Data is the lifeblood of digitisation. If an organisation can collect and analyse large volumes of high-quality data about itself and its customers, it becomes more efficient and productive, and can make better decisions.
The innovations that enable digital transformation, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and new productivity tools, all require access to large pools of information to fulfil their potential.
The challenge for businesses is to collect, manage, process and transmit this information in the most efficient way possible. According to a study by IDC, data generation will reach 163 zettabytes by 2025 – a tenfold increase from 2017.
Part of this growth will come from the increase in connected devices, driven by IoT. Cisco predicts the number of networked devices worldwide will rise from 18.4 billion in 2018 to 29.3 billion in 2023, with Machine to Machine (M2M) the fastest growing category.
At present, M2M devices account for just a third of all global connections. However, with an anticipated annual growth rate of 30 per cent, the number of M2M connections is set to reach 14.7 billion within five years – or half of the total connected devices.
Many of these devices will have minimal data requirements and will be connected via Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN). However, more data-intensive systems, such as industrial machinery and mission-critical applications, will require high capacity, reliable, low-latency connectivity.
Adding further complexity to this networking challenge is the use of cloud technology, which is essential for digitisation.
The cloud provides access to innovative servers as well as scalable, cost-effective access to processing power and storage that is needed to retain and analyse this data. This approach simply isn’t possible with on-premise infrastructure, which requires up-front costs and has a higher Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
All of this data must be transmitted from device to the cloud and back again in the quickest time possible.
Without improvements to networking infrastructure, the benefits of digitisation will be diluted. Fortunately, the pace of innovation in local and wide area network technology can keep up with developments elsewhere in the IT ecosystem.
At a local level, organisations must ensure they can support large numbers of devices, regardless of location. The workforce is no longer confined to a physical office and businesses must have the systems in place to facilitate the secure, rapid transmission of large quantities of data. Traditional approaches to networking that use a centralised hub are no longer suitable for the cloud era because they create bottlenecks that cause delays, decrease productivity and impact user experience.
The backbone of networks can be strengthened with 100G Ethernet, which significantly improves capacity in enterprise campus and branch deployments. Software Defined-Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) intelligently routes enterprise traffic across multiple networks in the most efficient way possible, eliminating bottle necks and single points of failure.
A new generation of Wi-Fi technology offers further enhancements. Wi-Fi 6 delivers faster speeds, greater capacity and lower latency. It supports a more diverse range of devices and applications, delivering benefits for high-density Wi-Fi environments such as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Wi-Fi 6 has nearly four times the capacity of Wi-Fi 5 and promises speeds of up to 10Gbps – allowing organisations to connect more devices to a network and benefit from advances made in telecoms infrastructure.
At a macro infrastructure level, mobile and broadband operators around the world are investing in technologies that accelerate data collection and processing times. Full fibre networks improve reliability and avoid the bottlenecks caused by the lower capacity of copper lines.
Although larger enterprises benefit from dedicated Ethernet connections, the greater provision of fibre to residences and business parks will transform the capabilities of smaller businesses. Wider coverage will also enhance the effectiveness of remote working strategies.
Improvements to mobile infrastructure will make remote working even more effective and will offer businesses the option of using cellular connectivity to power mission critical applications. To support these demands, operators are upgrading infrastructure with new spectrum and cloud-based core network technologies that deliver superior speed, capacity and latency performance.
The advent of 5G will be transformational, delivering gigabit speeds, 99.9999% reliability and sub-millisecond latency. 5G networks will be able to support one million devices per square kilometre and Network slicing also makes it possible to guarantee a certain level of throughput for certain applications.
Wired, wireless and cellular connectivity will all coexist as complementary technologies, enabling organisations to cope with the massive creation of data and ensure information is freely shared between applications, systems and people.
The effectiveness of all three forms of communication will be enhanced by edge computing technologies that decentralise IT functions away from a centralised hub and bring them closer to the point of collection. This proximity reduces the speed that data can be processed and also reduces congestion on networks.
Public cloud vendors are introducing edge capabilities to their platforms, while edge processing is a key defining characteristic of 5G when it comes to an industrial standpoint.
The explosion of data is both an essential component and significant challenge of digitisation. The cloud helps organisations manage this growth and maximise the effectiveness of information within an organisation. But it’s the network that makes it all happen.
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Data is essential if the full potential of digital transformation is to be realised. But as organisations create and analyse more information than ever before, it is essential that they have the technologies and platforms in place to cope. Advances in local networking and telecommunications, such as SD-WAN, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G make it happen.