2020 proved to be a transformative year for network technology, bringing with it an accelerated shift to the cloud, multi-cloud architectures, updated cybersecurity strategies, and a rethinking of the wide-area networking.
No one could have predicted how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect business and quicken the growth of certain technologies. The transition to remote work led to higher adoption of virtual private networks, multi-factor authentication, virtual desktop, and unified communications and collaboration, among other things.
Perhaps most noteworthy was the rapid rise in broadband usage. Usage had been steadily increasing over the last decade, but the pandemic and subsequently distributed work environment expedited the climb. As evidence,OpenVault reported in its “Broadband Insights Report” for the third quarter of 2020 that broadband usage rose 40% over 2019.
Internet of Things implementations were another example. According to Nemertes Research, more than 46% of IoT projects were in full deployment in 2020, compared to only 7% the previous year. That growth can be attributed to the IoT’s ability to improve the supply chain and generate value and return on investment. The Vodafone “IoT Spotlight 2020” report found that an impressive 73% of mature IoT adopters said their implementation of IoT technology led to a “significant return on investment.”
While the growth of broadband and IoT is compelling, there were also a host of other transformative network technology trends in 2020 including an accelerated shift to the cloud, adoption of multi-cloud architectures, major alterations to cybersecurity strategies, and a rethinking of the wide-area networking.
Many businesses already had cloud strategies in place when COVID-19 hit. And they embraced the cloud, even more, to facilitate their employees working remotely. Flexera reported in its May “2020 State of the Cloud Report” that the majority (57%) of organizations had changed their cloud usage plans to be slightly or significantly higher than originally planned.
The cloud offers a way to cut expenses in the long term by shifting from a CapEx to an OpEx model and paying only for what’s used. However, organizations are still struggling to reign in cloud spending. According to the Flexera report, businesses are spending an average of 23% more on the cloud than they anticipated, and they expect to further increase that spending by 47% in 2021.
Thus, cloud optimization will be key moving forward. To optimize cloud spending, organizations will need to get a better handle on their usage patterns and the cloud resources they have in place. This will help them identify and consolidate unused virtual machines that are taking up bandwidth. Otherwise, those businesses will continue to pay for more than they use.
Another way to optimize cloud spending is by adopting a multi-cloud strategy – that is, using more than one cloud computing and storage service in a single network architecture. This approach often includes a combination of public, private, and edge clouds to ensure the best price for each workload.
The advantages of such a strategy include a wider array of options, optimal pricing, improved resilience, greater security, and flexibility. According to the Flexera report, 93% of enterprises currently have a multi-cloud strategy in place.
For multi-cloud to be successful, businesses need to be well aware of the differences between clouds, including cost variances. They also need to keep close tabs on their cloud environments. One effective way to do that is through automated cloud management, either undertaken in-house or as a managed service provided by a third-party.
Keeping data and users safe has always been a business priority. But the practice took on greater importance as workers left the office and moved to distributed models. IT departments could no longer control the computing environment and had to quickly pivot to be able to support expansive areas.
In fact, a conclusive 85% of chief information security officers conceded “they sacrificed cybersecurity in the effort to enable employees to work remotely,” according to the Netwrix “2020 Cyber Threats Report.” As a result, 63% of survey respondents acknowledged a rise in cyberattacks. This prompted a major emphasis on rethinking security models.
From the time personal computing took off in the 1990s, businesses and individuals relied on a firewall model to keep bad actors out. The “trusted inside” versus “untrusted outside” approach only let thoroughly vetted and approved traffic into the network. “That model is now firmly and definitively and permanently broken,” said Johna Til Johnson, CEO and senior founding partner of Nemertes Research in a recent webinar.
Because remote workers are connecting to their company networks through the cloud, there’s no such thing anymore as a “trusted inside” and “untrusted outside.” A firewall is often not enough when connecting to a cloud-based resource.
Instead, Johnson said Nemertes is seeing the rise of a much more granular distributed model. In this model, a user can be trusted on a certain machine to run specific apps but not other apps. Or a microservice can have access to certain other microservices but not others. As such, it’s a perimeter-less approach to security and a key change that will only continue moving forward.
According to IDG’s “Shifting Cybersecurity to Support the Expanded Remote Workforce” report, 98% of survey respondents acknowledged “securing applications, data, and infrastructure in the cloud is very or somewhat challenging.”
This has led to the transition to cloud-based authentication and policy enforcement, also known as SASE. Gartner defines it as a package of technologies that can identify sensitive data or malware and decrypt content at line speed. This package ensures secure access to applications no matter where they’re hosted or where a user is logging in. It eliminates the need for VPNs, cloud proxies, and multiple security solutions.
One of the technologies SASE can include is software-defined WAN, or SD-WAN, a market that grew a full $1 billion between 2019 and 2020, according to market research firm T4 Labs Inc., and that growth is expected to continue throughout 2021 and beyond.
Whereas traditional WAN connected remote sites or branch offices (on the network) to on-premise data centers (also on the network), SD-WAN connects remote workers (off the network) to the cloud (off the network).
The main appeal of SD-WAN in the new remote work context is its ability to combine multiple broadband connections to deliver the highest-quality and most reliable network connectivity — ensuring workers always have a strong connection. It also provides centralized network management, enabling better scalability and consistent security.