Network 2020 Vision: From Surviving to Thriving amid Digital Disruption

Around-the-clock customer demands, rampant cyber-attacks and fluctuating traffic loads. Your enterprise IT network has never had to work as hard, and this is only the beginning. With growing adoption of mobility, cloud, analytics and IoT to drive business efficiencies & meet evolving customer demands, companies will have to rethink their enterprise networks to support growth, deliver high service levels, reduce costs and mitigate risk. So what will this network of the future look like?
By Jim Montgomery, Solutions Architect, eir Business NI

As companies move to new IT models, many are challenged with the rigidity & complexity of their legacy enterprise network, which often limits performance and time-to-market for applications and services. Yesterday’s networks were designed to provide reliable connectivity for the organisation’s specific IT needs – speed & availability above all else.

The network of the future needs to be more than that: it needs to meet the demands of wide-scale digital transformation, providing the scale, elasticity and security to keep up. The network will become even more hard-working as it will need to not only enable but also protect your business strategy, your mission critical applications, your cloud services, your devices and your users.

Be ready for the mobile juggernaut

There’s no escaping the mobile juggernaut; it’s unstoppable. As more devices connect to the network – from sensors to smartphones – wireless will become the primary means of accessing enterprise networks. By 2021 traffic from wireless and mobile devices will account for more than 63 percent of total IP traffic.

So what does this mean for the network of the future? Not only will enterprise networks need to incorporate WiFi that is highly resilient, scalable and always available, but they will need to ensure a consistent experience for both wired and wireless users. Essentially, the wireless network needs to deliver the same, if not better, performance as its wired counterpart. Ensuring this level of performance will require multi-gigabit Wi-Fi speeds, intelligent design and intelligent configuration of the wireless network and newer fit-for purpose WiFi standards such as 802.11ac.

Access all Areas. Or not.
Much of this mobile push is coming from the growing Millennial workforce (nearly 50% of the workforce in 2020). These Millennials are highly mobile and typically not desk-based, two factors that are forcing changes in the network. Millennials want to be able to connect seamlessly to network resources anywhere, with a multitude of devices. This freedom of access is putting pressure on organisations to shore up their network security, which will need to be protected from all angles. To deal with this, enterprise networks will need to move to a fully role-based access technology, granting access to relevant resources based on user, device and location.

Protect against back-door threats
In many ways an organisation’s network has never been more exposed; more devices are connecting to the network than ever before, via several different operating systems. Add to this mix the increasing sophistication of cyber-attacks and organisations are looking at a massive challenge.

In this shifting threat landscape, network devices need to become security devices, using application visibility to provide greater security control from within the network. Instead of relying on traditional methods such as perimeter security, network devices will contain enhanced security functionality and will be orchestrated end-to-end allowing for better control and visibility.
As cyber-crime becomes more sophisticated and prevalent the need for a managed security solution will grow. Managed security solutions from experts like eir Business NI, feature 24/7 network monitoring and will provide that enhanced visibility of ‘back-door’ threats such as IoT. Without proper security and network micro segmentation, IoT could become a gateway into your network for those with malicious intent.

Automation & Virtualisation
Technology innovation in the area of WAN path control, transport-agnostic connectivity, management, and automation – synonymously SD-WAN (Software-Defined WAN) – promises the ability to deliver simplicity and agility for businesses. There are varying opinions on just how much of a role SD-WAN will play in the network of the future – IDC and Gartner each predict the size of the SD-WAN market to be $6B and $1.24B respectively by 2020 – but regardless, adoption is increasing. This is mainly driven by growth of the Internet and Cloud, with SD-WAN allowing customers to utilise Internet services as well as MPLS connectivity to deliver WAN services.

The decoupling of hardware and software will be a key factor. In traditional network devices, hardware and software are inextricably connected. Virtualisation will see network functions such as Firewall, Intrusion Detection & Prevention, Routing and Switching move from proprietary hardware to virtualised infrastructure. With the physical restraints removed, the network of the future will enjoy a fluidity and flexibility that will be crucial to its ability to adapt to this all-digital, all-mobile world.

Building for Cloud: Agility & Security
Cisco estimates that by 2020, 92 percent of global data centre traffic will come from the cloud, with 68% of the workloads in public cloud data centres, and 32% of cloud workloads in private cloud data centres. Cloud computing is certainly on the rise, but its impact on the network must be considered before companies begin running significant applications in the cloud. How data is sourced and stored, as well as how the application is distributed over the network, are important factors to understand and plan for.

The ability to seamlessly move workloads between private, hybrid and public clouds will be a core requirement and this is where we will see Application Programme Interface (APIs) – which specify how software components interact – and programmability, come into their own. They will facilitate the unfettered movement of data across different cloud platforms, ensuring productivity and business continuity.

Security has long been one of the stumbling blocks for cloud adoption. The critical need for protection and integrity of data is leading to growth in cloud security tools that monitor data moving to and from and between cloud platforms – specifically, tools that can identify fraudulent use of data in the cloud, unauthorised downloads, and malware. As an extra layer of security, we’re now seeing enterprises use off-the-shelf cloud security solutions in combination with the existing security being provided by the cloud provider.

When you break it down, most enterprises will have four core requirements of their network: it should be available all the time; it should reliably deliver applications and provide reasonable response times from any device to any device; it needs to protect the data that is transmitted over it and the data stored on the devices that connect to it; and it should be flexible to adapt to network growth and business changes.

The good news for organisations is they don’t need to do this alone. Network experts like eir Business NI are already building networks of the future. And we know it’s not a one size fits all exercise. Intelligent network design is based on taking a customised approach. While each organisation will need a flexible, intelligent, scalable and secure network, there will also be unique requirements that need to be incorporated. With growth happening in every area, from cloud and IoT to mobility and security, building a network to support future demands needs to be a top priority.