Due to the global pandemic, enterprises have had to accelerate digital initiatives in a matter of weeks, rather than years, as a top priority to overhaul their business processes and transform services to deliver value to their customers and employees.
As organizations continue to support remote workforces and shift toward work-from-anywhere models and hybrid work environments, network technology will play a critical role in connecting every individual, device and organizational structure that together form the digital enterprise.
With this in mind, here are five trends that will shape the future of end-to-end network management:
1. Continued consolidation of the SD-WAN market
As markets begin to take shape and mature, it often becomes increasingly difficult for smaller players to compete as larger entities begin to invest more fully. As Covid-19 has elevated the importance of how we manage and operate networks for remote work, many smaller SD-WAN players now face increasing market pressures to enter acquisition deals with larger enterprises.
A primary example is the acquisition of SD-WAN vendor 128 Technology by Juniper Networks in October of this year, a move intended to bolster the latter’s networking portfolio. Larger vendors see significant potential for incremental business growth, in particular with big existing customers, and see acquisitions as a way to expand their roster of SD-WAN features and capabilities that they can use to expand existing service subscriptions.
In the coming year, the consolidation of SD-WAN vendors will continue as larger players such as Juniper, Cisco and HPE continue to buy up smaller players in the SD-WAN space that no longer have the resources to compete.
2. The rise of predictive operations
AI and ML have increasingly played an important role in approaches to network monitoring. We expect to see the value of analytics and number of real-world implementations continue to grow, especially when it comes to identifying active and potential threats when it comes to the job of securing the network.
The predictive power of AI and ML is a powerful tool not only for threats, but for operational purposes as well. Taken together, AI-enhanced security and operational capabilities can give us the ability to both recognize existing breaches and predict faults and threats before they happen, determining how they are likely to evolve over time. Significantly, this may open the door to predictive security suites within network performance management. Taking this concept of predictive operations a step further, we even see predictive analysis and rank analysis coming together, allowing us to rank predictions based on their likelihood.
3. The fall of static development
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a remarkable accelerant for the concept of remote work. Organizations of all kinds were pushed, essentially overnight, to connect their entire workforce and ensure business continuity. We realize that the new approaches to remote work—how each company has chosen and implemented technology solutions—may be permanent in some cases and temporary in others. Which technologies remain and what percentages of people work remotely versus in-office may vary, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that ‘anywhere’ is the new axis, rather than the branch.
Increasingly, we expect to see developers grasp this new reality and begin to leave static development behind. Developers will see limited return on the idea of developing solutions oriented toward the branch office and gravitate toward anywhere as their primary development environment. In doing so, they will need to consider the proliferation of entry points and end points, and are likely to make notable advances in securing “the anywhere.” In a sense, developers will adapt their thinking to accommodate the reality that every endpoint has become a microbranch. Developers will see the client as the new branch, finding new scenarios that optimize the capabilities of the client while also ensuring that new applications and services can be managed by IT from a single point of control.
4. The emergence of cross-vendor visibility
We advocate visibility of the network and its implications for the business overall as essential for the new way of working. Being able to monitor and manage everything that happens on the network will continue to be a business critical capability in the work-from-anywhere world. Providing comprehensive visibility will rapidly become a priority in the coming year, which will push a number of vendors to reach beyond the purview of their own solutions. We expect to see more and more companies developing solutions that offer visibility into other vendors’ solutions in 2021.
5. A new chapter in the client-to-cloud story
How well applications perform in the work-from-anywhere environment will continue to be a priority for businesses moving forward. A number of vendors have taken runs at accelerating applications in the past, from one end or the other, but with limited success. But the power to accelerate applications is a claim we will see re-emerge in 2021, likely rolled into SDN offers.
How the network delivers and handles applications has changed. Luckily, Riverbed was a very early mover in approaching application acceleration from both the data center side and the client side; neither of which is a simple proposition. The acceleration technologies developed for the data center and the branch can also be implemented on AWS or Azure, accelerating the cloud, or placed in front of a SaaS application like Office365 or Salesforce. This bookends performance with acceleration in a real client-to-cloud approach. Client-to-cloud acceleration is a capability that many vendors will promote in the future, but few will be able to deliver it in a masterful way.
A year of change
2021 will be a year of rapid evolution for the networking technology that has become so fundamental for new ways of working and operating models in the Covid-19 era. With the whiplash shift to remote work somewhat stabilized, IT professionals will focus on the bigger picture and enduring opportunities that smarter network management holds. Seeing end-to-end, accelerating end-to-end, developing for end-to-end and innovating end-to-end will dominate the network for years to come.