Mobile, Cloud and IoT Create Six New Challenges for Switching

By Michael Dickman , Vice President of Product Line Management at HPE Aruba
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In this blog, I will argue that not only does the job of the switch becomes more important as wired access declines (in fact, because of its decline), but also that six new challenges are emerging as a direct result of mobile, cloud and IoT.

Evolving Role of the Humble Access Switch

Until the arrival of mobile technologies, cloud and IoT, a campus access switch had just one job to do: provide wired user access. Users connected their desktop computers to Ethernet ports with cable that ran back to a centralized closet. A few printers and local servers might be connected as well. The profile of these users was IT-controlled devices, typically low bandwidth utilization with minimal power requirements.

The shift to digital has changed this—giving switches a much larger and harder job. In a mobile first world, the switch responsibilities now include all of:

  • Traditional wired connectivity where those users remaining on wired tend to be more important than your average user from a network requirements perspective. Think engineering workstations, imaging analysts and media editors. They demand a high-performance wired network and have performance expectations that are much higher than the legacy all-wired workplace.
  • Wireless aggregation where wireless is the primary connectivity method for enterprise users, as well as IoT devices. In fact, wireless adds a tier to the network from a user perspective, and the access switch is the point of aggregation.
  • Wired IoT connectivity where the usual profile of the device is opposite of traditional wired user. IoT devices tend to require minimal bandwidth (with notable exceptions like video cameras), are unmanaged by IT, unable to securely authenticate ,and can be heavy Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) users.

In the past, a 48-port switch typically would have connected a couple dozen desktops, a handful of printers and had several ports unused, but today in a mobile first world, this same switch takes on critical roles as an aggregator for a dozen or more wireless access points that support hundreds of users, a provider of connectivity and PoE for IoT devices such door locks, badge readers, video cameras, printers, and connectivity for power users requiring wired Ethernet connections.

Switching actually becomes more important and the ports more valuable when primary user access moves to wireless, IoT is everywhere, and cloud is omnipresent. In our digital workplaces, the switch is more important than ever to providing exceptional customer and user experiences.

Six New Challenges

The importance and intelligence of the enterprise switch is emerging as an opportunity to bring new business value to the network. Now that switching is tasked with a three-part role of serving wired IoT, traditional wired users and wireless aggregation, a new approach is needed across software and hardware.

The six new challenges are:

  1. The failure domain of a switch will increase by up to 10X
  2. Access switches will become the performance bottleneck for the first time in 15 years
  3. IoT will overwhelm existing policy constructs in the wired network
  4. Moves/adds/changes in a digital workplace will overwhelm the network operations team
  5. Maintenance windows will disappear as reliability and resiliency demands rise
  6. Measuring and managing the end-to-end user/device experience becomes a must-haveMobility, cloud and IoT are raising the bar across all areas of IT, and those who ignore the campus and branch network do so at their peril.

In upcoming blogs, I’ll take a closer look at why the six challenges arise, and how they can be addressed.


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  • Access Switches
  • Cloud
  • IoT
  • Mobility