ESG WHITE PAPER

Rethinking IT Architecture for Digital Business

Embrace a Platform Approach to Digital Performance

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By Bob Laliberte, ESG Senior Analyst

Better digital experiences will result in higher customer loyalty, increased revenues and larger market share.

The State of Digital Transformation

Businesses compete in a fast-paced digital economy, one that doesn’t wait for the unprepared. To keep pace, organizations need to constantly transform to remain competitive. For most industries, this means embarking on a digital transformation initiative. ESG research indicates that this transformation is well underway, with 13% of respondents stating they have mature digital transformations, and another 61% reporting they are either in process (38%) or beginning the process (23%). Another 21% are in the planning stage (see Figure 1).1 Clearly, digital transformation is pervasive across all industries as these organizations look to optimize the digital experience for their customers and employees. This is important as better digital experiences will result in higher customer loyalty, increased revenues and larger market share.

Figure 1. Progress in Achieving Digital Transformation

Which of the following best describes your organization’s digital transformation initiatives? (Percent of respondents, N=651)

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

Digital transformation coincides with another major shift toward distributed compute environments, as applications and compute are increasingly deployed at the edge after spending a number of years consolidating into a few major data centers. This shift will place greater emphasis on the network and the ability to have end-to-end visibility, including remote offices connecting directly to the cloud, instead of backhauling through a centralized data center. The challenge for many organizations is ensuring the same or better levels of performance and user experience in a digitally intensive, geographically distributed environment.

How important is it to get this right? Based on the research ESG has conducted, 86% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that not embracing digital transformation will make the business less competitive.2 Clearly organizations must transform, but what are the right technologies and solutions to help accelerate their success? What can be done to ensure a successful transition?

Growing Complexity Accompanies Transformation

A major part of a successful digital transformation is ensuring that the underlying technology can support the new distributed environments. However, it shouldn’t be a surprise that IT environments are becoming more or significantly more complex than even just a few years ago. ESG research points to the fact that this complexity is being driven by:3

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More data. Organizations know that all the data they collect has value if it can be collected, sorted, and utilized for AI/ML initiatives to drive greater insights and competitive advantages.

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Dramatic increases in the number and types of endpoint devices. BYOD policies and IoT devices are becoming more prevalent in the enterprise.

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Increases in the number and types of applications used by employees. Applications are hosted and run in the cloud, on SaaS platforms, in the data center, and increasingly at the edge.

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The need to use both on-premises data centers and public cloud providers. Many organizations implemented a cloud-first policy and now need to ensure similar or better performance for applications hosted in the cloud.

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Many organizations have hybrid environments with applications both on-premises and in the cloud.

As mentioned previously, edge and cloud computing are also becoming more relevant. As organizations seek to perform real-time analysis of the data that is being generated at the edge to improve retail sales, enhance QA/QC procedures for manufacturing, or enable a better experience at a stadium or hotel, the need to deploy technology at the edge is expanding. This may also include applications being deployed on mobile devices and access to IoT devices located at remote locations. When combined with existing cloud computing initiatives, the result is a hybrid environment with applications both on-premises and in the cloud. In some cases, applications may have dependencies that reside in both locations, which increases the complexity of ensuring consistent digital experiences for all users.

It is equally important to note that applications themselves are changing dramatically as well and becoming far more dynamic. Legacy applications are being refactored and new apps, often referred to as cloud-native applications, are being built on containers and microservices architectures. Typically supporting a DevOps environment, these updated or new applications have a dramatically more release cycles and require more management.

While these distributed environments and new application delivery models allow for rapid innovation, they are not without their challenges. In many cases, organizations focus too much on the individual technologies and not enough on the digital experiences and their collective impact to the business.

Adapting to Distributed Environments Creates New Challenges

Executing a digital transformation initiative in a distributed environment carries several challenges with it. Specifically, organizations need to think about how to overcome:

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Lack of comprehensive visibility.

Complete, end-to-end visibility has always been a problem because providing holistic coverage from application to end-user has proven to be elusive. Typically, organizations have deployed a single or multiple point tools per technology area—think application, mobile devices, server, network, and storage—and relied on swivel chair management from operations to connect silos. As a result, a lot of time is wasted when an alarm storm is triggered and there is no context, resulting in finger pointing. Also, because of this, user experience is usually extrapolated based on equipment SLAs, which are not always the best indicator. Users today are not tolerant of even minor outages or slowdowns, so organizations need to have comprehensive visibility. This visibility will be even more important as DevOps environments adopt containers and microservices architectures that are elastic and transient in nature.

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Lack of flexibility.

A key characteristic of the digital economy is the ability to rapidly adapt to changing environments. Unfortunately, most legacy IT environments are not flexible. Organizations struggle to rapidly add new sites or deploy new applications in the cloud or at the edge. It is not only the infrastructure that lacks flexibility but also the distributed approach to managing IT operations. As businesses expand with more sites or services, leveraging a patchwork of management tools becomes increasingly inefficient. The same can be said of supporting these sites with different systems and processes, which can cause delays when addressing issues or rolling out new services.

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Maintaining security

Another perennial challenge is even more important in a digital economy: staying ahead of bad actors and malicious attacks. Despite strengthening cybersecurity tools and processes being a top IT initiative for a number of years,4 organizations struggle to keep attackers and unknowing employees from creating a breach. This is complicated by the increased number of mobile and IoT devices flooding organizations that dramatically increase the attack surface. Additionally, with more compute taking place at the edge and the need to leverage data from the increased number of devices, organizations will have to ensure that the data collected and processed will be secure.

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Legacy networks.

In a highly distributed environment focused on delivering digital content to customers, organizations need to ensure a quality experience regardless of location. In many instances, legacy router-based networks leveraging CLI commands are difficult to manage at scale, as each change needs to be implemented device-by-device. IT teams will struggle to deliver the expected performance required for modern applications and services, not to mention the potential for human error added as changes are introduced and the potential for network brownouts or outages is increased. Another area that organizations struggle with is shifting remote locations to connect directly to clouds or other remote locations.

When these challenges aren’t addressed, digital performance suffers, and therefore, the business is impacted as well. While ESG research previously highlighted the lack of competitiveness, this could also result in delayed product launches, loss of sales and customers, impaired productivity, and even diminished brand reputation.

Why a Platform Approach Is Required

To resolve the above challenges and help accelerate desired business outcomes, organizations need to think more holistically. In these new environments, it is not about deploying an individual technology that will solve every problem. Rather, organizations need to implement a comprehensive approach to manage digital performance to ensure superior customer experiences and business results. To do that, organizations need to build a comprehensive platform that is focused on:

Digital experience.
In a digital economy, it is all about the end-user. If end-users do not have a satisfactory experience, all the individual or siloed technology purchases are not worth much. That is why organizations need to focus on providing end-to-end visibility across the entire digital service delivery chain, from the user’s first click back to the application code and everything in between. It is important to provide not only clear insights into how a user interacts with an application, but also information about how the quality of that experience is impacting the business. A key part of this is deploying a management solution focused on digital experience, one that can translate a variety of IT metrics and service-level agreements (SLAs) from across the environment into relevant business outcomes or key business indicators or outcomes (KBIs or KBOs). A platform approach is required because it will need to retrieve data from the entire end-to-end environment, correlate it, and present the results in a context tailored to each stakeholder’s responsibilities. This will be critical for organizations that want to understand the quality of experience of their users as well as rapidly pinpoint problem areas or even predict potential future problems.

Next-gen infrastructure.
This is another area an organization needs to think about holistically, from the new applications leveraging microservices and running in containers to the network infrastructure required to support a distributed environment. As a result, organizations need to consider the infrastructure transformation that is required to support the digital transformation, one that mimics the efficiency and simplicity of the cloud while still ensuring tighter control over corporate assets. To do so, organizations need to invest in next-generation network infrastructure technologies like software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and software-defined LAN (SD-LAN) to ensure flexible and secure connectivity and optimized performance regardless of an end-user’s or application’s location (cloud, data center, or edge). Another area of focus is at the distributed edge, where more compute will be deployed to handle AI/ML solutions from IoT devices and sensors. Also, as more data is distributed across the environment to the edge, this platform will need to provide effective data security to keep data safe, but also highly accessible to users at the edge. Such a holistic approach will ensure users have positive digital experiences.

How to Get Started

Like any major transformation, the hardest step can be the first one. Organizations looking to implement a digital performance platform should:

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Assess the current environment.

This requires taking an inventory of your existing assets and answering questions such as: Do you already have some of the next-gen network infrastructure pieces in place? Does the DevOps team take advantage of microservices and containers? What percentage of applications have been refactored?

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This exercise will help identify the gaps that need to be addressed.

Don’t forget to assess all management solutions, finding answers to questions like: Do they provide end-to-end visibility, or are there gaps in monitoring coverage? Are they point solutions, or are they integrated and share data?

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Evaluate existing solutions.

Once you know what you have, you can evaluate whether these infrastructure technologies and management solutions can evolve or need to be replaced. It is very important to cover both management and infrastructure together because too often, it is an afterthought for operations to deal with. Because no individual component will solve all problems, look for the ability to leverage APIs to enable tight integration across the entire environment, from data center through cloud to edge.

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Pilot a specific area.

Once you have mapped out your end-to-end platform choices, start by highlighting one area. This could be simplified if next-gen technology is already in place and can evolve to meet your needs (like SD-WAN, etc.). The key is making the first trial successful, demonstrating its value to the business, and facilitating the allocation of additional budget to complete the platform.

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Standardize across the environment.

Driving consistency across a distributed environment will be important as organizations want to remain agile, so limiting the number of systems from different vendors will help shorten the learning curve and accelerate adoption and optimization.

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Educate the enterprise about new capabilities.

Once you have successfully completed initial trials and are rolling out the platform enterprise-wide, make sure you are updating the company and business units on how the platform is optimizing digital performance, enhancing customer experience, and having a positive impact on the business.

Riverbed Can Help

Riverbed has been helping customers improve business performance for over 15 years, pioneering the WAN optimization market to ensure better user experiences over long distances. To better support customers in this digital age, the company has grown and evolved, developing a portfolio of solutions that combine digital experience and next-generation infrastructure.

Given its strong foundation in performance management, Riverbed now offers a platform that provides a holistic view of a user’s digital experience, leveraging and unifying device-based user experience, application, infrastructure, and network monitoring. As a result, organizations can clearly understand how applications are being consumed and what kind of digital experience the customers are having. Furthermore, it can illustrate how this activity impacts a company’s productivity, costs, revenue, and many other business metrics.

From an infrastructure perspective, Riverbed’s knowledge and innovation in WAN optimization, SD-WAN, and SD-LAN enable next-generation networks to scale operations and optimize the connections that deliver digital content to all users. Moreover, its edge solutions provide secure data services, enabling organizations to safely transition computing to the edge without sacrificing performance or availability.

Riverbed understood that the sum of its parts is far greater than its individual pieces, so it began integrating all these solutions via common APIs years ago to provide a unified platform. The culmination of these efforts is a digital performance platform capable of delivering new levels of operational agility and secure and optimized digital experiences that accelerate desired business outcomes.

The Bigger Truth

Business needs to move at a faster pace because the digital economy demands companies respond quickly, deliver valuable digital content securely, and always provide a superior experience. Organizations are embarking on digital transformation initiatives and need to ensure they have the agility, performance, and security to deliver a great digital experience across a distributed environment. Fail to do so and the business will suffer negative consequences.

To do this, organizations need to move beyond individual solutions and deploy comprehensive platforms to provide the requisite visibility and performance to ensure positive digital experiences and better business outcomes. The platform needs to be a combination of next-generation infrastructure and deeply insightful management solutions that can provide end-to-end visibility, from the application code to a user on a mobile device. Organizations that can deploy and leverage a platform like this, a digital performance platform, will have a distinct advantage.

Riverbed, with its wide array of integrated solutions, is well positioned to enable and drive a customer’s digital initiatives through its digital performance platform. Organizations that take the steps outlined in this paper and start to assess, evaluate, and deploy a digital performance platform will better position themselves for sustained success in the digital era.

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The digital performance platform that improves every aspect of your business

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Source: ESG Master Survey Results, 2018 IT Spending Intentions Survey, Dec 2017.

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Source: ESG Research Report, 2018 IT Spending Intentions Survey, Feb 2018.

This ESG White Paper was commissioned by Riverbed and is distributed under license from ESG.

All trademark names are property of their respective companies. Information contained in this publication has been obtained by sources The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) considers to be reliable but is not warranted by ESG. This publication may contain opinions of ESG, which are subject to change. This publication is copyrighted by The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. Any reproduction or redistribution of this publication, in whole or in part, whether in hard-copy format, electronically, or otherwise to persons not authorized to receive it, without the express consent of The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc., is in violation of U.S. copyright law and will be subject to an action for civil damages and, if applicable, criminal prosecution. Should you have any questions, please contact ESG Client Relations at 508.482.0188.

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