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GE To Make Big Push Off the Corporate Network

NEW YORK — General Electric Co. said it is shifting away from accessing business applications on its corporate network, as overall confidence in networks wanes and IT executives question their reliability and security.

Employees at about 100 GE offices around the world are being taken off the corporate network in a pilot program the company will be testing through the end of the year, GE CTO Chris Drumgoole told CIO Journal following a Monday conference hosted by the Open Networking User Group.

ONUG is a group of business IT leaders that advocate for creating open networking standards.

Mr. Drumgoole said employees at the test sites will securely access the applications they use to do their jobs on the internet. If the pilot goes well, a “big bulk of” GE’s 5,000 outposts will be taken off the network next year, including factories and offices, he said.

The goal is to improve user experience for employees by allowing them to access any work application on the internet, while guarding against potential security threats to the corporate network. The shift is also in-line with GE’s previously stated intentions to shift toward cloud computing services.

Mr. Drumgoole said the corporate network used to be a “wall” that acted as a security perimeter. Now, it is no longer as trustworthy.

“That wall was high and difficult to get over. Now, the guys at the other side of the wall have better ladders and tools to get over it,” said Mr. Drumgoole, who also spoke about open IT frameworks and cloud applications at the ONUG conference.

Executives at Cisco Systems Inc., which has sought to diversify its business beyond more traditional routing and switching equipment, told CIO Journal that it’s a reality that some corporations like GE are using more hybrid networks and cloud services.

The company said that earlier this year it completed a a five-year initiative to improve network architectures and thwart cyber attacks more effectively.

At the ONUG conference, IT business leaders and industry experts outlined some of the challenges of building open IT frameworks. Gene Sun, vice president of global network and communication services for FedEx, said in a speech at ONUG that networks are too “opaque” and that more tools are needed to help users monitor and visualize network performance.

“We are more creative in coming up with great applications that can use the network than we are at innovating and making the network better,” said Jennifer Rexford, chair of the department of computer science at Princeton University, at the ONUG event.

CLARIFICATION — This story has been updated to clarify that Cisco’s five-year initiative to improve network architecture was completed earlier this year.

This article was originally posted by the Wall Street Journal on October 25, 2016.