The increasing complexity of networks today requires IT teams to oversee network connectivity, cloud migration, mobile integration, security, and more, despite the IT staff shortage crippling progress for many organizations. The sum becomes a herculean task as a typical enterprise network spans multiple locations and thousands of devices, each with its own proprietary operating system and configuration rules. IT teams need a solution that oversees these complexities in a way that doesn’t inhibit growth, increase risk, or rely on regressing back to on-premises, centralized systems. Some wonder if a digital twin is the answer.
A digital twin is an exact virtual reproduction of an organization’s entire network environment that can model network behavior. In its Emerging Technologies and Trends Impact Radar report, Gartner predicts digital twins will fundamentally change the way enterprise networks are managed due to the host of benefits they provide organizations, including:
- Always current end-to-end visualization of network device topology and connectivity for the multi-vendor, hybrid multi-cloud environment with the ability to support hundreds of thousands of devices in a single instance.
- Analysis of every possible path a packet could take on-premises and in the public cloud for efficient network operations.
- The ability to search the network like a database to locate devices or specific lines of configuration code when troubleshooting or during network audits.
- Tools to verify the network remains in-policy as updates are implemented.
- Visual representation of the security posture to ensure network segmentation is in-policy.
- The capability to predict how changes will impact the network.
- An always-on audit and diffs function so engineers can “go back in time” to understand how changes impacted the network.
The need for a digital twin
The network is at the center of IT operations for every company and the services people depend on it in their daily lives. Network disruption is no longer inconvenient; it causes societal disruption and news-worthy economic impact. The idea of a modern business, government, or NGO functioning without a network is as inconceivable as a city functioning without water and electricity.
While the importance of network reliability is at an all-time high, networks are more fragile than ever because they are composed of tens to hundreds of thousands of devices running billions of lines of configuration code and include multiple clouds. The human mind is not capable of capturing, parsing, and interpreting this amount of data. Yet, the reality is a single error can take down an entire network.
Organizations with multi-vendor, hybrid cloud networks that require business continuity, network predictability and automation, and improved network security to maintain and prove compliance will reap the greatest rewards from a digital twin. Here’s why.
Security and compliance
Security continues to be a growing area of concern. Software-driven security solutions have proliferated almost as rapidly as cyberthreats themselves, and attack volumes and complexities have exceeded the capabilities of humans to analyze and respond to them. IT professionals today require a full stack (L2 through L7) single source of truth and visibility to defend their end-to-end networks on-prem and in the cloud.
A recent analysis by the Ponemon Institute and IBM found that the average total cost of a data breach worldwide has reached $4.24 million, up from $3.86 million a year earlier. One key driver of this escalating cost is that it took organizations, on average, more than nine months to identify and contain a breach. Nine months. An accurate digital twin is one of few solutions capable of giving SecOps visibility across the entire network, including hybrid and multi-cloud environments. This makes it easier to monitor security policy adherence and remediate vulnerabilities, saving organizations millions of dollars and maintaining compliance and trust among stakeholders.
Network predictability and automation
Today’s networks require automation. This is increasingly important as organizations continue to grapple with the IT skills shortage and network complexity. A digital twin can enable NetOps to verify that automated workflows are correct and compliant with intent policies, and integrate with notification and source of truth systems to support distributed and cloud environments, during pre- and post-change verification.
Preventing network outages is crucial. It is estimated that 60% of network outages cost a whopping $1 million in operational disruption, reputational damage, lost data, and financial loss. In 2022, an entertainment company used a digital twin to discover a non-compliant configuration that could have taken a major attraction offline and resolved the issue before an incident occurred. With the network digital twin, companies can proactively unveil and prevent outage-generating misconfigurations, thus avoiding embarrassing headlines and extensive outage costs.
Is the technology right for your company?
If you answer no to any of the following statements, a digital twin is an appropriate consideration for your organization:
- My engineers spend most of their time proactively improving the network.
- When there’s an issue on the network, we can pinpoint the source in seconds without performing manual path and configuration searches.
- We do not have a backlog of new applications to deploy that are awaiting security review.
- We can prove our security posture throughout our hybrid multi-cloud environment with mathematical certainty.
- When a Critical vulnerability alert is issued, we immediately know which devices on our network are impacted and the severity of the impact.
- We have checks in place to ensure that we don’t make expensive cloud routing mistakes.
- We perform verification checks before pushing automated updates live.
- The configuration code in my network is searchable.
- We immediately understand the potential blast radius if a network device is compromised.
- We can test how a firewall change will impact the network before pushing it live.
The benefits of a digital twin result in significant time and cost savings and operational efficiencies. Because of these bottom-line gains, the market for digital twins is expected to grow 35% CAGR between 2022 and 2027, from $10.3 billion to $61.5 billion. Organizations with hybrid, multi-cloud environments that require many operators across disciplines will reap the greatest rewards today.
Chiara Regale is Vice President of Products at Forward Networks.