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The Network Takes Centre Stage in Digital Transformation
March 7, 2023 News

Written by: Martin Dale Bolima, Tech Journalist, AOPG.

It was nearly half a century ago when John Gage coined the slogan, “The network is the computer,” for Sun Microsystems. But it is unlikely that Gage, the 21st employee of Sun Microsystems could have ever imagined the network becoming the most crucial aspect of business—so much so that it can be argued: The network is now the business.

Ed Meyercord, President and Chief Executive Officer at Extreme Networks, would certainly agree that the network is vital to businesses everywhere. In fact, he posits that the network is far more important now than at any other time.

“I would say the network is more important today than ever before, and now we’re seeing our customers embrace the technology in new ways that we haven’t seen before and driving better outcomes,” Meyercord told Disruptive Tech Asia (DTA) in an exclusive interview.

Meyercord went a step further, arguing that the network now “sits in the middle of every digital transformation and is the connective tissue of everything we do.”

The Centre of Attraction

It is possible Meyercord is right. The network really might be at the centre of the digital universe of today. Think about it. The network really is at the core of what people do, not only in the context of business but also in everyday life. It connects people wherever they are, whenever they want. It helps people find all sorts of information, buy different things, and access various forms of entertainment.

The network also facilitates commerce. It connects businesses to consumers, provides different transaction and payment methods, and enables a variety of non-traditional forms of advertising. The network also facilitates work itself, allowing teams to communicate with one another and collaborate on projects and tasks. All these were only magnified during and after the COVID-19 pandemic when remote and hybrid work emerged as practical work paradigms and e-commerce became just as popular (but arguably more convenient) than conventional commerce.

Those use-cases, though, are just some of the more common ones most people already are familiar with. There are plenty more network use-cases, according to Meyercord, who cited as an example of how a network, with help from the Internet of Things (IoT), can help grocery chains prevent food spoilage due to refrigeration problems. With sensors on refrigeration units, grocery personnel get complete visibility of what is happening in each unit and will be alerted in case an issue arises, like temperatures dropping or an actual malfunction. The staff can then remediate the situation as they see fit (or even take proactive action), in the process addressing the issue and preventing food spoilage at the same time.

Preventing food from spoiling is already a win on a humanitarian level, Meyercord emphasised, because food is not wasted. It is also a win from a business standpoint because capital is not wasted and issues are remediated earlier before they become full-blown problems, which can be more costly to address.

Such are the benefits of digital transformation, and that is why businesses need to transform digitally in order to reap said benefits—and more. And this digital transformation can only occur with the help of the network, which has, according to IDC, emerged as a strategic element for businesses looking to thrive in this modern era. It is strategic because the network is foundational to organisations being able to better address challenges and keep up with trends and ensure business continuity, resiliency and security.

In other words, the network is, as Meyercord put it, in the middle of every digital transformation and everything people do.

A Web of Challenges

For its primordial role in everyday life, one would reckon that the underlying technologies of the network would have been perfected by now. They have been enhanced but not perfected. Part of the problem is the ever-changing and ever-growing needs of people, which also alter what people expect from their networks.

The biggest issue, at least in the eyes of Meyercord, is that more people are relying on the network for a variety of reasons—for work, for commerce, for studying and for entertainment, among other things. With this, networks have become more distributed, in turn, making networks more complicated as providers keep looking for ways to ensure excellent customer experiences at all times, or at least most of the time.

Meyercord gives the rise of remote and hybrid work as a prime example, where the network of an enterprise is now expected to provide a consistent experience for all employees regardless of where they are working.

“That’s really the challenge. The challenge now is how to manage the enterprise network that is just infinitely distributed and we want it to deliver a user experience that’s consistent where we can guarantee performance, we can guarantee security,” Meyercord pointed out. “So, networking is much more complicated. It’s exposed. Networking is indoors and outdoors, and the challenge that we’ve seen is that networks have become much more distributed.”

No Cloudy Future With the Cloud

The onus of addressing these challenges invariably falls on network providers. And one solution they are exploring more and more is to leverage the cloud as much as possible.

Meyercord, for one, is all-in on the cloud.

“This is not just a plug for cloud but cloud is the only way… we can orchestrate services in a way where the enterprise can take ownership of your experience wherever you are,” Meyercord explained. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on campus, doesn’t matter if you’re travelling and you’re in a hotel or if you’re working from home, wherever you are. We can manage that experience for you [with the help of the cloud].”

Another advantage that comes with leveraging the cloud, according to Meyercord, is that organisations get access to a variety of other technologies apart from the network itself—and with the benefit of increased security to boot.

Meyercord cites as an example the hospitality industry, which he said: “should absolutely be thinking about cloud.” He pointed out, in particular, what Extreme Networks can offer enterprises, particularly those in the hospitality vertical.

“The cloud and the capabilities and new security… Some of the technology that we bring, for example, fabric technology, allows customers to create networks within a network, and it’s really powerful. It’s really easy to do,” Meyercord explained. “If you want to create separate networks… you could actually create networks within a network with our technology and you can manage all this for the cloud. And then you can use AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine-Learning] tools to automate actions in the network. So, you can imagine the impact that would play in hospitality, for example.”

The same cloud-based network solution is applicable to enterprises in whatever vertical that need a reliable, next-generation network.

A Network of Network Providers

Fortunately for enterprises worldwide, they have plenty of choices in terms of cloud-based managed network providers—mostly because of the network’s primordial role and the demand for it.

“It’s kind of a really exciting time to be a network, and we’re pleased to be innovating in the cloud,” Meyercord told DTA. “We’re a leader in cloud networking and we’re an innovator in terms of the new ways to leverage the network and the data from the network to drive better outcomes.”

Indeed, now is an exciting time to be a network provider, and it will be that way in the coming years as the world continues to digitalise more and more. With that, the already vital role of the network will be emphasised even more, and demand for it will only increase exponentially.