The Network in 2017: From Planning to Execution

Networking was a top priority for the enterprise in 2016, and we can expect more of the same for the coming year. But unlike past technology eras when the focus was on more speed, more bandwidth, more throughput, today’s changes reflect a wholesale reimagining of what networks should be and how they should serve the user.

Naturally, abstract architectures are front and center on most experts’ lists of the key developments to watch in 2017, the overarching theme being to rid network functions of their dependency on physical hardware. Ultimately, this will foster the kind of scalability and flexibility that supports traditional enterprise applications as well as emerging cloud, IoT and Big Data platforms.

Cisco’s Jeff Reed says that while 2016 paved the way for advanced architectures to take root, the coming year will show the myriad ways in which these technologies will bear fruit. This will play out on the wide area in the form of the software defined WAN, as well as increased use of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) across distributed infrastructure to more closely connect central offices with branch sites and remote facilities. On an operational level, this will lead to the reclassification of today’s network administrator to network programmer as IT becomes increasingly folded into DevOps processes.

Extending virtual networks over the WAN won’t be without its challenges, says Talari Networks’ Andy Gottlieb. A key challenge will be delivering MPLS-class reliability and top-quality application experiences over geographic distances, especially now that enterprise users are coming to rely on VoIP, videoconferencing and other real-time-dependent applications to boost their productivity. According to IHS, an average-sized enterprise can expect losing up to $1 million from a single downed network, while large organizations might exceed $60 million, which puts the pressure on IT to not only push abstract architectures over the long haul but to make them failsafe as well.

To Brocade’s Hong Kong director Larry Tam, “2016 saw an acceptance of many technologies that were once thought to be radically futuristic, while we’ve seen well-established technologies drift into the background as they become ubiquitous.” As he explained to Data Center News, the new year will bring increased disaggregation and improved cost efficiency as organizations shift away from proprietary technologies toward open, multi-vendor solutions. Expect to see a healthy influx of machine learning on the network layer, which will fuel demand for new automation skillsets among IT professionals.

The only thing that could foil these predictions, of course, is if enterprise executives get cold feet over the future – and that may not be as far-fetched as it sounds, says Silicon Angle’s Mike Wheatley. A recent Cato Networks survey of top networking professionals revealed that complexity issues will prevent 40 percent of organizations from upgrading their infrastructure in the coming years, with much of the concern centered on security. The majority of enterprises use between two and five different security products already, which itself introduces systemic weakness in security postures given the increased variety of attack vectors coming from legions of connected devices. Going forward, it appears that many organizations will have to streamline their security architectures before they can venture into advanced platforms like SDN and the IoT.

Enterprise executives who are on the fence regarding their networks best not wait too long to make up their minds, however. If the promises of digital, service-based markets and business processes are even half-right, then the static, silo-based infrastructure of today will prove to be more of a burden than a help going forward.

Regardless of what business the enterprise is engaged in, speed, flexibility, agility and dramatically lower TCO will be the name of the game from here on in.

Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for Enterprise Networking Planet and IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.

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