Igniting the network future – what’s driving us to connect differently?

Here we examine the 12 key trends rocketing us towards a radically transformed network landscape.

CIOs implementing a digital transformation strategy are facing new technology challenges and choices. Migrating to new platforms such as cloud, supporting global connectivity (including mobile platforms), and securely managing and making sense of the ever-increasing amount of data, all needs focus.

1. Going beyond today’s automation to true secure agility


Agility; flexibility; more visibility; control with embedded security: who doesn’t want more of these qualities when managing their digital infrastructure? New levels of intelligence and industry standardisation of services mean this is going to be reality.

Managing networks today is a complex task. Updating routing and firewall policies, for example, and keeping the network estate consistently updated takes a lot of time, process and skill. The automation of tasks we see today, will evolve to the overall orchestration of a network. Using more and more sophisticated software, the underlying network components and policies will be combined to create truly intelligent networks.

By fully abstracting the network in software, when a new application is implemented, the orchestration will drive updates to a range of different connected services, such as the router, virtual servers and security services, simultaneously. Everything will feel very much more like a platform. The movement we’ve seen to orchestrate across the data centre will become enterprise wide and driven by application service delivery to the end user (whether human or device).

It will be simple to manage the application you need, the people who need to access it, the level of security and performance required to run it and the routing all through the portal. In the background, the platform will configure it and give a transparent price for the experience; moving the focus from the network to the end-user application experience.

More control, visibility and agility for your business. Pre-empting and reacting to problems at incredible speeds, with the distinction between network and security disappearing as security is embedded as standard. Less technical intervention and a hugely superior, secure, dynamic end-user experience.

Action: Assess where you are in your journey to agility and partner with an organisation that has the insight, expertise and service offering to help you shape your digital future.

2. A new era of agility beckons new commercial models


Flexible benefit or outcome led pricing models become the reality for your business. Networks will move away from connectivity and kit pricing to models built upon application and end-user experience.

As cloud based pricing and commercial models have changed the way we think about and procure computing infrastructure, enterprises will increasingly look for flexible pricing models that reflect usage models and business needs for their networks.

This will mean that pricing will evolve to be more focused on users and linked to application requirements and performance. This shift in commercials will affect how we pay for our equipment - paying for the services we use rather than the hardware and software licences. How we pay for our bandwidth - moving to a pay for the bandwidth you need when you need it. It will also impact the delivery of security services, as these become increasingly embedded in the network delivery.

For your business, this means far greater commercial flexibility and agility in adding services to the network, trying new technology and providing greater freedom of choice to business users.

Action: A move away from traditional CapEx models will encourage change and free up budgets to invest in wider innovative services.

3. Operational agility through insight-driven decision making


Increased insight-driven data analysis and subsequent decision making is good news for businesses. It will speed up time-to-market and make it easier to personalise services for end users.

We will see a huge rise in understanding what is passing over the network, including deep-packet analysis which has not previously been possible. This will provide more detailed reporting and greater security as unfriendly data is quickly identified.

We will also use passive data that is generated across the network to much greater effect. This data will be used to feed cognitive and AI systems, which will allow the systems orchestrating the network to learn, predict behaviours and prevent issues. The use of cognitive systems will be a boon for network and security teams as their ability to understand and respond to network usage patterns becomes increasingly more sophisticated.

For example, if a network is predicted to have poor performance in the afternoon, WAN optimisation will fire up automatically and then shut down again once the user load diminishes. A virtual machine exhibiting unusual behaviour can quickly be identified, isolated and dealt with – potentially automatically.

This will enhance the end-user experience for your business and prevent performance issues. It will also optimise costs as acceleration will only be used when truly needed.

As the network security perimeter disappears, this intelligence and greater understanding of who the users are, what devices and applications they are using and what they are doing with the data, also becomes increasingly more important.

Through virtualisation, we will see increasing security in the endpoints and greater controls. But no matter how many layers of security you have, there is always the risk of someone hacking in, so you must have data analytics looking across a much wider area.

Ultimately this increased insight-driven decision making is good news for your business as it will speed up time-to-market and make it easier to personalise services for end-users. Additionally, speed, orchestration, automation and analytics ensure security is an enabler of business strategy and not a blocker.

Action: Seek a greater understanding of who your users are, their devices and applications and what they are doing with the data. Increase control and security using data analytics and scrutinise a much wider area, improving agility and flexibility without increasing risk.

4. Skillsets split into ‘modellers’ and ‘hard-app’ specialists


Ultimately, two different layers of skill emerge. Those that ’model’ things that are already templated with pre-defined policies and those that understand the physical hardware and the applications in detail. This will impact how IT departments are structured, decentralising procurement with a shift to smaller, ‘asset-light’ IT departments.

Even though some organisations may view networks as a utility, the underlying infrastructure will only get more complicated. For those choosing to do the management in-house, the skills needed will be sophisticated and sparsely available.

The simpler network-related tasks will increasingly become automated, meaning there will be less need for offshoring of tasks.

We will ultimately see two different layers of skill emerge. Those that ‘model’ things that are already templated with pre-defined policies and those that understand the physical hardware and the applications in detail.

This split in skills and the need for more people with the skill to ‘model’ will have an impact for both organisations and service providers.

This trend will also be felt in the security space, which has already been moving to a multi-layered skill set. This shift will continue as the need to look for threats increases, as the complexity of network grows and the attack surface multiplies.

For example, a security analyst will need to understand how applications work across hybrid networks and their security impact, as you can no longer rely on a centralised point to monitor traffic. They will need to understand all the data from devices and to see threats. They also need to consider how to create even richer data by adding extra data to correlate, create scenarios and pre-empt further threats. Finally, they need to take all this rich data and create actionable intelligence.

For organisations, this could have a fundamental impact in how their IT departments are structured. Many will shift to smaller, ‘asset-light’ IT departments as the costs to hire specialist skills in-house becomes prohibitive. They will find they need even stronger procurement skills for working with providers and will need the ability to communicate the business value of IT – something which, in the past, may have been a ‘nice to do’, which will become core.

Action: Review the IT skill sets that your organisation requires to communicate the business value of IT and work closely with procurement to identify a partner who can complement your skill set and deliver the technology expertise you need.

5. Mobile 5G will be a must-have access option


5G will be a key part of the enterprise network strategy. Some will use it as back-up for sites, others so that applications can simply follow you across networks. It will make the network even more pervasive, which means its security will need to evolve.

We expect to see 5G-enabled routers playing an increasingly valuable role as overflow capacity for back-up services.

The growth in mobile edge computing and multi-service computing will mean more ‘things’ will be put on the edge due to latency. We could see branch offices using predominantly mobile networks.

5G will make an organisation’s network even more pervasive, and, as such, the security focus will need to evolve. We will need to understand the security posture of any device in any location – so endpoint protection becomes more important.You will need to control what people are doing in these areas and protect the rest of your technology. Understanding your appetite for risk will become increasingly important.

IoT and 5G give the potential to create greater business flexibility. With this you risk relatively dumb devices running DDoS attacks, so you will need to restrict access to devices to prevent them accessing the wider network.

Mobile 5G represents a potentially lower cost way to improve internet connections without sacrificing quality of service and an evolution of their approach to network security.

Action: Start to develop an understanding of how 5G could help enable your network, with overflow capacity, mobile edge computing and multi-service computing that potentially gives you a lower-cost way of improving internet connections without sacrificing quality.

6. Whether personal or business, we want the same application experience


It’s all about performance. Users want to see level parity in personal and business application capabilities, while businesses expect best quality, security, resilience and availability for their applications no matter where they are or what devices they are using.

The prime focus for businesses will be on applications and the end-user experience. The network will provide the platform for applications to work, and you are likely to start with buying a combined application and network solution.

The application capabilities that people use in their personal life are often widely superior to what they receive when they are in the office, which leaves users frustrated. Expectations are massively ramping up.

A web-based application, for example, should just work, like FaceTime does. Organisations expect the best quality, security, resilience, and availability for their applications no matter where they are or what device they are using. It’s all about the application performance.

The rapid move to cloud provisioning means we can’t only consider end-user performance/experience but must also ensure security for the application. For example, with collaboration technology, it’s common for users to download plug-ins like WebEx. How do you know what is safe and secure? You need a regime where you run a penetration test that checks that plug-ins are fit for purpose. This approach must be built into general updates so that the end user is oblivious to what is happening.

For your organisation, this consumption-style approach to purchasing will continue to grow, with buying powers increasingly moving to different parts of the organisation. For example, the CMO may order applications for their needs without going through the IT team. By 2020, for some organisations, this may lead to a reduction in big internal IT teams and a decentralisation of procurement.

Action: Get the right balance between your business and end-user needs. Focus on cloud service integration and offering multiple application providers that deliver the best experience at the right cost.

7. Network components become commodities


This is not because they are no longer a critical part of a business, but because they are always expected to work – like switching on the lights. With simpler software components networks may look more straightforward, but managing them may become more complex given the plethora of evolving vendors along with all the added security issues.

We will see organisations’ view of the network change as key network components are commoditised. In some cases, these network components could be viewed as a utility and just like any other utility, there will be high expectations around availability, quality and security.

On the surface, networks may look like they are becoming more straightforward due to these simple software-based components but more options, choices and an abundance of evolving vendors adds a whole new layer of complexity.

This choice and mix of vendors will also further complicate your security posture and this will mean more devices, locations and applications will need to be monitored.

Given your focus is on creating a digital business, simplifying the network and buying services will be good news as they gain the necessary agility. Organisations will care more about the ‘things’ that can be tagged on to deliver the business outcomes you need; for example, big compute power with lots of small devices attached.

Action: Simplifying the network and buying services rather than network technology will help fuel your digital transformation. However, quality and security will always remain key.

8. Hybrid networks evolve and are the norm


The prevalence of hybrid networks will continue to increase. Hybrid will come to mean different things at different layers based on the needs of the end-user experience around availability and security. Agile, flexible networks will make it easy for organisations to turn up the bandwidth, add new sites and prioritise traffic and core applications.

The move to hybrid networks will continue to increase. To cope with the massive increase in data and the migration to cloud based services, more and more businesses will increase their use of local internet breakout, but MPLS will continue to have a key role at the heart of most networks. However, it will be viewed differently – hybrid will mean different things at different layers: a mixture of transport providers and technologies in the underlay and a mixture of deterministic vs. semi-deterministic vs. non-deterministic in the overlay.

Ultimately, the right mix will be based on the needs of the end-user experience – what availability, performance and security are required by an application/user at any given time.

The move to hybrid networks will also require security analysts to understand how applications work across hybrid networks and outside the perimeter (cloud embedded, for example) and the potential new vulnerabilities.

For organisations, this shift will mean you are able to pick different service levels between their network ‘zones’, with differing overlays based on the service experience required at that time. Agile, flexible networks will make it easy for you to turn up the bandwidth, add new sites and prioritise traffic and core applications. The ability to simply combine different technologies and networks to provide a solution will become the expected norm.

Action: Put the right traffic over the right network, but make sure your security analysts understand how applications work across hybrid networks and the potential new vulnerabilities.

9. The security attack surface will explode


With edge computing and the move to hybrid networks, there will be more points to attack and a continued shortage of cyber security skills to deal with the attacks. Therefore, automation will be key in how you deploy security and we will see ‘orchestrated micro-perimeter-isation’ take over.

Cloud services make it harder to control where data is stored; it could be anywhere outside of traditional barriers, on multiple devices.

This challenge is keeping CISOs awake at night.

They are having to ask big questions of their networks. Is the data secure? Can it be breached? How is data held in third-party services, in transit, or on devices outside the perimeter kept secure? And how is GDPR going to impact my business?

With edge computing and the move to hybrid networks, there will be more points to attack, yet there will continue to be a shortage of cyber security skills.

Therefore, automation will have to be key in how you approach security. You can no longer buy piecemeal-security components. There will need to be a harmonised network and security management layer.

To address this threat, we will see ‘orchestrated micro-perimeter-isation’ taking over. This is where an application within a container or virtual machine tries to communicate with the outside world. Now a policy engine will analyse these attempts to see if it is a valid communication. Transient firewalls and Unified Threat Management will be switched on and attached to the application for that specific communication stream in real-time, and stood down once the communication is complete. This will allow a default ‘deny all’ stance when there are no communications taking place.

All this will mean that organisations will increasingly expect security and data protection to ‘just be done’. For example, on the iPhone, if you download a mobile banking app, you expect your data to be protected without question or the need to download other security software. This will be the same for enterprise applications.

Action: Start planning the diversification and orchestration of your security. Work through the implications of data-heavy local applications and decide whether it needs central orchestration or autonomous edge management.

10. The growth of self-healing networks


An autonomous computing system can control the functioning of computer applications and systems without input from the user, so it essentially runs itself. These intuitive networks will learn patterns about how users behave. It’s the start of a machine providing inference.

We will increasingly see the principles of autonomic computing applied to the core networks. These are self-managing computing models, very much like the human body's autonomic nervous system. An autonomic computing system can control the functioning of computer applications and systems without input from the user.

The goal of autonomic computing is to create systems that run themselves, capable of high-level functionality while keeping the system's complexity invisible to the user.

This intelligence is fed by data, but today we are drowning in it. Only 2% of the world’s data is analysed and there are major opportunities and challenges around making the most of this data to detect anomalies. Combined IoT, AI and cognitive computing will bring new tools and capabilities in applying data analytics to solve real problems, driving the shift to a more autonomic self-healing system stack.

We are seeing green shoots of this happening today, with the concept of an intuitive network that will learn patterns about how users behave. For example, anomalies are detected today by BT using Meraki Wi-Fi – which flags unusual patterns and will highlight as potential data loss. This the start of a machine providing inference.

For the enterprise, this will further serve to enhance and ensure consistent user experience, performance, security and availability.

Action: Watch this space. Advances in data processing, AI and machine learning are not just about improving or disrupting products and services. The same approach can be taken with security to deliver the benefits of cognitive computing, while at the same time reducing risk.

11. Edge computing drives decentralised decision making


Edge computing means control moves wherever time, users and workload dictate. The delivery of functions becomes virtualised rather than a piece of hardware, bringing new possibilities to the business.

Increasingly, computing will be delivered at the edge with intelligent control of services done locally rather than centrally. It will be provided at the place which makes the most sense at a given time considering the placement of the users, their behaviour and the workload.

All enterprise premise equipment will become a network function CPE – which you can stand up in days. With lots more flexibility, the role and the way people use edge computing will evolve massively to make an enormous difference.

IoT will be a big driver here; for example, driverless cars require ’unattainable’ low latency, so there will be a bigger demand on edge computing. In other scenarios, you may have a trading application that needs to simultaneously serve sites across the globe: it will automatically redistribute parts of its architecture so that locations offer the best latency based on what’s happening now and is predicted to happen.

For your organisation, the shift to the edge will open new business possibilities and promote IoT style business models.

Action: A shift to the edge will involve radical changes in network capability and management, which, in turn, will drive innovation in products, services and capabilities. Ask yourself and the right stakeholders in the business whether it can improve your current processes and if it can reinvent your business.

12. Radical reassessment of network management


As networks become more complex, some businesses will be looking for an ‘as-a-Service’ managed solution, while others with large IT departments will be looking to shift to developments such as automation and orchestration to make their network even more ’superior’ and create market differentiation.

As the network becomes ever more complicated with increasing security concerns, we will see a polarisation of approaches by organisations to their networks.

Some organisations will be looking for a complete managed solution and some simply looking for the tools. Financial service businesses, for example, traditionally do a lot in-house and will likely look to enhance skills within their own IT team. We will see fewer organisations sitting in the middle of these two approaches.

Those in the complete managed solution space will be looking for simple, ‘as-a-Service’ models with their focus on applications and business outcomes.

Conversely, the organisations with large IT departments and deep skills, will be looking to use their future networks to exploit the shift to developments such as automation and orchestration to make their network even more ’superior’ and create market differentiation.

Action: Those looking for a simple service will hide the complexity and deliver as-a-Service. Those with more complex requirements must create services to increase the possibilities that drive business differentiation.

"New networking technologies have huge potential to improve performance, boost efficiency and agility, as well as easing visibility and control."

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