Future proof network: Network Glossary Definition

Future-proof network is a term that’s been around nearly as long as have IT networks. Organizations of all stripes naturally want whatever network gear they install today in their data center and throughout the wide-area network to last for the long term. That involves being able to adapt to future requirements as they come along and ensure your network and all connected devices and services have the capacity they will need going forward.

Adhering to open standards is one way to ensure that kind of adaptability. Open standards generally give organizations the flexibility to mix and match hardware and software from different vendors as they see fit, rather than being forced to stick with the proprietary network operating system (NOS) and hardware from a single vendor.

The idea of adhering to open standards is likewise not new. For years companies have sought to ensure their network equipment adheres to standards, whether the various 802.11 standards for wireless networks or simple cabling standards like Cat 5. Such standards are constantly changing, so it’s important to know that your chosen vendor or service provider has a plan for adopting whatever new standard is in the works.

Today, the concept of white box networking is a viable way of future proofing the network. White box networking involves using an open, Linux-based NOS on top of commodity white box switches. The switches come from the same vendors that supply major network equipment makers like Cisco and Juniper but have no software on top. That means customers are free to use the open NOS on whatever hardware platform best meets their performance and price requirements.

Depending on the white box vendor, the implementation can also provide future proofing by enabling an organization to take advantage of technologies down the road even if they don’t use them initially. Pica8’s CrossFlow technology, for example, enables its switches to support software defined network (SDN) technology on the same ports that support Layer 2/Layer 3 switching and routing. So, a company that only uses L2/L3 today is positioned to support SDN technology down the road. Support for SDN will add capabilities such as discrete analytics and more granular security control on the same ports that supply L2/L3 switching and routing.

By putting switching and routing capabilities in software, in a centralized controller, SDN also enables automation capabilities. Network services can be provisioned automatically in real time as new applications and workloads are added, with all corporate security and privacy policies applied. That kind of automation is another form of future-proofing, enabling organizations to grow without adding support staff, or enabling existing staff to focus on more strategic endeavors.

Ensuring room for growth also applies to bandwidth. As the amount of data that organizations must deal with continues to grow, their networks must support higher bandwidth connections. So, it’s important to stay on top of the standards for wired and wireless LANs to ensure the network equipment will be able to support increases in bandwidth as standards emerge.

Support for cloud technology is another form of future-proofing. As companies take on more and more cloud-based applications and services, companies must ensure their network operations teams can properly manage data and applications in a multi-cloud environment. This applies to the management tools, backup, recovery and security tools they use throughout the organization.

In general, a future-proof network requires ensuring flexibility and adaptability in the equipment and software used to build the network. One of the best ways to ensure that is to implement a standards-based, open network architecture that ensures the organization is not tied to a single vendor’s proprietary offerings.