As we put 2020 behind us ;finally ;and look forward to 2021, it's time to take a look at what's to come. While in 2020, we consulted our crystal ball predicted another 'normal year' we were greeted with anything but that. With that being said, had I predicted the COVID-19 crisis, I would probably be a millionaire and would've retired on some remote island by now. And, because I am writing this blog from the comfort of my home nestled in Silicon Valley after a long holiday weekend, it is safe to say I didn't see this year coming either!
As we conclude the remaining days of the most historic year in our lifetimes, ;unsure of what 2021 might bring us, it's still fun to think of the future and the possibilities it can bring us. Can I get an AMEN for a sporting event or enjoying dinner with friends? Now that I am done boring you with the sentimental stuff, the real reason you're here is for me to share what my crystal ball is saying about the landscape about the industry's future so you can prepare.;
Let's dive in, shall we?
(1) On-Going Virtual Workforce
Tell me something I don't know, am I right? The COVID-19 Pandemic forced most of the tech-world to work from home (WFH) "on the fly." It also added the additional complexity of millions of school children suddenly taking remote classes from home as well. And while some employees were either exclusively WFH or have an office set-up (like yours truly), there are/were a good majority of employees who are die-hard office goers. Regardless, all of them are suddenly coping with working from home while trying (and sometimes even succeeding) to supervise their kids or watching their co-workers try. We believe this sudden shift to all virtual all the time is the future and a trend that we'll see for the foreseeable future.
How does a remote workforce have anything to do with network monitoring, you may ask? Well, everything. As a network or system admin in control of your organization's applications like Office 365 or virtual environments like VMware or Hyper-V or the VPN, how do you ensure your employees can continue to access these applications without missing a beat?
(2) We said this last year, and we're repeating it, SD-WAN and SDN adoption
As our networks continue to evolve, so must the network architecture. One of the biggest trends we've observed over the past few years, especially in 2020, is the increased shift towards decentralized networks and a shift towards software-defined wide-area networking, or SD-WAN.
SD-WAN has been around for years, but recently it hit its stride as an alternative to Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network architectures, which can be expensive and inflexible against a demanding modern global enterprise network.
Cloud-based software, decentralized networks, and increased mobility have pushed more businesses to adopt SD-WAN to work alongside their MPLS architecture. With SD-WAN, IT teams can decrease the number of physical devices necessary to connect enterprise networks that are spread over vast geographic distances while simultaneously increasing network resiliency. IT teams can also use centrally-managed roles and rules to route and prioritize traffic, resulting in better application performance and lower bandwidth costs.
To keep track of this, enterprises require in-depth monitoring tools that can offer a visual topology of physical infrastructure and traffic flow, such as a heat map that lets you visualize the path of an application's traffic.
(3) An exceptionally high (but short-term?) focus on operational security
The ramifications of the SolarWinds' hack are still being determined months later, but they're much more severe than initially thought. The impacted organizations are justifiably reeling and trying to understand how this happened to them, while the truth is that no one is immune to this type of intrusion. The way bad actors were able to gain access to so many organizations via one software suite has struck terror into the hearts of people who don't usually spend much time thinking about security (and confirmed the worst fears of those who do). The result will be many more pointed questions to software vendors and many investigations about what can be done to prevent something similar. We may even see some more interest in mitigating capabilities like WhatsUp Gold's underused FIPS-140-2 encryption mode. Hacks and breaches are common enough to be forgotten when the next one comes along, but this one is different. It’s not going away any time soon and the threat is only likely to increase. The result is organizations taking this opportunity to evaluate their processes, their practices and look for ways to mitigate attacks with this level of sophistication.
(4) Equipment Sourcing getting complex.
As tensions rise between western and eastern nations, who made that router is becoming more and more of a loaded question. We've already seen mass removals of devices from specific vendors for security reasons, but how the price vs. security discussion plays out is unknown. Add to this the various production slowdowns and material shortages caused by the COVID pandemic, and you start to get shortages – which may force purchasers to use alternate vendors if they need gear immediately. Finally, with the volatility of Brexit and an administrative change in the USA tossed into the mix, potential tariff changes will impact the supply line even further. While our 'just-in-time' world has some significant advantages, if there's a particular type of network equipment crucial to your business, you might want to stock a few extra just in case.
(5) Who knows?
No one saw COVID coming, and no one anticipated the reaction to it would be as messy as it was. No one knew how workers would handle a transition to remote work (where possible), and we still don't know the long-term effects. Millions of students are also attending classes remotely, and no one can say for sure how long that's going to last – especially noting that, as of this writing, no vaccine has been approved for children under 16. How is that going to impact how schools teach and the equipment they’re going to need to make changes? No one can say for sure when vaccines will be rolled out and to whom. And we're not even going to say a thing about the current and future state of the economy.
Something 2020 has taught us is that predictions seldom survive contact with reality. 2021 is giving us many reasons to be optimistic, but the only guarantee is that nothing is certain. Make plans, have backup plans but always be flexible. When the unexpected happens (and it will), you're better off looking for ways to adapt than lamenting plans that have fallen through. If nothing else, the fact that you made it through 2020 should give you an idea of exactly how resilient you can be!
On the flip side, even if a hybrid work environment is re-introduced, the need to enable both WFH and in-office employees will look drastically different than in March 2020. While it may be a simple flip of a switch for others, there is a lot of work to be done to adjust systems to the new normal. Managing both on-prem and virtual employees means monitoring critical resources, handle equipment that keeps your team and users safe, and much more.