Editor's Corner—There’s turmoil in enterprise networks

Linda Hardesty editor's corner

At the recent Open Networking Foundation (ONF) event in Santa Clara, California, Nick McKeown, a professor of computer science at Stanford University and one of the pioneers of software-defined networking, said something that especially caught my attention. He was musing about all the changes he’s seen in networking over the past couple of decades and all the amazing technological progress in telco and cloud networks. But he said, “What didn’t happen was: what about enterprise networks we use on campuses? There’s a lot of turmoil going on there. Some say, ‘Should we just move everything to the cloud?’”

I recently had a chance to speak with Nick Lippis, the co-founder of the Open Networking Users Group (ONUG), whose very mission is to help enterprises navigate their digital transitions. Many ONUG members are chief information officers (CIOs) or chief digital officers (CDOs) at their companies, and they come to ONUG events to collaborate on best practices in enterprise networking.

In response to McKeown’s comment about enterprise IT, Lippis agreed: “I’d say it’s been the last three decades. We really haven’t moved the ball in a significant way. We still have the same physical-based networking gear and infrastructure.”

He said a big part of the problem has been departmental silos and also organizational structure.

Many enterprises still have silos for the networking group, as opposed to the storage group, as opposed to the security group, and so forth. “It’s been extremely difficult to change,” said Lippis. “They get wed to a particular vendor and become an advocate for that vendor.”

There are also the different roles of digital leaders, which may need a refresh as well.

The role of CIO has historically dealt with much of the information technology (IT) at a company. The CIO’s department often includes the people who would requisition your personal computer. You might think of your company’s help-desk as part of this function. These folks also build applications for the business.

“The CIO's job was to deliver productivity and automation internally for the corporation,” said Lippis. “But productivity gains have plateaued.” He added that the CIO’s role is changing.

Many enterprises also have CTOs and CDOs, and the parameters of those roles vary from company to company.

Meanwhile, enterprises are facing technology challenges on multiple fronts. There’s a shortage of IT workers to handle their increasingly outdated onsite IT infrastructure. Internet-savvy customers expect to interact via sophisticated online tools. And then there’s the whole trend to move workloads to the public cloud; and this can be a challenge in itself, and costly.

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Many enterprises appear to be limping along with bootstrapped legacy equipment and no clear path to migrate to a “hybrid cloud” world. Lippis said, “They’re not all rushing into the cloud. GE might have 10,000 apps that run the business, but maybe 300-400 are in the cloud. The reason why they’re not running into the cloud is they don’t think it’s going to be cheaper. And they’re concerned about security and compliance.”

Probably the biggest pressure enterprise IT leaders are feeling comes from their companies’ customers. This pressure can’t be ignored. Perhaps it’s time for companies to ditch old silos and even old job titles. 

Lippis thinks there’s going to be a “total realignment of what IT is,” and as far as job titles, he suggests “Enterprise Technologist.”

Of course the acronym for that would be ET....."ET phone home." Maybe not.


Editor's Corners are opinion columns written by a member of the Fierce editorial team. They are edited for balance and accuracy.