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Automation, security and agility: a recipe for handling change

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Michael Wheeler

The industry has seen some big changes since the onset of the pandemic. Michael Wheeler, executive vice president of the Global IP Network (GIN) division at NTT, discusses how his team has gone about handling the challenges experienced during this period and rapid digital transformation to set itself up for the future.

What lessons have NTT and other global carriers learned from the pandemic about capacity planning and network operations?

The pandemic has taught us a lot of things from a technology, network and operational point of view – so we will take those lessons and apply them going forward. It led to a sustained increase in traffic flow and rapid transition in how people interacted, with a large amount of digital transformation occurring in a very short period.

Within a few months of the pandemic starting, we also began to hear about major slowdowns in the supply chain. That’s continuing today and it could be another year before it’s fully resolved.

But I’m incredibly proud of how our team dealt with these challenges. As an example, we were in the middle of deploying some new equipment and had to accelerate that when the pandemic first happened. We also rapidly augmented capacity and forecast out our equipment planning much further than we had historically.

What trends have you seen in network security, and how has NTT’s Global IP Network [GIN] division been seeking to protect its global networks and customers?

The industry definitely saw an increase in attacks during the pandemic. With more people working from home, there have been more connected devices not behind the same level of firewalls, increasing the risk from things like distributed-denial-of-service [DDoS] attacks.

We’ve also seen a much higher volume of short-duration attacks lasting minutes. Part of that is attackers recognising that the longer an attack, the longer network teams have to identify and mitigate it.

Dealing with these is about responding in both an automated and hands-on way that leverages our expertise. We also have a network security team that assesses what’s going on with each mitigation action as they occur.

How are you addressing network automation and virtualisation?

Automation is part of our DNA, helping drive the programmatic configuration of the network and dynamic adjustment of traffic. Another way we leverage automation is when we’re making changes in the network, such as moving a PoP [point of presence] from one location to another or adding one. That allows us to move hundreds of ports in a very short window of time.

We also continue to look at other ways we can utilise automation, aided by a platform that allows us to analyse traffic flows across the network.

Our commitment to software and automation is seen in our ability to scale our network at a global level. We’ve been at the forefront of automation for years – and it continues to be critical not just for us, but the industry as a whole.

What’s behind the recently announced merger between the international IT services organisations of NTT DATA and NTT Ltd, to which GIN belongs, and what will the impact be on your division?

The merger officially takes place from the beginning of October, and it will take some time to bring the two groups fully together. One step in the process of growing NTT as a company was creating NTT Ltd three years ago. By taking the international components of NTT DATA and NTT Ltd, it really helps to further that global business organisational structure.

The GIN division is a small piece of that combined organisation, so not a lot will change in terms of the business and services we provide, but there will be some evolution in how we interact with the internal organisation. There will be benefits for partner and vendor relationships as well, and new opportunities for the broad set of services we offer.

What do you see as the main trends in the industry going forward?

From an industry perspective, applying technology to be successful in your business is as important as it has ever been. There are few businesses today that don’t have some dependency on the internet, whether using it for point-of-sale transactions via Square or just posting their latest sale on Facebook.

It’s been said tongue-in-cheek that the internet is like air and that you can’t survive without it – but I think that reality is pretty true from a business point of view. If you can’t communicate from a technology perspective, you’re going to have a hard time doing business.

With all that comes challenges, but I think it’s very good news from an industry point of view; we’re not seeing the industry shrink or go away.