Part 1 of this three-part series examined how the digital transformation wave that has swept through enterprise IT is finally reaching the network. Organizations leverage public and private clouds to enable users to connect 24/7 to applications and information stores via a wide array of devices. This places an ever-increasing strain on the networks, and the professionals who build and manage them.
As a result, application performance levels too often fail to meet the needs of the business. This creates what I call a "performance gap" – a widening gulf between the needs of business and what IT is able to provide (or not) to meet those needs. The business impacts include more unhappy customers, contract delays, missed deadlines and lost revenue. So in Part 2 of this series, let's examine the four key elements any organization can address today to bridge this gap.
First, it's important to understand the solution is not to try to limit the number of applications you provide to users. That's like trying to push back the incoming high tide. Consider these stats:
■ According to Gartner, worldwide spending on enterprise application software will grow from $149.9 billion in 2015 to more than $201 billion by 2019, driven primarily by modernization, functional expansion and digital transformation projects.1
■ IDC predicts that by 2018, businesses will more than double software development capabilities; two-thirds of their coders will focus on strategic digital transformation apps and services.
■ IDC predicts that by 2018, there will be 22 billion Internet of Things devices installed, driving the development of more than 200,000 new apps and services.2
You have our global economy based on services to thank. The world has been heading toward a services-based economy for some time, leaving behind an economy dominated by manufacturing. In the 1980s, services accounted for about half of world GDP; by the mid-1990s it was up to two-thirds. The trend is even stronger in post-industrial economies: Services now make up 80 percent of the British and 84 percent of the US economy. Even in countries that are transitioning from agriculture to industry, the services sector is growing faster than the rest of the economy.
Services themselves are evolving rapidly. The old services economy was based on the model of someone doing something for you in the physical world — someone cooks dinner for you in a restaurant, someone fixes your car, someone does your taxes.
The new services economy, in contrast, is dominated by made-to-order digital services. They're differentiated by the quality of the experience for which intuitive ease, convenience, and richness of choice are key criteria. Thus, we are moving from a world dominated by mass-manufactured, mass-marketed products to an immersive market of custom services and digital experiences.
Digital services may seem like magic to users, who now expect – even demand – anytime, anywhere access to them on their desktops and mobile devices. But underneath the magic of the simple UX lies the difficulty of moving apps over long-distance high-speed networks.
Digital services are enabled by a chain of IT interactions that link device, application, data, network, and infrastructure components. This complex chain of interactions is only as strong as its weakest link. All the parts of an application are links in the chain, and these links must mesh seamlessly across a complex, hybrid IT environment which is partly in the cloud, partly on-premises, with connectivity provided by a mix of private and public networks, in order to give users a good experience and drive maximum business productivity. Any grain of sand in the gears, any tiny flaw in the infrastructure—from server failure, to issues within the software code, to a problematic database, to network latency, to user device compatibility—can slow the application down or cause it to fail completely.
And yet, in our globally distributed, hybrid application environment, there is so much complexity, so many moving parts and operational dependencies, that the weak links in the chain are bound to get stressed to the breaking point. This creates the performance gap.
Bridging the Performance Gap
You must get a handle on four elements that comprise the fundamental links to make an app work: data, software, people, and networks. That requires knowing the answers to four key questions (hint – there's really just one answer):
Q: Where are your apps?
Q: Where is your data?
Q: Where are your users?
Q: How is it all connected?
Your apps are everywhere. Your data is everywhere. Your users are everywhere, and it's all connected via multiple types of networks that are … yes … everywhere.
In today's complex hybrid IT environments where data, applications, people, and networks are everywhere, point solutions cannot provide a total solution. The infrastructure challenges that impact application performance are ubiquitous, so only a holistic approach that brings visibility, performance, agility, and security to every aspect and stage of application delivery can provide an enterprise-grade solution for the age of hybrid IT. Just as digital transformation is an enterprise business strategy, enterprises need an architectural strategy to make the underpinning technology work the way it needs to.
The foundation of that architectural strategy is to stop using the traditional tools: routers and switches. In Part 3 of this series, I'll explain why those tools are quickly growing obsolete, and why SD-WAN is emerging as the technology that enables you to create a scalable network architecture that supports, enables and drives digital transformation with new levels of visibility, performance, security and agility.
Joshua Dobies is VP of Product Marketing, Riverbed Technology.
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