When asked which part of their network is the weakest or most unreliable, I’d be willing to bet that most network admins would respond by naming network segments that have commonly lagged behind from a technological perspective. Yet because so much attention has been put on improving the technologies in these specific areas, others have become neglected. What many will soon discover is that the less reliable and more problematic parts of their network have shifted toward areas that were previously "rock-solid." Let's look at why this shift has happened, where it’s likely to form, and what can be done to avoid it.
Where businesses have been focusing time and money improving their network
Enterprise-grade network technologies and services have come a long way in the past decade. Network services that were previously considered "best effort" -- such as Wi-Fi -- are now considered as reliable as wired counterparts. This is due to improvements in wireless protocol standards, antenna improvements, and better wireless deployments using predictive propagation and site survey tools. Two other parts of the network commonly thought to be weak links are the wide-area network (WAN) and internet edge. Yet, broadband carrier services, including Internet connectivity and private WAN links, have improved dramatically in recent years. Customers that migrated away from legacy T1, T3, and ATM circuit technologies to modern metro Ethernet and MPLS links for data transport not only benefit from performance gains -- they also see far fewer outages. Additionally, SD-WAN technology improvements and price drops now mean that even mid-sized organizations can use these advanced network performance and resiliency technologies with far less complexity and management overhead.
While strides have clearly been made by putting time, money and focus on upgrading wireless networks, the WAN and Internet edge, it has come at the expense of the campus LAN -- and in some cases -- the data center. It's not uncommon to see businesses that continuously upgrade their WLAN to the latest technologies every two to three years while choosing to stick with the same core, distribution, access, and data center switches in their corporate LAN for a 5, 6, or even 10 years. While this does attest to the impressive reliability and performance that LAN and data center technologies have held over the WLAN and network edge hardware/software, cracks in the LAN are clearly starting to show. Thus, it's important to begin shifting some focus off Wi-Fi, and the edge -- and instead put it back on the campus LAN.
LAN technologies you don't have, but should
Technologies like link aggregation have made it relatively easy for network architects to keep up with growing bandwidth demands of end devices and between switch uplinks. But at some point, the time will come where even this is no longer enough. This is especially true when looking at bandwidth-intensive IoT projects that are likely to be coming our way. Thus, the need to migrate toward multi-gigabit copper and fiber technologies will be an absolute must. Despite the fact that moving to 2.5, 5, and 10 Gbps multi-gig twisted pair cabling and 25, 40 and 100 Gbps fiber Ethernet will require major hardware upgrades, these upgrades are long overdue in many cases.
Looking a bit further down the road, entire LAN switching architectures will need to be revamped in favor of new software-defined and intent-based technologies. No longer will networks be designed and configured to route through decentralized, hop-by-hop routers and switches. Instead, the entire corporate LAN will be centrally managed from a configuration and management/maintenance perspective.
Lastly, the corporate LAN has also been neglected from a data security perspective. The encryption, access control, and granular visibility that is common in modern WLANs and at the WAN/Internet edge are often surprisingly missing on the LAN. Bad actors are quickly discovering that the LAN is now the weak point and often only must find a way to plug in to gain access to sensitive business information.
Where will your focus be in 2020?
If you’ve been spending time and money bolstering wireless and remote site/internet connectivity from a reliability and security standpoint over the past few years, it may be time to shift that focus back on the campus LAN. New advancements in switching hardware, software, and security have progressed to the point where upgrades will be very noticeable from both an end-user and management perspective. Thus, changes to the corporate LAN and data center will not only refresh a much-neglected part of your network – it will also set the stage toward full, end-to-end management and visibility. Not only the campus local area network but also the WAN, WLAN, and Internet edge as well.