Making cloud-based network management affordable for SMBs
Tue 7 May 2019 | Paul Routledge
Cloud-based network management solutions typically come with a significant price tag or a lacklustre feature list. Paul Routledge, UK and Ireland country manager at D-Link, asks if affordable AI could be the solution
Cloud-managed infrastructure has been around for a number of years, but has mainly been adopted by large enterprises, dispersed organisations or managed service providers but has not been accessible for small to mid-sized businesses. Adopting cloud-managed networking presents an opportunity for businesses to decrease the complexity of deploying and managing their network due to the migration of core applications to the cloud.
Cloud network designs are essentially the same as standard cloud networks: the same number of access points are placed in the same locations and the same number of switches are required to provide the bandwidth for the network traffic. The real difference lies in how the hardware is deployed and configured. Typically, an installation requires the presence of a mixture of skilled people, some to handle the manual task of installing the hardware in the appropriate locations and more technical engineers responsible for the configuration of the hardware.
Left to their own devices
So, why is cloud-based network management not more commonplace? It’s because the marketplace is polarised. The high-end cloud offerings deliver the automation, visibility and simplicity of deployment needed to improve efficiency. But they come with a significant price tag, which most small businesses can’t afford. More often than not, this high price is because these solutions have not been tailored to the needs of small and medium-sized businesses and contain a raft of features that aren’t necessarily required.
For instance, does a chain of coffee shops really need the capabilities of a layer seven firewall, deep packet analysis and application control in their access point? Probably not. Do they need the constant monitoring or control that a large corporation needs?
They will want to look at authentication information provided by the captive portal, but not much else. However, if the coffee chain’s CIO wanted to invest in cloud-based network management, he would invariably be paying for these additional features that they do not need.
“Network managers need a solution that is comparable in functionality to those implemented by the enterprise but at a price that is affordable.”
On the other end of the scale, cheaper solutions which offer fewer feature options or advertise themselves as “cloud” can be a false economy. There are a few offerings in the marketplace which, despite labelling themselves as “cloud”, are in reality just a standard network management tool hosted on an internet-facing server. Who really wants to go onsite with their phone to add network devices to their cloud account, but then have to switch to a tablet or laptop to configure and deploy the devices to the network? This could be the reality of adopting the wrong cloud solutions.
Whilst technically cloud-hosted, engineers are still required onsite to set up the “cloud” infrastructure, and then manually configure each device. This is no different to a normal installation except you now have to pay a monthly fee per devices to maintain the right to configure and monitor the device via web browser.
As the expectations grow, so to do the demands and the variety of pressures applied to medium-sized business networks, network managers need a solution that is comparable in functionality to those implemented by the enterprise but at a price that is affordable.
Looking to the future, products will integrate AI to bring a whole new level of consistency and control for the modern network. Deploying the guest Wi-Fi network will become simple since AI controllers can identify the reason for the new SSID and in turn configure all the devices in the network with the correct network and VLAN settings without having to do any additional configuration.
AI will further bridge the lack of skills or knowledge in businesses, enabling them to concentrate on running the business and not the infrastructure. The integration of voice-controlled AI platforms like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, which we believe will migrate from consumer to business applications, will take network control to another level. Making configuration changes or receiving network alerts could be more human and personalised than sending an email message to a group.
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