Keeping pace with evolving network technologies is a never-ending task. Fortunately, major advancements, as well as new security threats, tend to arrive in spurts, which gives network managers a chance to catch their breath before moving from one major upgrade project to the next.
As 2021 heads into its final stretch, here's a quick rundown of the network upgrades network chiefs should be considering today.
With ransomware attacks and network breaches on the rise, security is a top priority. Every network manager should consider upgrades that strengthen network security, including intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion protection systems (IPS), said Matthew Parsons, a solutions architect in the global solutions engineering unit at Sungard Availability Services. Parsons also advised network managers to consider security information and event management (SIEM) and log collection upgrades, as well as strengthening Web application firewalls and improving endpoint protection, encryption, vulnerability scans, and penetration testing. "A secure network can help prevent and mitigate security breaches that can cost companies millions of dollars and impact their brand/reputation negatively," he said.
The biggest challenges IT managers face when planning network security enhancements are budgets and people, Parsons observed. Senior leadership often sees network security as an unnecessary cost and can be reluctant to release the necessary funding. "They need to be educated to understand that funds invested in network security are part of a critical safety net, which can often save the company a lot more money down the road."
A lack of IT experts can also delay necessary security upgrades. "Companies often don’t have the employee skillset in-house to properly manage events and logs [in] a 24x7 security operations center (SOC)," Parsons said. "Even with the technology in place, there's still the challenge of training existing IT staff and/or hiring new security analysts, both of which add to the cost of the total security solution."
Improve cloud management
Beyond security, Investing in a cloud management system is the most important and impactful upgrade a network manager can make, said John Abel, CIO at network equipment provider Extreme Networks.
Over the past year, the cloud has emerged as an essential tool, allowing enterprises to seamlessly manage the shift to distributed workforces, illustrated by the rise in cloud-based collaboration tools, Abel noted. Many forward-looking enterprises took advantage of this situation to take their cloud strategy to the next level by adopting cloud-based network management to simplify managing their increasingly complex and distributed environments, he said.
With many employees now working from home, perhaps indefinitely, organizations need a cloud-based strategy to seamlessly manage and secure their dispersed networks, Abel observed. Upgrading to a cloud network also removes the significant capital expenditures needed to update networking equipment every three to four years, he added. "With a cloud solution, it's simply rolling over your subscription cost each year, and your network provider is now responsible for ensuring your devices are updated regularly, which brings the added benefit of improved security due to not having out-of-date equipment."
Bolster network intelligence
As networks grow and become increasingly complex, strong management is a priority. With an increasingly distributed workforce, and an internal IT staff that's staying the same size or shrinking, network intelligence, in the form of AI and machine learning, has become the key to keeping networks running smoothly, said Harald Remmert, senior director of technology at IoT products and services provider Digi International. "This intelligence needs to be centralized, providing a single point of command, control, and visibility across a multitude of devices and locations, and fully automated, performing key tasks without IT involvement," he noted.
Strengthen network resilience
Most enterprise networks are in a continuous state of flux. New devices are always coming online, and old devices are falling out of compliance. "Add the human element, and the opportunities for failure are endless," Remmert observed. "The key is to build a network with resilience, one that continues to operate, self-heals, fails over, and keeps customers and apps connected," he said.
Enhance network adaptivity
COVID-19 changed the network world virtually overnight, requiring rapid changes in topologies, technologies, and data patterns. It's now time to recognize this fact and to upgrade the network infrastructure to accommodate this new reality. Seamless, flexible interoperation, regardless of the underlying connectivity technology--whether fiber, MPLS, cr 4G/5G--is now a priority. Newer technologies are often easier and faster to deploy "and can get companies closer to their goal of a secure, intelligent, resilient, and adaptive network," Remmert noted.
To ensure a resilient network infrastructure, Parsons advised managers to consider conducting a vulnerability/risk assessment on their network infrastructure. He also suggested performing a business impact analysis (BIA) to reveal any existing vulnerabilities as well as how much a security breach might cost their enterprise. "This will help in getting budget approvals from leadership," Parsons said.