Most businesses today want to deliver modern applications, products, and services to customers as efficiently as possible. This seemingly simple goal is far more complex than it sounds – particularly in the age of digital transformation.

Many organizations have already had to face decisions about modernizing policies, processes, and technology, such as choosing to migrate to a cloud platform for data storage rather than maintaining an on-premises data center, or implementing identity access management technologies to access sensitive information.

Modernizing your network infrastructure is another such challenge, and one that experts say is essential to digital transformation. But exactly what is network infrastructure modernization, and how do you achieve it?

In this article we’ll take a closer look at network infrastructure modernization and some of the advantages that come along with it. Then we’ll suggest some ways your organization can take steps to modernize your network infrastructure and meet the changing demands of the future.

What Is Network Infrastructure Modernization?

At its core, modernizing your network infrastructure means replacing your existing legacy network infrastructure with more modern, adaptable solutions. This includes implementing a number of physical and digital policies, processes, and technologies to assure that your network can handle not only its current demands, but any demands that might emerge in the future.

Legacy networks often create many challenges for businesses, such as lack of standardization and compromised network security. Outdated networks can limit your organization’s ability to respond swiftly to changing customer expectations, which can ultimately reduce your organization’s overall business opportunities.

That said, many organizations are hesitant to begin the process of network infrastructure modernization for a variety of reasons. For starters, it can be a complex, time-consuming, expensive process that will probably include hiring internal or external IT specialists and network managers.

Some organizations have already started to make the transition to a modernized network infrastructure. In a 2020 ESG Report, 57 percent of respondents said that they are either beginning or have already begun network modernization.

When those organizations were asked what the most important objective of network infrastructure modernization was, 55 percent said it was to become more operationally efficient, while 49 percent said it was to deliver a better and more differentiated customer experience.

Ultimately, the best way to improve customer experiences is through a transformation to modern technologies and processes that enable network infrastructure modernization.

For example, in the past, new applications often took years to develop and were usually situated on physical servers or hosted in corporate data centers. Today, applications are built on a microservice architecture and in container environments, meaning that the application is separated into many smaller parts. This allows teams to iterate application updates and new functionality at a much faster rate.

These applications are also most often hosted in cloud-based environments and using DevOps methodologies, to assure that teams are tightly integrated to optimize application delivery in a production environment. This kind of modernization, however, requires significant infrastructure changes, including new roles, architectures, and processes to support a more agile and application-centric IT environment.

Advantages of Modernizing Your Network Infrastructure

The successful modernization of your network infrastructure is likely to bring with it the following benefits:

  • Faster time to market. With a modern network infrastructure, you’ll no longer have to wait on network teams to provision physical network connectivity manually. Implementing a modern network means enhanced agility, accelerated revenue, and competitive differentiation as your applications and services achieve a faster time to market.
  • Better operational efficiency. More simple, modern networks will enable your organization to better manage your highly distributed application and user environments with easy-to-use management interfaces and the ability to simplify complex tasks.
  • Optimized end-user experiences. Modern networks let end-users have a more reliable and seamless application experience, and consistent positive customer experiences are critical to the success of your business.
  • Greater availability. Networks that employ self-healing and self-scaling technologies deliver higher levels of application availability by aiming for zero downtime. At the same time, automated lifecycle management allows patches and upgrades to be completed automatically without taking them offline.
  • Seamless connectivity. A modern network means connectivity from corporate locations including data centers, campus, and edge locations to any public cloud service (IaaS or SaaS), by supporting a true hybrid cloud or multi-cloud approach. Additionally, you also need to consider how to implement seamless, secure, and optimized connectivity for any employees working from home or on the road.
  • Greater employee satisfaction. Any employees no longer restricted by legacy network infrastructure are likely to be more productive, and they’ll have more time to learn the new skills that will further help the business. They’ll also have more time to focus on strategic initiatives rather than repetitive manual tasks.
  • More secure environment. It will be easier for your network team to enforce governance and compliance using centralized modern network policies that better protect your users, the applications they access, and the data traversing the network. For instance, solutions offering network segmentation can help to mitigate the threat of a network breach and automated patching and updates will remove any potential risks due to human error.

Despite the benefits, there are also some challenges that can restrict organizations from transitioning their legacy networks to a more modern network infrastructure:

  • A historically unstructured approach to enterprise network development.
  • Incompatibility among various parts and segments of the network environment.
  • Little to no automation.
  • A lack of adequate skill development among team members.

To be most effective, modern network environments need to be highly virtualized and software-defined, to integrate tightly with the development processes. This means that organizations need to implement a network that can not only provide the appropriate capabilities, but also match the end-user journey.

With increasing IT complexity, legacy networks, and an evolving application landscape, IT leaders are turning to programmable, agile and software-driven enterprise networking solutions to modernize their network infrastructure. At the forefront of this transformation is software-defined networking (SDN), which has emerged as an architectural approach to data center networking in the midst of the cloud era.

How to Modernize Your Network Infrastructure

It’s unsurprising that many organizations see network modernization as an overwhelming challenge. It can be difficult enough to get a clear picture of an evolving application environment, let alone how it maps to changing requirements for network infrastructure and network operations.

Determining where your organization can get the most from network infrastructure modernization investments will depend on your organization’s mission, the state of your existing network infrastructure, and any future technology plans.

No matter what you decide, it’s important to take a holistic approach. Here are some things you can do to modernize your network infrastructure:

Upgrade Your Network Technologies

Start with the equipment itself. Many organizations have aging network equipment that might meet today’s networking requirements, but won’t be able to address future requirements for mobile connectivity.

The majority of organizations have some iteration of the 802.11 wireless standard. But these networks could be five years old (or more), which is ancient in the context of rapidly changing technology. Organizations need to consider moving to Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E (Extended), and Wi-Fi 7 soon after that.

Because each new wireless technology offers greater throughput and connectivity for end-user mobile devices, internet of things (IoT) devices, and latency-sensitive applications, it’s critical that you assure that your network infrastructure is upgraded to accommodate these future wireless network capabilities.

You can also start by examining the status of the access switches in your wiring closet; some of the quickest and easiest network upgrade fixes actually revolve around multi-gigabit Ethernet access. Replace any legacy switches with more modern and stackable devices to capitalize on the existing cabling infrastructure in your organization’s physical building.

This is also a good opportunity to examine your cabling infrastructure, which will support the smooth running of your mission and will continue to be important as bandwidth requirements continue to rise. Consider the latest high-performance category 6A cabling for enterprises, which can support 10 gigabit/second speeds, and the newest OM5 wideband multimode fiber optics, which meet the rising bandwidth demands of data centers.

Improve Data Center Infrastructure

Regardless of whether your organization has moved to the cloud, you’ll likely still have many applications, systems, and networking equipment that operates on-premises. You should invest in platforms that seamlessly integrate your leading router, switch, server, and storage solutions.

At the same time, SDN will bring flexibility and economy of software to data center hardware. This will help align your enterprise network infrastructure with the needs of your application workloads by providing automated orchestration and agile provisioning, programmatic network management, application-oriented network-wide visibility, and direct integration with cloud orchestrated platforms.

Transformation does, however, go beyond the data center. Digital transformation and increasing hybrid IT and multi-cloud adoption are redrawing the boundaries of remote and cloud locations. In turn, this is redefining what’s required of both data center local area networks and enterprise wide-area networks (WANs).

The same SDN technology can be applied to connect enterprise networks, including branch offices and data centers, over large geographic areas. And a software-defined approach to WAN (SD-WAN) makes it possible for IT to provide reliable access across the entire enterprise.

Strengthen Security Efforts

Maintaining data security throughout the enterprise is of the utmost importance. This includes implementing a physical layer or wired security as part of a comprehensive security strategy. Ultimately, the physical security measures you choose should guard you against unauthorized access, physical intrusion or tapping of cables.

Security threats can result in stolen data, network degradation, or unscheduled downtime – and they’re not just limited to physical security. Cybersecurity threats aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and are likely to evolve to meet any vulnerabilities that might be present in your network no matter how modern it might be.

A network security audit is an audit of all your network systems to make sure that potential security risks are eliminated or minimized. It examines servers, routers, workstations, and gateways to assure they are secure and safe and aren’t sharing any sensitive information.

Make sure that your organization has a strong network security policy that covers all the data that is on the network itself, including anything that connects to the internet. Check out this network security audit checklist from Reciprocity to learn more.

You should also conduct a network vulnerability assessment to find any cybersecurity vulnerabilities and network security loopholes so you have a better understanding of your network environment.

Practice network segmentation by dividing up your enterprise network into smaller segments or sub-networks, with limited interconnectivity among them. This will give your administrators better control over network traffic. If a data breach does occur, network segmentation assures that the breach only affects the targeted segment while the other network segments remain protected from further damage.

Implement Tools for Automation

To maximize the value of your virtualized network, you’ll need to implement a strategy for automation. After all, implementing modern solutions should make your job easier, not more difficult. Automating away many of the tedious tasks that once required your full attention means you can pay more attention to the things that matter most – like your business and your bottom line.

Prioritize Your Network Security with Reciprocity ZenRisk

While a modern network infrastructure comes with the possibility of added security, it’s not a guarantee. As the modern cyber threat landscape continues to evolve, it’s likely that even the most modern networks will still be vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Protecting your network, vdevices, endpoints, and data with a robust network security policy is key – but implementing a robust cybersecurity strategy can be a daunting task, particularly if your organization is responsible for adhering to cybersecurity compliance frameworks. Fortunately, there are solutions designed to help.

Reciprocity ZenRisk is an integrated cybersecurity risk management solution designed to provide you with actionable insights to gain the visibility you need to stay ahead of threats and clearly communicate the impact of risk on high-priority business initiatives. Turn the unknown into quantifiable and actionable risk insights with built-in expertise that identifies and maps risks, threats and controls for you, so you can spend less time setting up the application and more time using it.

A single, real-time view of risk and business context allows you to communicate to the board and key stakeholders in a way that’s framed around their priorities, keeping your risk posture in sync with the direction your business is moving.

Reciprocity ZenRisk will even notify you automatically of any changes or required actions, so you can be on top of your risk posture like never before. Eliminate time-consuming, manual work and streamline collaboration by automating workflows and integrating with your most critical systems.

Plus, Reciprocity ZenRisk is seamlessly integrated with Reciprocity ZenComply so you can leverage your compliance activities to improve your risk posture with the use of AI. Built on the ZenGRC, the Reciprocity product suite gives you the ability to see, understand and take action on your IT and cyber risks.

Now, through a more proactive approach, you can give time back to your team with Reciprocity ZenRisk. Talk to an expert today to learn more about how the Reciprocity Product Suite can help your organization mitigate cybersecurity risk and stay ahead of threats.