Without them, nothing works: In-house corporate networks ensure that e-mails reach employees, that connected machines report error data to the cloud and that hackers are unable to access corporate data from external networks. In short, they are the precondition for digital business applications of any kind, be they collaboration tools from the cloud, the Internet of Things or Big Data. Depending on the size of the branch and the number of employees, an in-house network, also known as Managed Local Area Network (LAN), can link hundreds and thousands of routers, switches and bridges and their end-user devices with each other and with the outside world.
Many In-house Networks are in Poor Shape
The problem is that many in-house networks have grown heterogeneously over the years. With new employees, new network components have been added, and with the triumph of smartphones and tablets additional WLAN access points. Different versions of devices, some even from different manufacturers, are now stacked in network cabinets, LAN cables connect them in a complex topology and third-party solutions analyze their performance. The result is a growing risk of network outages and security leaks. And fast innovations such as a logical sub-network (VLAN) for video telephony remain wishful thinking.
Increase of business data traffic till 2021
Mobile Data Traffic is Exploding
What is more, requirements for local networks are growing due to digitization. For one, there is the rapid growth of data loads in corporate networks. According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index business data traffic will increase by 21 percent per year until 2021 (see chart). And that includes in-house networks. The greatest increase is in data flows to and from mobile end-user devices, which is hardly surprising. In Germany, for example, EU statistics show that 91 percent of large companies issued their employees mobile devices in 2017 compared to 70 percent for the European Union as a whole. Companies require a correspondingly large number of WLAN access points in their local networks. But the controllers that allocate guidelines to devices can only control a limited number of access points.
Internet of Insecure Things
At the same time more and more machines and objects are populating corporate and factory LANs: smart watches, temperature sensors or connected robots. Depending on the survey, up to 20, 50 or 200 billion things will be connected by 2030. “The Internet of Things also brings with it new dimensions, not only in the number of terminal devices, but also in their variety,” says Frank Dietrich, Vice President Inhouse Services at T-Systems. “That is why we need new concepts and technologies in order to enable these large numbers to access the network simply and securely, and without losing track.”
IT security is highly critical in this regard because there are no security standards for connected things yet. During their development the focus is often on function and not on security, so network administrators must minimize risk by transferring security functions to the network. They can segment the in-house network more heavily, implement an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) and control network access strictly by means of suitable authentication mechanisms. In North America, security is the most frequent reason for investing in the corporate network, according to IT writer Stan Gibson’s 2018 State of Infrastructure study. Implementing security measures in today’s in-house networks is laborious, however. Network experts need to configure all the LAN components – such as routers, switches and firewalls – manually.
LAN Needs an Update
Companies may yet regret having so seriously neglected their local networks in the past. Digitization will for many be the decisive success factor, and without a functioning, secure and agile in-house network they will be in trouble. “It is high time companies standardized and modernized their local networks,” Dietrich says. It is a message that is coming to be understood. According to a TechTarget survey one out of five network professionals in North America was planning to optimize LANs in 2018.
Companies can either undertake this transformation themselves or entrust it to a managed service provider (“make or buy”). While do-it-yourselfers retain total control over their networks, outsourcers benefit from a specialized service provider’s expertise and have more time to devote to their core business. First signs of future-proof LAN concepts are already appearing. A cloud-managed LAN, for example, enables new network components to be connected by plug and play. They are configured from the cloud. Software-defined Networking (SDN) goes a step further. It is a technology that automates the network and already exists in the Wide Area Network (more about this in future Perspectives).
If companies switch to SIP trunks, they should consider a PBX (private branch exchange) and a centralization of all connections as well. It is a decision that will save them more than just voice channels.