be made for doing so, as the participants in the survey realise, and IT can become a strategic advantage for companies that align their spending with commercial productivity needs. Those technology innovators who are not daunted by the economic uncertainty of the current climate, and are willing to invest in technology ahead of the curve, can take advantage of the ‘gear change’ the industry is experiencing in remote and service-based IT. We’ve already seen a shift from internal emailing to instant electronic dialogue being explored, and the shift from these dated approaches are where we are going to go into much more collaborative, sustainable and cost-efficient protocols. The innovations are there and the architects are equipped to deal with them, it really just relies on good business tradeoffs now. It’s no longer about bits or bytes or network switches; now it’s all about being an enabler and not blocking innovation.

Finally, 2012 will be a big year for Cisco with the London 2012 Olympic Games infrastructure -- an area everyone will be looking at in the networking world. What lessons do you expect to be able to share with the industry from this challenge?

Foddering: We are the Official Olympic Network Infrastructure Provider working with  BT, and this will be a big technological challenge for us, where all eyes will be on us. Security, reliability and performance of the network infrastructure will be critical, with stability taking precedence over creativity. London 2012 is not about doing anything Cisco has not done before. Rather, it is all about doing what we do, but doing it better than ever, knowing that this really is a mission-critical global event. We’re definitely looking to take lessons from this massive networking opportunity and transfer that to our organisations, because this routing, switching,firewall and IP telephony work will have repercussions for every project we ever work on.

The British Innovation Gateway (BIG), announced by [Prime Minister] David Cameron and Cisco CEO John Chambers in January, set out plans to help build a brilliant future for technological innovation in the UK. Cisco will be working closely with the Olympic Park Legacy Company to allow SMEs to flourish post Games. The BIG initiative supports the government's plan to create an East London Tech City from the legacy of London 2012, where high-tech startups and SMEs can work. The accompanying awards scheme will start next month and will really inspire technological innovation in the UK across the Internet, data, collaboration, mobility and security.

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