Insight Article: What Does AI Mean for Your Network?

2024 is going to be the year when AI goes mainstream. We all know this because of the hundreds of articles written in 2023 telling us, probably half of which were written using AI in the form in ChatGPT. However, I’m willing to bet that not a single visionary CEO telling their investors and management teams about the amazing opportunities AI will bring realises they are also kicking off a need to transform their network more completely and quickly than ever before.

So, let’s look at why, and answer the question of what AI means for your network?

Put simply, AI is going to hit your network like a tsunami – hugely increasing demand for connectivity, driving the criticality of resilience, requiring you to connect new people to new service providers, enable quicker change than ever before, and of course you will need to do all that securely, but also flexibly, not to mention cost effectively.

However, on the positive side, AI could well help you run this new network – in other words, AI could help you deliver the network you need to deliver AI. Ironic, right?

Starting with first principles, we all know the purpose of an organisation’s network is to connect its people and data, and most would acknowledge the key to successfully architecting the right network is to understand who those people are, where they are, what workloads they are sending, and where those workloads need to go. Of course, we all also know that the answers to these questions have been changing very quickly over recent years as workloads have moved to the cloud, and people have moved out of offices through hybrid working.

These changes have driven big changes to most organisations’ networks – MPLS networks that were well suited to connecting people in offices to private data centres are on the way out, and internet-based networks with some sort of intelligent overlay such as SD-WAN are on the way in. Whilst these new networks are much more adept at connecting people to cloud-based workloads, organisations are starting to find SD-WAN alone isn’t sufficiently agile – being appliance-based means it is still tied to physical locations.

As a result, we at TNC have been tracking a significant trend towards Secure Service Edge (SSE) solutions which augment SD-WAN by elevating security controls into the cloud. This is crucial in enabling organisations to enable but also control access to any application for any user in any location. The ultimate end state for this type of network is “Zero Trust Network Architecture” (ZTNA) which controls every transaction between every user and every application – ensuring access is secure, and providing unprecedented control and visibility across the network and application environment.

These three solutions show us the landscape of the network market today – organisations on a journey from legacy MPLS, moving towards a “vision state” of SSE and ZTNA, with SD-WAN a key milestone on that journey.

AI is about to turbocharge that transformation. The reason why is that AI is the perfect use case for this new architectures:

AI is cloud-based, and may well require multi-cloud capability
AI will require huge movements of data, challenging the bandwidth of current networks
Driven by both fear and opportunity, organisations will want to enable AI incredibly quickly
Meeting these requirements will be extremely challenging. Clearly, those organisations still sat on legacy MPLS networks face the greatest challenge because they need to change their networks the most. However, even those organisations that have started the journey towards SD-WAN and SSE will still need to develop new strategies to cope with the incoming demands.

Wherever you sit on this spectrum, there are two key questions you must answer looking forwards into 2024:

How effectively will your current network strategy address the challenges of AI?
In what ways do you need to augment and update your current network strategy to address these new challenges?
Of course, answering these questions will very likely open up several new, more detailed questions such as:

What skills gaps will you face in executing your new strategy?
What is the budget impact of upgrading your network to cope with these new demands?
What are the timelines to make these changes?
How can you leverage new AI-enabled tools and capabilities to optimise and automate your network?
TNC is the trusted guide to network and telecoms services for many of the world’s largest and most demanding organisations. For the last 20 years, TNC has used its unparalleled market data and insight to help over 300 customers address exactly these sorts of complex questions and to develop and execute industry-leading strategies that deliver the best possible technical, operational, and commercial outcomes.

From our unique vantage point in the market, we can see how the latest architectures such as SSE and ZTNA, can deliver exactly the agility and flexibility organisations are going to require to address the challenges of AI. For example, SSE is ideally suited to enable multi-cloud access and to control and secure the flow of data between users and new AI applications. However, we also have firsthand experience of the challenges organisations face when trying to migrate to SSE, which demands new operating models, new ways of working, as well as alignment to the wider application strategy. Furthermore, the Total Cost of Ownership of solutions such as SD-WAN and SSE are significantly higher than for MPLS, meaning the commercial case for change is far from simple.

Given all these complexities, the biggest lesson we’ve taken from the last 20 years is this: act now – don’t leave it too late. Developing optimised strategies to meet epochal challenges like AI within a complex stakeholder and budgetary environment is not easy and will take time to get right. Therefore, the sooner you start, the better equipped you will be to deliver the results your organisation requires, enabling the network to be the hero enabling rapid exploitation of AI, not the villain standing in the way of progress.

How can TNC help?

Given the challenges set out above, the stakes are going to be very high for many organisations – not just the need to make the right decisions about technology, operating model, and service providers, but the need to make those decisions quickly, and potentially in a very visible, public setting.

However, there is likely to be little choice – agile networks are increasingly a requirement for most organisations so getting it right must be the priority.

To help leading UK and multinational organisations develop and execute industry-leading strategies for their new networks, TNC has developed a comprehensive tool kit to support you right through your journey, from developing the technology strategy and building the business case, to supporting your supplier selection process, assuring your solution deployment, and helping you optimise the solution throughout the lifecycle.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, we would be delighted to talk to you and share our experience and knowledge.

TNC supports the sourcing of network and telecoms services for 20% of all major corporate organisations in the UK


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