This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2010 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.
While businesses have been online since the mid-1990s, the recent recession has forced companies to become more aware of the return on investment they receive from their online business. In an effort to increase efficiencies, companies are evaluating how the Internet can help them attract, retain and grow customer relationships. At the same time, nearly ubiquitous wireless connectivity has arrived in the world at large, bringing with it a new hyper-connected environment. Expectations of always-on connectivity come not only from employees, but customers, partners and prospects as well.
For enterprise communications, the game has changed. The traditional structure of business communications has been disrupted by new levels of mobile connectivity, and companies must adjust. According to Gartner’s Diane Morello, “dozens, possibly hundreds of people and parties will have the power to influence company direction, services, products and reputation in the hyper-connected enterprise. They will do so nearly randomly, across global markets, outside official channels and through a nearly infinite web.”
Expectations for online functionality in the enterprise environment also have evolved. It is no longer acceptable to launch a static Web site now that video and interactive applications populate the Internet. Rich media adds complexity for enterprise IT to manage and support.
Fortunately, new challenges have given rise to new solutions for the enterprise. Content delivery networks initially were created to accelerate Web site page loads, but the industry has grown and evolved beyond just delivery. The new value-added CDNs have a lot to offer today’s hyper-connected enterprise.
Mobility in the Enterprise
Hyper-connected employees, customers and prospects are highly mobile individuals, but the mobile devices they use often vary widely. Beyond the BlackBerry, these consumers are now carrying everything from the latest iPhone, to the Droid, Kin, Incredible, and even new tablet devices like the iPad. The market fragments further as each manufacturer and carrier updates and upgrades software for the spectrum of hardware available. The key challenge in the enterprise is to develop a strategy that reaches individuals no matter what device they choose, or how their software is configured.
CDNs have experience with fragmentation. What transpired first across desktop browsers and operating systems is now taking place in the mobile arena, and effective delivery partners are managing the fragmentation with automated transcoding technology. New solutions allow companies to provide source material that can then be processed for automatic formatting and delivery to any mobile device. This enables seamless information exchange no matter where users are based.
For example, a consulting company can share important HR information such as video training or corporate updates with a staff member that works off-site at a client site, no matter what connected device that individual is using. This efficiency enables the enterprise to develop a consistent workflow that ensures the off-site workforce receives the same, timely communications as the on-site workforce.
The Hyper-connected Application & Enterprise 2.0
Enterprise applications are changing as on-demand software increasingly gains acceptance. The recession has breathed new life into the on-demand software as a service, or SaaS, market. According to Gartner Group, 95 percent of organizations plan to maintain or increase their use of SaaS in 2010. This comes as more on-demand offerings enter the market from leaders like Google, Microsoft (News - Alert) and Salesforce.com.
On-demand software also has matured, with developers adding sophisticated features like decision tools and analytics that were only present in enterprise-class, on-premises software of the past. New mobile interfaces mean that users can leverage on-demand software from anywhere. Finally, integration hurdles from earlier on-demand offerings have eased.
Social networking applications have demonstrated the on-demand opportunity. Enterprises have taken advantage of social networking applications like Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter in marketing and customer service. According to Burson-Marsteller, 65 of the largest 100 international companies have active accounts on Twitter, and 54 of those same companies have Facebook accounts. These applications, delivered on demand, offer new opportunities for enterprises and are increasing comfort levels with alternative communication tools.
The social networking opportunity is making inroads in select areas of marketing and customer service. More than half of Fortune 100 companies use Twitter for customer service, according to the study by public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. For example, many companies like Comcast monitor Twitter for customer service issues and respond almost immediately to issues, offering troubleshooting advice and even setting up customer service appointments.
Gartner predicts that by 2014, social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent of business users. While the jury is still out on this prediction, Yankee Group’s (News - Alert) Zeus Kerravala agrees, saying “more and more workers will shift their work habits so that the social networking interface will be the first place they go in the morning and the thing that's continually checked all day long.”
Social networking naturally lends itself to growing mobile audiences, increasing the reach of the social networks themselves. According to a recent Forrester Research (News - Alert) study, the use of mobile phones to access social networks doubled from 5 percent in the first quarter of 2009, to 10 percent in the third quarter of 2009.
Even video in the enterprise has evolved beyond simple videoconferencing as companies actively create video assets such as marketing videos for sales, and employee training videos to improve engagement and retention.
All of these elements combine to create a very new IT environment for the enterprise. They also create an opportunity for content delivery Networks in the new hyper-connected enterprise.
Evolution in Content DeliveryContent delivery has changed dramatically in the last decade. In the Internet’s early days, bits and bytes travelled long, inefficient paths to desktop PCs. Now, we’ve moved to a new era where intelligent networks make online delivery faster, secure and more predictable across the globe. Much of the Internet’s traffic has been consolidated as well. A study by Arbor Networks, the University of Michigan and Merit Network determined that 30 large companies – hyper-giants like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Limelight Networks (News - Alert) – generate and consume a disproportionate 30 percent of all Internet traffic.
With the evolution of content delivery has come an evolution in content delivery networks. The best of today’s CDNs dynamically adapt network transport based on ever-changing, real-world conditions. This is necessary over an increasingly crowded Internet. New software intelligence enables delivery experts to monitor network activity and adjust paths quickly to prioritize delivery based on conditions in the broadband pipes. Further, some delivery routes have now been devised to avoid the public Internet entirely until the last mile. These advances make it possible to support greater user mobility, online interactivity, and use of rich media.
CDNs Enabling the CloudThe latest variable in the content delivery equation is cloud computing. As enterprises look for both scale and efficiency, turning to the cloud is an appealing option. However, the one big caveat with cloud computing, by definition, is that it relies on the Internet for service delivery. A company can’t take advantage of the cloud if it’s not accessible. It doesn’t matter if the cloud is public or private. If it’s not available, the cloud doesn’t work.
What does all this mean for CDNs? The CDN market is evolving rapidly to support the cloud. CDNs are uniquely positioned to provide the underlying on-demand infrastructure and software platforms to enable enterprise-class cloud computing.
The Internet is valuable because of its global reach, but it has distinct limitations. To get around these limitations, there are three things an effective CDN partner should provide at the network level. First, quality-assured Internet delivery requires massive storage centers around the world. These storage centers are used to cache content close to users. Second, a CDN provider must connect with a huge number of access networks at multiple locations worldwide. This requires agreements with Internet service providers to connect CDN-operated server clusters to their broadband networks. Third, a CDN partner should provide an alternative delivery mechanism for content and applications when the Internet and edge servers aren’t enough.
Today’s CDNs are becoming key partners in maintaining uptime for an on-demand environment, from the infrastructure all the way up the stack through the delivery platform to the software applications. CDNs offer the operational capacity for cloud services throughout the entire on-demand architecture. Now that company communications and online activities have evolved, requiring skills, tools and architectures beyond the scope and budget of enterprises in the past, CDNs are stepping in to make up the difference. CDNs have evolved to offer a wide range of services, along with the scale necessary to support the hyper-connected enterprise.
David Reisfeld is general manager enterprise solutions for Limelight Networks (www.limelightnetworks.com ).
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi