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2023 IT Networking Trends: 5 Areas to Watch

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A networking graphic
Image: Carloscastilla - Alamy Stock Photo
End-of-the-year trend predictions are almost cliché, as everyone has an opinion on what will and won’t happen in the new year. But between another year of IT security threats and advancements in AI and machine learning (ML) technology, I think it’s important to look at how enterprise networking has changed in 2022 and what might be in store for it in 2023.
 
Below, I look at several networking areas and associated trends to see where might networking head in the new year. I’ll try to keep my attempt grounded in reality and cover topics that can help you with planning for the new calendar year.
 
1. IT Security
Malware, data theft, ransomware, and similar security topics have seen significant coverage this year. This trend will continue, and I won’t be surprised at new threats and the continued exploitation of old threats. The good news is that the press coverage has raised awareness of the need for good IT security and made it a key component of IT systems.
 
If you’ve not done so already, I recommend you implement multi-factor authentication on all your business applications, regardless of whether they are in-house or cloud-based. The optimum solution will use an authentication application like Okta or Microsoft Authenticator instead of sending a code via SMS messaging, which has its own vulnerabilities.
 
We’ll also see continued adoption of secure access service edge (SASE). The Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) announced the results of a standardization effort: MEF-117, which begins to address one of the hurdles to the widespread adoption of this technology. The interoperability of products in this space will help secure a workforce that continues to be more mobile than before the pandemic.
 
2. Network Automation
Network automation will continue to grow. New products are making it easier, and network teams are beginning to acquire the skills to take advantage of automation. It will still be a long journey. The sooner your organization starts, the sooner you’ll see the benefits. The hurdles are going to be standardization. Every vendor has its own API library. That is eased somewhat by model-based functionality that standardizes network data and configuration.
 
Automation won’t be just about automating configuration changes. It will be applied more frequently to verify the proper operation of the network and to aid in the troubleshooting process. Instead of using the command line interface to collect troubleshooting information, the network team will kick off a series of automation systems to collect information and identify what has changed. This will greatly improve the diagnosis times and lay the foundation for more extensive use of network automation.
 
We’ll see continued adoption of ChatOps in which the automated network data collection and analysis tools are coupled with team interaction tools like Teams, Slack, and Webex. It will take some effort to make this integration happen, so near-term productivity will be less during this re-tooling phase.
 
3. Network Management
I expect to see event streaming and message bus technology become important to automation and network monitoring. I’ve proposed its use in projects to allow customers to create the holy grail of network management: the single pane of glass. It would collect and display important events and data from the collection of network management systems that are required to monitor a modern network.
 
We’ll start to see model-based telemetry take over some of the performance data collection, but it will still take time before monitoring tools make the transition. This doesn’t mean SNMP will go away. Too many network products and performance monitoring systems that rely on SNMP to collect and process performance data are available.
 
Digital experience monitoring (DEM) will continue to grow in importance to provide visibility into how well the network and applications are performing. As the name implies, it isn’t applicable only to human experiences with an application, although that’s a key use. It applies equally well to monitoring the performance of IoT systems and to API-driven systems.
 
My recommendation for good network operational visibility implements event management combined with a comprehensive DEM deployment. Event management is when the network and applications are sending alerts about problems, while digital experience monitoring reports when applications (both human and digital interfacing) are not performing well. The remaining systems, like performance monitoring, facilitate troubleshooting.
 
4. AI and ML
AI will continue to create surprises, particularly around things we learn from the open access to the ChatGPT AI system. It is remarkably good at taking short descriptions of tasks and creating fully developed results. I can’t predict what will happen in this space – it’s simply moving too quickly, though I anticipate that it will be a mix of good and not-so-good.
 
More realistic and applicable to networking is ML technology. Good examples of applicability are in event handling (Moogsoft and BigPanda). These systems look good – correlating events and reducing the clutter that makes it possible to identify the key events that impact network operations. I’d like to see ML applied to the integration of event management with performance management to help identify root causes. The results could then drive a ChatOps system to communicate outages to the networking team in a way that drives rapid problem detection (perhaps through DEM), automated data collection, root cause identification, and team collaboration.
 
5. Cloud Migration
More companies and applications will move to the cloud. This will drive the requirement for different types of security, including cloud access security brokers (CASB) and SASE (see security trends above).
 
What We Won’t See
I don’t expect to see unified, multi-vendor network controller systems, as vendors will continue to emphasize their own controller architectures and API interfaces. Thus, an organization will have multiple control systems for wireless, identity, route/switch infrastructure, and firewalls. Recently, I reviewed the network management system for a client who had a myriad of products: network performance, network configuration, identity system, security monitoring, firewall management, DNS/DHCP/IP Address Management (DDI), and event monitoring. Each system had its own interface. This is the opposite of the single pane of glass. It is why I predict that the manager of managers has a potential future.
 
Culture Shift
My summary for 2022 is that all of the above trends have a common theme: a big culture change. They are a radical departure from the past in which manual processes drove network operations, and security was less of a concern. An organization’s networking staff needs to accept these changes, and the managers/executives need to support that change. It will take time and effort to make these changes – they don’t come for free. Adopting new methods can make things slower over the short term; you must take the long-term view with realistic expectations.
 
For more context on these topics and others, I’ll be hosting three sessions at Enterprise Connect 2023. Please consider joining me there to learn more.

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