The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as one of the greatest moments of disruption to human society. But from a business perspective at least, coping with disruption and uncertainty is nothing new.
Yes, the pandemic has shaken things up on an unprecedented scale. But in a report commissioned by PwC into the economic impact of global crises back in 2019, seven out of 10 companies surveyed said they had experienced at least one major disruptive event in the past five years, be that a cyber attack, a natural disaster, or the fall out from social unrest of some sort.
What is more, 95% of firms said they expected to experience major disturbances to their operations in the future - and that was before anyone had even heard of COVID-19.
As a result, resilience has become a big topic in operational planning and management. How do you keep supply chains functioning if transport links are suddenly cut or one particular link in the chain is broken, such as happens when a supplier goes out of business? How do you keep revenue streams flowing in volatile markets that are liable to change with little warning and at pace?
And something that the COVID pandemic has certainly brought into sharper focus - how do you maintain a robust digital infrastructure that can cope with trends like remote working, increased cloud adoption and omnichannel commerce?
The need for reliable digital infrastructure has brought the issue of network resilience to renewed prominence. Network technology underpins many of the things seen as critical to ensuring business resilience going forward, such as dispersed teams and agile operational structures. Network resilience therefore in itself becomes a critical business asset.
Advanced network resilience
Cisco recognises this by dedicating its 2021 Global Networking Trends Report entirely to the topic of network resilience. To quote from the report: “As the sole platform that binds, protects, and enables an increasingly dynamic and distributed set of users and devices and increasingly disaggregated and dispersed applications and workloads, the network plays a central role in helping organizations build their resilience.”
Because of this increasing importance, Cisco argues that straightforward continuity and uptime are no longer good enough as measures of a strong, reliable network. It offers five trends which it sees as leading to ‘advanced network resilience’, covering remote security, automated management and recovery, and AI-powered analytics for real-time intelligence.
Another trend identified by Cisco as helping to take network resilience to the next level is multicloud. The incorporation of multiple cloud services into a single IT architecture is commonly associated with businesses seeking greater choice and agility from their cloud-based assets, picking and choosing the best services for individual functions rather than running everything through a single provider.
But another benefit of a multicloud strategy is that it allows businesses to distribute digital workloads and data storage across multiple providers. This boosts resilience in the same way that data centres will distribute workloads across multiple physical servers, server clusters or even geographical locations - if one node goes down, there are still plenty of others functioning to avoid or at least minimise downtime.
Adopting a multicloud strategy adds a level of complexity, of course. Rather than running an entire IT environment within a single cloud, a multicloud architecture creates a web of different services that have to be linked somehow. How exactly do you connect these different nodes and manage things like workload, access and security consistently across them all in line with operational requirements and business priorities?
This is where Cisco argues the concept of cloud networking comes into its own - an emerging discipline that focuses specifically on how to connect different cloud services into single heterogeneous architectures.
Cloud networking is an interdisciplinary approach that combines expertise across network, infrastructure and cloud, as well as application development and security. It borrows from development approaches like DevOps and microservices to create control plane solutions that can deploy, manage and scale workploads, applications and infrastructure across multiple environments as required, automating a critical part of delivering enhanced resilience and continuity.
It is also an approach that makes use of cutting edge networking technologies line SD-WAN and SASE to deliver optimised access, authentication and policy automation across environments, ensuring consistency in performance and data security whether workloads are being run via SaaS, PaaS or IaaS, in a public or private cloud or on premise.
In summary, a multicloud approach in many ways mimics in IT delivery what enterprises are doing to create more resilient supply chains in their physical operations - diversifying suppliers, mitigating risk by spreading the load. Reliance on a single cloud provider turns into a network of service relationships, so if there is an issue with one, another can step up to the plate and keep the wheels turning.
It’s a more complex as well as a more dynamic way of managing digital infrastructure. But with disciplines like cloud networking evolving, multicloud architectures can play an important role in making businesses more resilient in the face of future uncertainty.