Network Modernization: A How-To Guide

A high-level framework for thinking through network modernization initiatives that will help future-proof your business

Eric Olinger
Alex Timofeyev
Network Modernization: A How-To Guide

Mike, Mike, Mike—guess what day it is. Refresh day!

Network modernization is inevitable, given the reality of impending networking equipment refreshes. But network modernization can also be an opportunity to align with your enterprise’s digital transformation initiatives. Smart organizations are using refresh cycles to build next-generation networks that address the requirements of digitally transformed applications and workloads. Companies are leaning away from centralized data centers with traditional networking and instead are migrating toward SD-WAN enabled hybrid multicloud models, where infrastructure can be positioned closer to edge locations and users. Cloud computing has introduced new requirements, forcing networks to reach data in the cloud while accommodating a proliferation of SaaS applications. At the same time, companies must ensure sufficient enterprise security and performance between systems, end users and customers. By 2026, 80% of G2000 companies will be interconnecting more than four hyperscalers and more than 30 SaaS and business partner solutions, on average, according to the Global Interconnection Index (GXI) report from Equinix.

In addition to these new requirements, cost and flexibility concerns are pushing teams to rethink their network design. MPLS networks, while predictable and reliable, have become notably more expensive to operate and consume, not to mention needing adaptations to deliver cloud connectivity. As a result, companies are considering alternative network designs that feature SD-WAN enabled hybrid multicloud connectivity, while also offering significant return on investment.

Finally, in addition to digital transformation and cost considerations, network modernization is being driven by companies’ desire to future-proof their business. A modern network helps you meet and exceed requirements for flexibility, scalability, security and reliability. If you’re exploring network modernization opportunities, this blog post will help you think through how to do network modernization effectively.

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How to do network modernization in 5 steps

The Leaders’ Guide to Digital Infrastructure identifies network modernization as one of the keystone patterns of the digital core. Because network modernization is often a jumping-off point for digital transformation, it’s fundamental for companies to get started by establishing hubs in key regional locations to maximize efficient traffic flows, thereby reducing latency, improving user experience, lowering transport costs and improving the resiliency, flexibility and scalability of the network.

Here are our five steps for network modernization projects:

1. Think about your business outcomes and goals.

The first step in any IT modernization project is determining your business requirements, outcomes and goals. Goals across organizations will vary. However, we see two common themes across the network modernization projects we work on—cloud adoption and SD-WAN optimization. Here are some of the recurring goals aligned to those themes:

Cloud adoption goals:

  • Enabling innovation and harnessing the power of modern applications and workloads (AI, machine learning, virtual reality, IoT, etc.)
  • Designing an enterprise platform to support hybrid multicloud characteristics
  • Integrating SaaS components to seamlessly coexist and bolster innovation
  • Directing focus more toward business execution rather than data center operations
  • Increasing the flexibility and scalability of IT resources

SD-WAN goals:

  • Renewing the lifecycle of supporting enterprise infrastructure
  • Evaluating options to reduce network transport expenditures while protecting latency-sensitive traffic flows
  • Enhancing your security posture and incorporating a zero-trust initiative
  • Growing the network while optimizing for cost, performance and flexibility

2. Evaluate your current environment and identify roadblocks.

Once you know your objectives, you need to determine what’s getting in the way of achieving your goals. There are economic and technical challenges that compel IT leaders to undertake network modernization projects. We often see the following challenges when helping our customers:

Cloud adoption challenges:

  • Lack of financial operations (FinOps) or inaccurate forecast of spending
  • Network device sprawl as cloud adoption increases, with new devices being created across dev, test and production containers in each cloud provider and region
  • Shifts in data gravities triggering unanticipated cloud egress fees
  • Inconsistent performance when implementing workloads across multiple clouds

SD-WAN challenges:

  • A vast array of providers that are offering SD-WAN solutions
  • Time required to work with providers to research new WAN designs and narrow down options
  • Introduction of Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) concepts and incorporation into SD-WAN solutions
  • Supply chain issues for enterprise and carrier equipment

3. Build out your toolbox.

Now that you have a clear vision of your goals and the roadblocks holding you back, it’s time to get the tools out. This step is all about understanding what tools can help you execute on your goals and overcome your roadblocks.

The power of physical: Digital leaders are turning to highly interconnected colocation data centers to modernize their networks. Colocation data centers combine the virtual, physical and fabric requirements of network modernization across their locations, enabling IT teams to distribute resources across geographies and users as needed. Colocation facilities also act as carrier hotels, or the nexus points of the world’s physical networks and fiber routes. Enterprises can take advantage of this attribute by accessing the networks of their cloud and network service providers (NSPs) in proximity, increasing performance and reducing the costs of those services at the same time. By tapping directly into NSP infrastructure, enterprises can find cost savings by riding the backbone networks via Ethernet as opposed to MPLS since SD-WAN is agnostic to transport medium.

The power of virtual: With virtual network services, you can deploy digital-ready infrastructure in minutes on an OPEX-based cost model. Virtual services accelerate the deployment of SD-WAN gateways, routers, firewalls, load balancers and other virtual network functions in new locations, enabling provisioning of new resources in minutes, not days. Virtual infrastructure doesn’t require CAPEX-intensive hardware updates and enables elastic and demand-based consumption, providing companies greater flexibility with their resources.

Tap into the fabric: Software-defined network fabrics are an innovative approach to solving the multicloud networking roadblock. These fabrics enable networks to access multiple cloud providers across multiple cloud regions from a single port. This API-enabled, one-to-many approach enables network teams to connect and automate networking across their different cloud deployments as well as their physical infrastructure. In addition, these services have typically adopted the elastic consumption approach, enabling networking resources to be provisioned quickly and as needed.

4. Clean off your whiteboards.

Sometimes the old way is the best way. When it comes to ideating and architecting, we still think nothing beats a whiteboard. While we can’t whiteboard with you here, we suggest starting with the global architecture that you have.

Figure 1: Example of a legacy global network

Now, how can you use the tools at your disposal to build something better that accomplishes your goals? At Equinix, we live and breathe designing these architectures and helping our customers build their networks for tomorrow. What follows is an example of a global network architecture that combines the power of physical and virtual infrastructure to enable resilient, flexible, scalable and cost-effective networking across clouds and users.

Figure 2: Example of a modern network

Figure 3a: Colocation deployment

Figure 3b: Network Edge deployment

In addition to sketching out your reference architecture, a proof of concept (POC) can help you verify if the expected solution will achieve your objectives. As we noted above, virtual networking makes it possible to sandbox and test solutions quickly and easily using edge services or bare metal. If you need to test physical POCs, Equinix operates global Solution Validation Centers where you can deploy physical gear to validate your solutions. Whatever approach you choose, be sure to test and validate your new network architecture to make sure it accomplishes your objectives.

5. Implement the new solution.

The final step in a network modernization project is the implementation. For most organizations, network modernization will be gradual. You should prioritize implementing in regions that are most important to your business and augment with digital services in secondary regions. Remember: you can take advantage of network functions virtualization (NFV) while retaining existing network infrastructure.

If your need is more pressing and a gradual rollout isn’t an option, digital services like Equinix Metal®, Equinix Fabric® and Network Edge can help you stand up a network in minutes while you build out your greater network capability. You can also augment your own capabilities with Equinix Infrastructure Services to help you provision your infrastructure across the globe.

Learn more about network modernization with Equinix

Equinix provides a global platform with single vendor across the physical and digital infrastructure spectrum, with the unique capability to blend colocation, digital services and a robust ecosystem of cloud and network service providers, industry partners and suppliers.

If you would like to explore your options, Equinix offers an interactive whiteboarding workshop known as the Cloud Optimized WAN workshop. Through this workshop, Equinix architects can help your enterprise define a customized success strategy.


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Eric Olinger Global Principal
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Alex Timofeyev Product Marketing Manager, Colocation
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