The Health of the Network

I haven’t thought much about our network in a while. There were times that we used to talk about it all the time and consider uptime, bandwidth utilization and outages as well as network technology transitions. I don’t seem to do that much anymore. I just stopped a series of posts on things for new CIOs to consider and I didn’t even mention anything about the network.

I’m thinking that we’ve gotten to a point that the network availability and its capacity/speed have become like the lights. They simply work all the time (most of the time) and their support has transitioned to the background. We seem to have reached a place where the network is just there.

There is an article is Forbes recently entitled, Thriving with New Technology Starts with a Strong Network which I think is right.

  • The ‘internet of things’ where we are capturing data everywhere inherently requires us to move the data through the network to a data warehouse or equivalent.
  • Wi-Fi must just work and work well everywhere your people are located.
  • Video and telepresence is taking off and that requires high quality bandwidth.
  • All your messaging solutions need the network to move those messages. email, chats, alerts, etc.

In short, our network is critical and necessary but our thinking (or mine) has transitioned to the point where it is a utility? Like the lights?

What do you think?

11 thoughts on “The Health of the Network”

  1. Hi Mark,

    Network connectivity has indeed become an utility like electricity. System and application designers no longer think about the network connectivity just like they don’t about worry about electricity that powers the systems. However the security of the data that moves over the network is still a concern. There are two ways to secure the data on the network:
    1) Use end-to-end encryption during the transport; or
    2) Design the network such that unauthorized eavesdropping is not possible.

    Right now the most emphasis is on option 1, as it seems to be easiest for protecting the data on the network. However it is not the most efficient one when it comes to processing large amounts of data. As the amount of the data increases, option 1 requires more and more data to be encrypted and decrypted at the application level. This makes CPU the bottleneck for the application performance. Regardless of the computing power available to the application, the encryption and decryption of data is very expensive from computing point of view. A 10Gb ethernet can transfer large data objects in milliseconds, but the CPU that encrypts and decrypts that data object takes several seconds. This encryption and decryption process may slow down the data processing by up to 60%.

    Encryption of data during transport makes sense when the data is leaving datacenter, but encrypting intra-datacenter network traffic really impacts the performance of the application. Instead the networks in the datacenter should be designed such that unauthorized eavesdropping is not possible (Option 2). I think this will become more and more important as the amount of data explodes. It is not feasible to encrypt and decrypt that amount of data without impacting the performance of the application.


  2. The security topic is critical, so you are right. However, I was thinking more about the network and not really about what is being done on the network. Your points are valid and both methods are very hard problems.

  3. You are right Saqib. However in this case, I was thinking more about the network itself and not so much about what is riding on it. Both your points are valid and both are very hard to accomplish. It is a hard battle.

  4. Agree that networks are critical and the demand for more network capacity will continue to increase due to BYOD, big data, cloud, etc.. The redundancy and resiliency levels we have achieved at our business give one the impression it is just like a utility – always on. Agree in my personal life the network is like a utility – install a router or buy a hotspot, signup and pay. However, where I work in a Fortune 500 company, we manage most of the network infrastructure, tools, people, etc. and from that distinction I would not characterize is as a utility service.

    1. All utilities have a legion of experts and hardworking people behind the scene. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

      It is just gotten to the point that it works all the time and it is like a utility. From the user’s point of view, it is just there and works all the time. It is magic.

      Verona, thanks for stopping by!

  5. We have engineered the Network Services so they are like the lights, they just work and work well. The resiliency, redundancy, processes, equipment, optimization & support, all add up to a lot of work on the infrastructure to ensure the high availability and quality of service. Supporting the “internet of things” whether it be internal or external is a constant effort as the daily demand increases and the need to make it appear like a “utility”.

    1. Totally agree Tish. My comments about how it has become like a utility don’t mean there isn’t a lot of hard work and dedication happening behind the scenes. We’ve just gotten to a point where these networks are always there for us and don’t ‘seem’ to have problems themselves.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Mark, first off, it would appear that you’re “doing it right”! I can tell you that not all businesses have created a seamless network experience across devices, locations, and network types…Regarding the utility comparison, I think it makes sense inasmuch as it is now an asset to which you cannot imagine living without (much like electricity and running water). It is also an “expectation” to get network access anytime/anywhere/any device whereas previously things like public wi-fi were an added bonus.

    The challenge is that it continues to evolve at an increasing rate that will still demand innovation and investment. The growth of big data, BYOD, video, Internet of Everything, etc will put unprecedented demands on the network to be not just available, but intelligent, robust, redundant and resilient. Candidly, one challenge we see is driving home the realization that the network is “a journey, not a destination”. Just from a pure connectivity perspective, its not uncommon for us to find customers that have 2X-10X number of devices on their network as compared to just 3 years ago. As long as those kind of growth metrics are acknowledged by the business and the corresponding continual investments are made, the network should continue to provide a seamless end user experience.

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