The top challenges facing network managers in 2021

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The top challenges facing network managers in 2021
Network management teams will continue to face significant challenges around managing remote workers who are reliant on the public Internet.
Photo by Omar Flores on Unsplash

The Internet has been a vital resource for Australian businesses for more than 20 years.

Providing a digital link with customers, suppliers, and staff, the global network has evolved from being a technical novelty into a must-have resource.

Its importance grew even greater during 2020. With widespread lockdowns and a need for staff to work remotely, the Internet became the primary route for business transactions and communication. Without an always-on, high-speed connection, many staff found undertaking their daily tasks all but impossible.

These changes put immense pressure on corporate network managers. Essentially without warning, they had to equip people to work remotely and ensure they had access to the applications and data stores they needed to get work done.

Now, early in a new year, these teams are facing a raft of ongoing challenges. With many people unlikely to return to the office for an extended period, ways must be found to keep corporate IT infrastructures fully functional and available to all.

The key networking issues that will shape 2021 include:

  • Gaining a deeper understanding of the public Internet

    IT teams might be comfortable with managing traditional corporate networks, but now that large numbers of staff are reliant on Internet connectivity, the rules have changed. Many teams have learned the hard way that the Internet is a best-effort network made up of thousands of distinct providers.

    During 2020, there were some significant Internet disruptions, including several caused by BGP hijacking. This year, better Internet literacy will become a hot commodity skill for network managers so that they can quickly identify and address issues in external networks.

  • The rise of home-based SD-WAN

    As remote working continues to be a reality for large numbers of staff, organisations are likely to take advantage of SD-WAN technology options designed for home environments. Security functionality has been a priority for SD-WAN vendors, however there is likely to be a shift in focus as these vendors become increasingly pressured to provide solutions that are scalable enough to deploy into every employee’s home office.
  • FAANGs continue to invest in Internet infrastructure

    During 2020, major software companies such as Facebook, AWS and Google continued to make significant investments in Internet infrastructure projects, including subsea cables like 2Africa and Grace Hopper.

    This year, as online connectivity remains crucial for remote workforces, these companies will move toward becoming connectivity leaders as they seek to provide better access to their services.
  • The continuing rise of the API

    User demand for voice-controlled activation and contactless payments skyrocketed in 2020. This trend will only increase this year as people look for ways to minimise their chance of viral infection.

    As a result, there will be a need for extended visibility into the backend systems that power these new embedded applications and the API integrations that run them. IoT and smart device application performance will become contingent on third-party API reachability and performance over the Internet and cloud provider networks.
  • Networks for rent

    To improve overall network performance, cloud providers and content delivery network (CDN) providers have been offering access to their private network backbones with the promise of greater reliability and performance, and this trend will continue.

    As uninterrupted digital experience continues to become critical to businesses, 2021 will see a growth in the number of companies that seek to avoid the vulnerabilities of the public Internet by paying for their own private Internet made up of rented capacity provided by other parties.
  • Collaboration Silos will increase

    As organisations strive to maintain control of their digital environments and as IT teams increasingly need to operate in a highly collaborative way across functions, 2021 will see growing use of solutions that can serve as a common operating language across different IT domains. Monitoring technologies with cross-stack observability across external services will become part of the critical IT toolset as the realities of modern architectures will increasingly require that collaboration across silos becomes part of day to day operations in the year ahead.

In 2021, IT and network management teams will continue to face significant challenges around managing remote workers who are reliant on the public Internet for connectivity. However, by taking advantage of these trends and extending their skill sets, these teams will be able to provide the support that will be required in the year ahead.

Mike Hicks is Principal Solutions Analyst ANZ at ThousandEyes

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