The ongoing digitization of business processes not only forces companies to rethink their existing business models, but also creates new requirements for enterprise networks. The networks used for the exploding security- bandwidth- and quality demands of the future must be extremely scalable, highly flexible and easily manageable. It must be possible to operate them centrally using software, so that upscaling and downscaling takes just a click of the button. If it were up to the new alliance ngena – which is keenly aware that the digital transformation is the most important trend in technology today – this type of network will be a reality as early as 2017.
New technologies such as mobile devices, social media, cloud computing, analytics, the Internet of Things and 3D printing can help to radically improve customer and business processes and to create new business models. The manufacturing industry, for example, is set to change dramatically as a result of the digital revolution. The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” will see the creation of smart production facilities that are tailored to the customer and manufacture customized products where possible.
The digital transformation and globalization (another trend with an increasingly widespread impact) are concurrent trends. Many businesses – ranging from large corporations to small and medium-sized enterprises – have a global outlook and operate and manufacture their products worldwide. This means that these companies depend to a significant extent on global connectivity, for example to facilitate smooth collaboration between their employees worldwide, work more closely with customers or connect all sensors that collectively make up the Internet of Things.
Global Network coverage: flexible and scalable
The digital transformation calls for a flexible and scalable infrastructure: flexible because connectivity needs are constantly changing and scalable because it must be possible to quickly add new locations as needed. However, most businesses will agree that those aren't exactly the qualities that characterize the current global networks.
The process of identifying the requirements for a global network alone is a complex business which can take weeks and that is before the process of setting it up has even begun. And once the network is up and running, it is difficult to implement any further changes. But what if you have opted for an MPLS network with a public Internet connection to the smaller branch offices, and this connection turns out to fall short of the mark? As Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges pointed out at the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona this February, “Being stuck with a network that does not offer the quality of service required is a risk customers simply are not willing to take.”
“There’s no room for complicated individual contracts and ordering processes in our digital economy,” according to Höttges. “Companies must be able to be in business at the drop of a hat. And services that are based exclusively on the public Internet are not secure and reliable enough for real-time applications in industries such as logistics, the manufacturing industry and telemedicine.”
In Deutsche Telekom’s view, it is time for an international “next-generation network.” The German-based company is one of the founders of ngena: the Next Generation Enterprise Network Alliance. “This alliance is able to provide enterprise customers more quickly than ever before with a secure, powerful, fast and global communication network,” Höttges says.
Simplifying global connectivity in a short pace of time
The ngena project was launched during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona by alliance partners CenturyLink, a US-based global communications company; Indian-based Reliance; South Korea’s SK Telecom; and Deutsche Telekom, which holds a 49-percent stake in ngena. The purpose of the alliance is to combine the infrastructures of these separate operators – and of the operators to join in the future – into a global Virtual Private Network. The alliance partners are hoping to welcome up to 20 new partners in the next years. Technology partner Cisco provides the connectivity via level-2 Ethernet and standardized interfaces between the services and networks of the alliance partners.
The alliance enables the partners, by their own account, to deliver full connectivity in a short space of time. Customers will continue to liaise with their trusted service provider without needing to bother with myriad complex processes, geographical boundaries, multiple contacts, numerous SLAs, and technical barriers.
However, ngena’s founding members stress that their alliance is more than the sum of the infrastructures that are linked together. The initiative takes full advantage of the benefits of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization. Since ngena is a software-defined project, customers can set up their own network from a central point and, for example, increase capacity at any time. They can monitor their global network on-screen and easily upscale and downscale with a simple push of a button.
As an independent company, ngena will be responsible for providing virtual network services in addition to the global SDN, running completely in the background. Examples of services the new vendor network will provide include international VPN functionality, Application Performance Management (APM), WAN/LAN management and optimization, and additional services such as Unified Communication & Collaboration (UCC), advanced security services and platform-specific APIs for the adoption of industry-specific applications. One example of this type of application is linking sensors, GPS modules or smart containers to the network in order to allow manufacturers to check the status of their shipments, which is very much in line with what the digital revolution is all about.
2017 and beyond
To summarize, ngena is a one-stop solution for business network services with a short rollout period. The rollout of the global, software-defined Virtual Private Network is scheduled for the first half of 2017, after which ngena is expected to launch related IP-VPN-based services.