[YS Learn] India has seen the second-highest users of Webex outside of the US during the pandemic - Ritesh Doshi, Enterprise Networking, Cisco India and SAARC

In a conversation with YourStory, Ritesh Doshi, Enterprise Networking Director, CISCO India and SAARC explained SD WAN’s importance and how the pandemic has transformed the enterprise networking space.
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The year 2020 has been a catalyst of sorts for anything with a strong digital and tech focus. It has transformed the enterprise segment completely with wide-area network (WAN) architecture driving innovation at a critical point for businesses. 

While initially, it was a natural choice for companies to connect their branches and networks and connected data centres, as the number of locations grew, problems like network congestion, service outages etc cropped up. 

But the wide adoption of digital services has warranted a need for a Software Defined (SD) WAN system. It provides the intelligent functionality that optimises the network, and resolves these remote working challenge.

In a conversation with YourStory, Ritesh Doshi, Enterprise Networking Director, CISCO India and SAARC, explained the importance of SD WAN, and how the pandemic has transformed the enterprise networking space. 

Edited excerpts of the interaction 

YourStory (YS): What has 2020 changed in the enterprise networking space, and how has it changed the way people work? 

Ritesh Doshi (RD): The pandemic has forced organisations to think of new ways of doing business. Workforces that were generally expected to be in office through the day and deliver outcomes were suddenly forced to work remotely. 

With technology acting as the primary enabler, many organisations have started appreciating the value of remote working and adapting to the new normal. They also tried leveraging this to optimise their costs by consolidating the real estate required for office space.

We have witnessed businesses relying more on cloud-based applications, with many organisations switching to hybrid work models and digital business models. Companies are also becoming more open to hiring talent remotely across geographies. 

This has forced organisations to reimagine their network to enable the required visibility of a highly distributed workforce, and also create a secure working environment irrespective of their work location. 

The rise of multi-cloud networking and the proliferation of connectivity has pushed businesses to augment their networks to deliver better security, granular visibility, centralised policy management, and the required flexibility to provision resources on the fly. 

Cloud-based technologies, security, analytics, and automation are all crucial for organisations to empower their employees, and build resilience in the next normal. 

Is remote work possible in post-pandemic world?

YS: How did Cisco adapt to the changes in the pandemic, and how did you help your customers do the same? 

RD: Cisco was uniquely positioned to manage this transition. Remote working is not new to us, and we had the backend infrastructure to switch to a new working style securely and seamlessly. Thanks to Cisco IT, we had all our employees across the globe working remotely overnight without a single minute of disruption, right from the beginning. 

To help the industry and our customers, Cisco made its policies, plans, and processes on remote business continuity available to everyone.

We introduced our Resilient Distributed Enterprise framework to our customers, which addressed how organisations can leverage their current installed base and build a resilient infrastructure that cuts across datacenter and cloud, where the workloads reside, and a medium independent transport layer all the way through the users connecting from anywhere. 

The entire architecture revolves around security, with visibility at the centre of it, and focuses on building enterprise scale. This has helped several large ITeS, FSI, and public sector companies in India to move their workforce overnight. 

In April, we engaged with over 600 customers to help them with business continuity plans in India; during the same time, we enabled over 500,000 knowledge workers in India to work from home securely.

We also enabled free access to cloud-delivered technologies across our collaboration and security portfolio in March 2020, with our India and global teams working tirelessly to meet the tremendous surge we saw in Webex usage, and continue to see even as countries start to open.

India has seen the second-highest usage outside of the US during this time – on an average, we have had over 12.5 million meetings per month and over 100 million participants in India.

While there were some initial challenges, many of our customers adapted well, and are looking at permanently moving to a hybrid work model. 

To enable this at scale permanently, our customers are increasing their investments in both on and off-premise cybersecurity and collaboration tools. There is also a focus on technologies that allow virtual teams to seamlessly and securely communicate, with data analytics carried out to gain insight and visibility into dispersed teams. Moreover, there is a fresh look at the way customers want to carry our Network Transformation, giving them in-depth visibility and required control.

YS: What are your key learnings of enterprise networking from 2020, and what can be done in the new normal? 

RD: Digital transformation, business automation, and resilience are today shaping the requirements of a new kind of network. What we are experiencing in 2020 is more than a new normal, it’s about the “next normal” because the way we use technology is evolving rapidly. Some of the key learnings I have derived from this year are:

  • The need for resilient infrastructure: Connectivity is accelerating the digital transformation model, across all industries large and small. So today enterprises are focused on future-proofing their business, and creating a flexible and resilient infrastructure that can support and respond quickly to any circumstances, enable new operating models and services, integrate with IT processes, and safeguard their employees and customers. This means IoT is more important now for continued business success, especially if we want to learn quickly and pivot effectively in a fast-changing world. 
  • Importance of hybrid cloud infrastructure in the post-COVID world: Today, more and more businesses are moving towards software-driven services and cloud operating models. As the home becomes a base for day-to-day activities, hybrid cloud architectures, powered by AI and ML will see increased adoption, and these architectures must be combined with automated cloud-based management systems to warrant a seamless user experience. 
  • SD-WAN enabling hybrid workforce beyond 2020: The dispersal of connectivity and the growth of multi-cloud networking has forced many businesses to re-tool their networks in favour of SD-WAN technology and secure access server edge (SASE), as it enables networks to securely access cloud workloads and SaaS applications. It further protects application traffic from threats within the enterprise and from outside by leveraging a full stack of security solutions integrated into it.
  • Secure Return to Work environments: Organisations are taking steps in the direction of helping employees return to work securely in environments where there is a need for physical presence. They are leveraging location tracking technologies, combined with their wireless infrastructure to carry out precise contract tracing and requirements around social distancing etc.  

YS: What are your key takeaways of 2020, and what trends do you think will shape 2021?

RD: In this next normal, it’s all about having a network that can adapt to support whatever the future brings. Here are four trends I encourage every networking leader to consider as part of their efforts to support their organisation’s resiliency plans:

Extending security to a hybrid workforce: As workforces become more distributed, organisations must secure user identity with VPN-controlled access and multi-factor authentication (MFA) to protect applications. For organisations looking at returning to the workplace, the need for a modern, agile network is critical, and one has to enable workplace monitoring, alerts, and insights to help protect the health and safety of employees, partners, and customers by leveraging existing networks.

Facilitating multi-cloud for greater resilience: The pandemic has led to an increase in demand for the multi-cloud model, as it helps in reducing costs, increases flexibility, and protects against the risk of failures. For successful multi-cloud networking strategies, organisations need to look at adopting a cloud operating model to simplify the policies, security, and management of workloads and services across all computing environments. They should also adopt SD-WAN and SASE approaches to help ensure a secure multi-cloud (including SaaS) access for users and devices across corporate and public networks.

Automating operations for faster recovery: According to the Cisco Business Resilience Networking survey, 50 percent of businesses prioritise network automation for addressing disruptions today. NetOps teams should consider automating network access, onboarding, and segmentation to protect groups of distributed users and mitigate the spread of cybersecurity attacks, and establish an end-to-end zero-trust access model from users and devices to workloads.  

Leveraging AI-powered network analytics for smarter insights: NetOps teams should adopt AI-enabled network analytics and assurance systems to achieve – more accurate detection of issues, faster remediation, automated policy management, fewer degradations, and better peer intelligence that can help compare their network performance to global, industry, or regional benchmarks.

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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