From a networking and infrastructure perspective, many technologies that were taken for granted for years proved their value enabling businesses to keep operating while employees and IT staff were stuck at home. And some technologies that many believed had never met their promise got a boost, delivering critical capabilities to meet the demands of the year’s disruptions.
Going forward, many of the technologies that shined in 2020 will play a major role in the years to come. They will help organizations provide their users and customers with secure and reliable access to resources and enable smooth running workflows to keep the business humming. Here is a brief overview of those technologies to keep an eye out for in 2021:
1) Autonomous networks and AIOps
Every aspect of business operations can benefit from developments in network automation and autonomous networks. That includes supporting a workforce that is now predominately distributed and working from home, quickly deploying infrastructure that delivers the needed performance to support emerging business opportunities, and simply making more efficient use of IT staff time by automating mundane tasks so they can spend time on more mission-critical projects. Going forward, look for more adoption of artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps).
2) Zero-touch network access (ZTNA)
With data, users, applications, and devices spread across hybrid environments, connecting to the network from diverse locations, managing and controlling access – authentication and authorization – has taken on unprecedented priority and urgency. In the new reality of remote working, for example, employees must access the applications and data needed to perform their jobs. Without that, the business is at a clear disadvantage. However, security teams are struggling to control who and what devices have access and consider when, why, and for which purpose. This has brought the conversation about security to the forefront. Gone are the days of security as an afterthought. Today, a security-first mindset is driving the conversation. Because of this, security approaches like Zero Trust have become mainstream.
3) Secure access service edge (SASE)
When COVID-19 forced office closures, enterprises either fast-tracked digital transformation initiatives or expanded IT resources to mobilize remote workers. Enabling hundreds, even thousands, of remote workers stretched traditional enterprise network security stacks to their limits, straining infrastructure and exposing network vulnerabilities – inside and out. Many organizations have begun to accelerate the movement of their IT resources and workloads to the cloud. This has generated momentum for the adoption of Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), Gartner’s network security framework based on an identity-driven, cloud-native, globally distributed platform that securely connects users to applications wherever they reside (WAN, cloud, or mobile).
4) Low Earth orbit (LEO) Connectivity
Early LEOs were commonly used for voice communication and military applications. However, a new generation of operators has emerged. They include SpaceX, Amazon, Telesat, and OneWeb. These operators are expected to offer HD video streaming, higher-bandwidth data communications, and provide rural broadband to bridge the digital divide. Their LEO satellite networks promise higher-throughput, lower-delay communications that provide more bandwidth per user, even more than cable, copper, and pre-5G fixed wireless.
5) Containers and Kubernetes
Traditional monolithic applications are often impractical in today’s fast-changing world. They are hard to maintain, update, and improve. As a result, many enterprises are moving to microservices-based applications. Such an application architecture allows applications to be broken into component parts, each in a separate container. Updates are easier since only the elements involved need to be changed. What to add a new data source or make use of a different analytics engine? Simply expose them as new services without tearing up, rewriting, or recompiling the main application.
6) Fifth-generation mobile network (5G)
5G services are finally being deployed widely. Availability still varies greatly from location to location. However, now that the services are becoming available, businesses are looking to use 5G for a variety of applications. Perhaps the most common early application will be in support of remote and mobile users who need more bandwidth when Wi-Fi is not available. As 5G fixed wireless services roll out, organizations are likely to use them as an alternative to other options when connecting small offices to corporate networks. And naturally, 5G will enable many edge computing applications that are starting to emerge.
7) Remote access via VPN, VDI, and DaaS
Remote access via virtual private networks (VPNs), virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs), and desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) were commonly used before COVID-19 hit. The move to work from home (WFH) greatly changed the dynamics. Traditionally, solutions were deployed, assuming only 10% to 20% of the organization needed secure remote access to the corporate network and company resources. When WFH became the norm, that figure grew to nearly 100% in most companies. The main challenge in such situations is whether there is enough bandwidth to support all the extra VPN, virtual desktop, and DaaS session traffic coming to the company. And how do you scale corporate edge devices – the routers, gateways, and firewalls – to handle that increased traffic.