Enterprise Networking Trends for 2021: Evolution & Innovation

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With the arrival of 2021, enterprise network managers have the opportunity to shore up solutions that were implemented in response to the unprecedented environment of 2020. At the same time, network managers are building stronger, more resilient networks designed for the new normal. With the transition from temporary to permanent remote working underway, network security, speed, and stability are top concerns. Let’s zero in on SD-WAN, SASE, and the benefits of 5G and WIFI-6 for enabling widely distributed networks and computing technology for edge networking.


Software-defined WANs provide robust security, better performance, and enhanced flexibility and control. Companies can also expect significant gains in stability that will yield lower operating costs and higher levels of satisfaction from end users and customers. With an ongoing shift to the cloud and the resultant doubling of network traffic every 36 months, implementing and managing multiple transport options through SD-WAN is an especially timely advantage.  Billion-dollar deals in the SD-WAN space have impacted the number of vendors and elevated the market power of companies like HP and Ericsson. Despite recent transactions, though, plenty of options still exist in a space that will continue to expand over the year ahead. 


Closely related to SD-WAN is Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) architecture, which adds an additional layer of security that is particularly applicable in remote work and edge networking environments. SASE provides IT with full visibility of traffic as it moves across the network. The ability to manage and monitor users, end points, and network traffic in real time is increasingly important as the shift to remote work becomes permanent. With more computing power placed on the edge, the burgeoning SASE market will become increasingly important. The Dell’Oro group recently projected that the SASE market will experience a CAGR of 116% that will create market value of more than $5B by 2024. Historically, small and mid-sized enterprises drove much of the growth. The shift caused by the pandemic, however, has accelerated adoption by large enterprises as security concerns grow.  


5G has been part of the technology vernacular for several years, mostly as a futuristic transport service with very few installed instances or devices. The tremendous infrastructure investment by cellular carriers in 2019 and 2020, however, is finally poised to deliver high-speed wireless bandwidth at scale. The implications are exciting as 5G will allow dramatic gains in edge networking as the installation of IoT endpoints can move farther away without sacrificing performance. Expect an avalanche of 5G devices and a move toward truly untethered work to emerge in 2021. 

Wi-Fi 6 and 6E

When Wi-Fi 6 debuted in 2020, wireless speeds dramatically increased as the technology allowed more data to flow through wireless routers. With Wi-Fi 6, wireless speeds are roughly 30% greater than Wi-Fi 5. Adoption of this standard will continue to expand in 2021 as will the move toward Wi-Fi 6E (where the “E” stands for expanded), which opens up the 6GHz band. Wi-Fi 6E will nearly triple the amount of spectrum in the U.S. 

Beyond increased speed, Wi-Fi 6 also supports more users and connected devices without sacrificing performance. Testing and simulations by Intel and the Wireless Broadband Alliance put latency at between 2ms and 7.6ms, which is especially important for both office and public networks. For companies that expect their workforces to return to the office in 2021, faster, more reliable Wi-Fi will be a key component in the strategy for a safer return. Look for an explosion of Wi-Fi 6 and 6E certified devices to hit the market in 2021 and take comfort in the fact that earlier devices deployed across the network will remain compatible.

A Multicloud Strategy

COVID, along with other catastrophic events that occurred in 2020, exposed the need for better access to data, applications, and bandwidth when core services are interrupted or inaccessible. By adopting a multicloud strategy, for example, organizations can reduce the impact of specific vendor outages, spread the workload across providers to increase efficiency and performance, and increase network security.  The inherent controls associated with SD-WAN/SASE are perfectly aligned with the flexibility of a multi-modal strategy. Multicloud is more than an evolution of the concept of redundancy. Instead, it assumes simultaneous access and utilization of cloud services, transport services, and other critical applications to ensure network stability and resiliency. Automation and interoperability are critical, as stated recently in a whitepaper from Everest Group for Accenture:  “When interoperability is at the core of a multicloud strategy, workloads run in unison to drive business agility, reduce the cost of technology, and harmonize processes.”

A Fresh Start

A new year is always greeted with a sense of optimism. There is a shared hope for a fresh start, and expectations for 2021, perhaps more than any year in recent memory, are high. The structural changes of the past twelve months have resulted in more reliance on computers and the internet. Enterprise network professionals bear the responsibility for keeping the engine secure, stable, and functional. Implementing SD-WAN, SASE, Wi-Fi 6, 5G, and a multi-modal strategy as discreet strategies or as part of a full realignment represents an opportunity to drive innovation and propel growth.

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