COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.–Networking used to be like storage in that many people used to say about both sectors: “So what’s innovative about them? You store data in an array or in the cloud. Big deal. Networking is the piping that connects applications in IT components, systems and the cloud. Big deal. They’re not processing anything, they’re just providing the utilities.”
Well, that might have been a succinct description of storage and networking in past generations, but certainly not in this one. New-gen storage and networking are now, in fact, hugely impactful sectors with multiple billion-dollar markets all by themselves. Ask anyone who knows anything about IT and those who attended the first Level 3 Technology Summit here at the Broadmoor Sept. 12 and 13.
In fact, the statistics remain steady that storage accounts for about 60 percent of all IT budgets, on average. Networking, with its faster, smarter new routers and controllers, makes up a lesser percentage than storage, but its costs also are non-trivial in the enterprise big picture.
About the Level 3 Summit
The Summit started off 15 years ago as simply a golf tournament benefit for Denver-based SungateKids Foundation, a non-profit that handles child abuse family counseling/education for three counties in the greater Denver area.
This year’s event took on the added component of a two-day IT conference, since all the customers of Level 3 Communications are IT-related. The Sept. 12 and 13 event raised nearly $400,000 for the well-run and highly regarded social program.
Broomfield, Colo.-based Level 3 Communications, which hosted about 170 invited guests at the famous golf and tennis resort located at the base of Pike’s Peak, provides network-based security, cloud service connections, voice and video conferencing services, adaptive network control and DDoS mitigation for a large number of well-known companies.
Level 3’s customer list includes Verizon, Equinix, T-Mobile, Southern Light, Amdocs, Accenture, Nokia, IBM, Red Hat, Juniper Networks, Salesforce and a score of others.
The Central Issue in New-Gen Networking? Enabling Self-Service
There were more than a few good insights that came out of the conference, but the No. 1 takeaway seemed to be this: Networking service providers, in serving their customers, are facing a major task: How can they enable their customers to build their own networks and design and deploy their own capabilities?
Companies like Level 3, Equinix and others have hundreds of applications on hand to supply needed business and professional services to their customers. Equinix alone has more than 1,200 at last count.
However, every customer has different needs, and there will be times when that “need” must be filled now. Service providers, try as they might, may not be able to work on an on-demand schedule for what is rapidly becoming an on-demand world. Thus, the customer needs to be empowered to make control changes whenever the demand is there.
Level 3 CEO Jeff Storey (pictured; for a larger view, right-click on the image and select “View Image”) posed this scenario: “Imagine an environment in which an enterprise can log into a portal, order their own service, activate their own service, crank up and crank down their own capacity levels, change quality of services, change the amount of bandwidth they need, connect to different cloud providers, and manage the security an authentication levels of everybody with clearance to the network.”
Key Takeaways from the First Level 3 Technology Summit
This, friends, is new-generation networking, and it involves automation, automation and more automation. But even in the second half of 2016, not all that many companies are making the jump from their own well-worn, tried-and-true legacy networks that more closely resemble the one described so candidly at the top of this story.
Hesistancy to Pull the Trigger on New Networking Controls
Another takeaway from the conference was that service providers and system integrators such as Accenture continue to see hesitancy on the parts of many medium-size businesses to move to new-gen networking, because the network systems they have from 20 years ago still work well enough.
That’s where the impending internet of things (IoT) era comes to mind. This was top of mind for many at the summit: How are we going to modernize our old systems to handle the continued huge growth of data in our networks and stores, when boards of directors looking at bottom lines don’t see the urgency for change at this time?
For many an enterprise, dipping a toe into networking monitoring and analysis services—a little at a time via the cloud—is the answer. That’s part of what Level 3 is providing.
MyLevel3 Portal, in fact, provides the necessary cloud services to enable enterprises to do their own network monitoring as needed, and in the time frame they need it. There are no capital costs for boards of directors to fret about; the service is offered via monthly and/or yearly subscriptions only.
MyLevel3 Portal’s business management tools include the following functions:
–analyze up-to-date business data;
–access interactive maps, reporting, online ordering and invoicing;
–make a one-time payment or schedule payments in advance;
–check the status of all of your open and closed balances;
–communicate directly with support representatives;
–control costs and resolve issues, all from control window.
Level 3 Portals Offer an Alternative
MyLevel3 also offers a media portal and a partner portal in which all business transactions, orders and marketing information can be entered, stored and analyzed for the record. Users can view, download and analyze Level 3 invoices easily, including usage details; they also can manage online voice products, check alarms, monitor network performance and access product-specific reports.
Centralized control of networks—especially as they gain more and more intelligence in the controllers—will become more desirable as time goes on, because the sheer complexity of future IT systems is mind-boggling.
We’re talking about networking connections to private clouds, hybrid clouds, public clouds and multiple clouds now and in the future. Some will be API-based; some will not. Some will have automated controls and connectors; some will not. Security schemas often will not be compatible.
There will need to be some sort of well-vetted, trusted, efficient and secure control platform to connect with all these variables and make sense out of them as businesses do business with each other and with their customers virtually—and on mobile devices.
This is what new-gen networking is encompassing, and we’re only in the beginning stages of finding out how enterprises will be doing it in the future. Level 3 appears to be at the forefront of this discovery phase.
Photo by Chris Preimesberger, eWEEK