Keeping up with the latest trends is essential to being a well-versed networking professional. In such a fast-moving industry, knowing what’s at the cutting edge can make the difference between being well-positioned to respond to the trends or being forced to play catch-up before your organization gets left behind.
To help you stay on top of what’s to come, here are five of the most prominent trends affecting networking in 2023 and beyond.
1. Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) remains relevant
Many enterprises need scalable networks. The people overseeing a company’s network-related needs often choose SD-WAN to meet them. SD-WAN provides a virtualized service to link and expand network resources over geographic distances.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused some leaders to delay their SD-WAN rollouts, several factors suggest this is still a network trend to watch overall. A 2023 Technavio report predicts the market to show a 29.7% compound annual growth rate from 2023 to 2027. The coverage also indicated the North American market would be a significant driver, accounting for 36% of the growth during the studied period.
Cloud-based SD-WAN was another identified growth driver, particularly with many networking professionals examining how to reduce their costs while reaching the desired scalability. The report also suggested mergers and acquisitions will consolidate the SD-WAN market size.
However, a potentially smaller market will not necessarily reduce the number of new offerings established companies provide. In one example, a company is targeting smaller enterprises interested in SD-WAN. It claims entry pricing of less than $100 per site, which would understandably attract cost-conscious customers.
The Technavio report recognized the possible challenges, too, though. One was a shortage of people with SD-WAN skills, which could slow deployments. On the other hand, if SD-WAN continues to prove itself as an in-demand networking option, more professionals should feel encouraged to learn and maintain the necessary skills to show themselves as marketable to current or potential employers.
2. A bigger emphasis on internet of things (IoT) network security
There are projected to be an astounding 29.42 billion IoT devices connected by 2030. Although some of those products get used in people’s homes, many are marketed to businesses. Such offerings allow enterprises to enjoy tighter physical security, lower costs due to decreased resource usage, and more control over what happens across various sites.
However, one overlooked factor is that increased IoT usage can put a network at greater risk of cyberattacks. That’s typically because organizations lack the necessary visibility into the devices connected to their networks at any given time. Who has access to them, and for what reasons? Is a specific IoT device running the latest software, or is there a chance it’s outdated and contains vulnerabilities? Old software is a frequently seen network weakness that could compromise security.
Not being able to answer those questions could pose significant problems for a company’s network professionals. Fortunately, though, it’s becoming easier to see a network’s IoT devices and who uses them. That’s all due to specialized platforms that allow everything management-related to happen in one place.
For example, a network administrator might grant access to a specific IoT device as part of a new employee’s onboarding process. Then, they could change that access as a person’s role evolves or when the individual leaves the organization. When everything occurs from a single network management portal, network professionals have much better visibility into how and why people at the business use IoT devices.
It then becomes easier to spot unusual network traffic and take the necessary steps to investigate. Being proactive like that is an excellent way to prevent cyberattacks.
3. Digital twins improving network planning
People in the manufacturing and product design industries have used digital twins for years. These highly realistic virtualized versions of real-life assets can help product designers see the effects of certain product changes before implementing them. Many manufacturing leaders also use digital twins to plan the size of facilities before construction begins or consider where to place new equipment to best support the expected traffic flow.
However, digital twins are shaking up networking, too. People should expect the increasing use of these tools throughout the rest of this year and into the foreseeable future. One recent trial of a digital twin for a Chinese wireless network included the infrastructure and application performance aspects. Data from the test showed the digital twin offered 90% accuracy when compared against the real network.
This experiment concerned testing certain networks for the suitability of extended reality (XR) service. It involved more than 70 locations containing 150 5G network base stations.
Forward Networks also operates in this space, offering digital twin tools for better enterprise network management. It recently raised $50 million in a Series D funding round. The company will reportedly use the funds to further its research and development and expand its customer base.
The company’s digital twins assist with the planning of new networks and the maintenance of existing ones. People can use them to improve their understanding of network performance and the network’s security posture.
Many current clients use the digital twins to ensure site reliability. Keeping websites running smoothly continues to be important, particularly as more sites deal with increased traffic from visitors around the world.
4. AI-based network management is booming
Artificial intelligence (AI) has reshaped industries ranging from aviation to agriculture. It also allows companies to streamline their workflows. For example, risk management systems can reduce human errors, increasing the chances of successful audits. Many risk management programs use AI and other technologies to automate some steps, flagging potential problems and letting people act on them before it’s too late. It’s easy to see AI’s ongoing influence on networking, too.
Some newer networking products are specifically designed for companies running large AI workloads. One such option can connect up to 32,000 GPUs to one AI cluster for improved load balancing.
Applying AI to network management also provides many benefits. For example, people can eliminate or greatly reduce the time spent on manual investigations of potential problems. Many AI tools learn what constitutes expected network activity, then flag anything outside those parameters. They can also triage issues, helping network administrators and other professionals know what to tackle first.
Enhanced user experiences are another benefit of organizations using AI for networking needs. That’s because well-trained algorithms can often spot problems before they cause problems that users notice. That helps network professionals become more proactive rather than reactive.
5. Next-generation connectivity keeps ramping up
Next-generation connectivity is an umbrella term that loosely concerns all the collective efforts to prepare organizations for the future. That might mean modernizing the physical infrastructure or deploying innovations that help an organization make the most of the 5G network.
One recent project involved Philadelphia’s Arlen Specter U.S. Squash Center. That facility embraces next-generation connectivity with cloud-based telecommunications, a private 5G network, and enterprise-grade IoT solutions.
The center has eight 13-foot digital video walls. Its owners intend to take advantage of the facilities’ low-latency technologies by livestreaming every event occurring on the various courts. Additionally, each player can record and analyze their matches, uncovering the aspects that support continuous improvement.
Analysts also believe next-generation Wi-Fi will improve how households capitalize on smart home technologies. When people have reliable coverage throughout their homes, they’ll feel more confident about trying out the latest technologies and building upon any smart home products they already use and love.
Bottom line: Staying on top of network trends
These five networking trends are among those to watch over the next several months and years. Now is an excellent time for anyone working in or studying networking to begin thinking about how they might implement some of them into their workflows. Being open to how these trends might affect your industry will help you and your team remain knowledgeable and responsive — and not be left playing catch-up to your competitors.