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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

How to streamline your IT network infrastructure and improve productivity

When your internet connection slows down or goes out entirely, what's your first reaction? Probably frustration mixed with exasperation as you try to figure out why you can't download any documents, stream any videos or chat with anyone online.

A poor connection isn't just an annoyance, though – it's also a verifiable drag on everyone's productivity. Consider the long-term effects of spending even five minutes each day wrangling with internet-related issues.

Assuming at least four hours of daily usage per week, you're looking at 50 hours of lost productivity every year just for yourself. Scaled across the entire organization, such inefficiency becomes truly costly. So what can you do to boost internet reliability and deliver sufficient network bandwidth?

We've put together five tips for for streamlining your network for optimal productivity across your company:

1. Make your network more intelligent with SD-WAN

Software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) boost network performance, security and scalability. Unlike traditional MPLS WANs, they can easily incorporate different modes of transport (including regular broadband) and provide failsafe protections in case any single link – regardless of transport type – becomes congested or goes down.

The engine of an SD-WAN is an appliance that binds these connections into a single logical network with built-in prioritization for mission-critical apps. Accordingly, it obviates the need to continually add more bandwidth to address reliability issues – a costly and inefficient approach.

SD-WAN vendors may be carriers, managed service providers or networking vendors (like Cisco, which acquired Viptela in 2017). The SD-WAN market was nearly nonexistent in 2014 but revenue from equipment and services reached $162 million in Q1 2018.

2. Upgrade your routers with advanced functionality

Similar to SD-WAN, intelligent WAN (IWAN) extends the capabilities of WANs by integrating advanced services that benefit employees in remote and branch offices in particular. Cisco's Integrated Service Router (ISR) is the heart of iWAN.

While IWAN has often been seen as a technically difficult solution to implement, there's promise in the integration between IWAN and SD-WAN. For Cisco customers in particular, Viptela and IWAN may become more intertwined.

More specifically, Viptela software could be implemented into IOS on ISRs en route to eventual full management integration of an end-of-end network combining aspects of IWAN and SD-WAN. This setup is ideal for organizations interested in getting more from existing infrastructure while still pivoting to the advantages of SD-WAN.

Upgrading to IWAN and SD-WAN can greatly enhance network performance.Upgrading to IWAN and SD-WAN can greatly enhance network performance.

3. Ensure VPNs are super-easy to set up and use

In the U.S., more individuals are working remotely and on the go. That's good for employee flexibility but potentially bad for productivity, since it means greater dependence on cellular connectivity and home/public Wi-Fi, which can create issues in performance as well as security.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) provide a convenient solution. By extending a private connection over a public network, they secure the end user's traffic regardless of location, so he or she can safely access important company applications and resources.

4. Upgrade your PBX deployment to a VoIP solution

Relying on an old-fashioned private branch exchange (PBX) is not a network reliability issue per se, but it does place major limitations on what people can do with their connectivity. PBXes are difficult to extend beyond a main office – adding more lines is cumbersome and expensive, and integration with other services is limited.

Hosted VoIP solutions provide flexible alternatives. They're usable from both desktop and mobile endpoints in addition to conventional desk phones, can be combined with other applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) suites and ensure that no one has to miss a call. Every call can be forwarded to designated devices.

5. Work with a managed service provider

Managing a network takes time and money. Partnering with a managed service provider is a great way to alleviate the burden and free up IT's time for other projects.

To stay on top of the latest network technologies, be sure to take a look at our Cisco-specific courses and certifications. Also check out our webinars page for in-depth discussion of networking and other topics.

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