It's that time of year again, where tech pundits the world over dust off their crystal balls and attempt to predict the trends, threats, and opportunities that will drive change in the world of IT and enterprise technology.

Of course, in the IT business, it’s difficult to trust predictions 5 days out, let alone five years. After all, anyone who could accurately predict IT trends more than a few years out would be extremely wealthy, and would not be sharing that information publicly. And, considering that I am writing this blog post from my desk in an office park in Massachusetts, and not luxuriating on a private yacht in the Adriatic, I hope you’ll understand that I am not the Nostradamus of Networking.

That said, it’s fun to think about the future, whether we’re considering flying (or automated) cars or how the future will change our workplaces. More importantly, it’s crucially important to consider the future of your industry and to have foresight into the trends that will affect your business in the coming year, so that you can adequately prepare. And it doesn’t take Nostradamus to do that.  

Networks have become vital strategic assets for every modern enterprise. And, as we usher in the new year, networks will only continue to grow in terms of value, significance, and complexity. It's our job as IT pros to figure out how things will change and prepare for all contingencies.

So, let’s take a look at the five trends that I predict will affect networks in 2020. 

SD-WAN (and SDN) Adoption on the Rise 

As networks change, so must network architecture. One of the biggest trends we’ve observed in networks over the past year has been the increased shift towards decentralized networks, and with it, a shift towards software-defined wide-area networking, or SD-WAN.

SD-WAN has been around for years, but in 2019 it hit its stride as an alternative to Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network architectures that can be expensive and inflexible in the face of demanding modern global enterprise networks.  

Cloud-based software, increased mobility, and decentralized networks, have pushed more businesses to adopt SD-WAN to work alongside their MPLS architecture. Now, with SD-WAN, IT teams can decrease the number of physical devices necessary to connect enterprise networks that are spread out 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 all of this, enterprises require in-depth monitoring tools that can offer a visual topology of both physical infrastructure as well as traffic flow, such as a heat map that will let you visualize the path of an application’s traffic.

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Consolidation of Disparate Monitoring Tools

As networks have become more and more decentralized over the past decade, so have monitoring tools. Now, in many instances, we have monitoring for our on-premise networks, separate monitoring for our cloud resources (often using different built-in solutions for each cloud platform!) and further separate monitoring solutions for SaaS solutions. To complicate things further, these disparate monitoring tools rarely are able to communicate seamlessly, leading to spotty visibility across your network and resources. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Decentralization of the network shouldn’t mean decentralized monitoring. Modern monitoring tools must be adaptive, and able to monitor both cloud and on-premise resources, all in one place.

Thankfully, monitoring tools are adapting, and are now able to better monitoring hybrid cloud networks, while integrating application performance monitoring for SaaS applications, and good old-fashioned SNMP-based monitoring of on-premise networks. I predict a shift away from the hodge-podge of monitoring tools that have come to represent a hybrid cloud strategy, and back towards centralized monitoring as more businesses seek to optimized network visibility across all deployments. 

Mass Adoption of WiFi 6, Finally

Next, we have a prediction that has been a mainstay of prediction articles for the past two years: WiFi 6 will change networking in 2020. Yes, it’s true that previous predictions didn’t exactly pan out—WiFi 6 has been “almost here” since 2018— but the technology is inching towards mass adoptions, and when it gets there, a lot is going to change.

Today’s wireless networks are exceedingly crowded. The BYOD revolution, the advent of the Internet of Things, and a wireless-first approach to connecting workplace devices have all meant increasing strain on wireless networks to the point that speeds have suffered.

Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, boasts four times the throughput of previous WiFi technology—a significant increase in speed and capacity. And on top of that, it increases the density of devices that can be connected in a single area.

Eventually, Wi-Fi 6 will improve connectivity for almost all wireless users, from office workers, who’s devices will connect more reliably in crowded offices, to IT teams supporting thousands of IoT devices, who will find that they can connect more devices with far fewer access points.

For now, the technology has finally become available for certification, so we’ll have to wait a bit for mass adoption to begin, but not long. 

5G Hits the Enterprise

Unlike WiFi 6, 5G is already here… sort of. Carriers have rolled out limited installations in select cities and neighborhoods throughout 2019, and things are set to really pick up speed in 2020. For consumers, the impact is pretty simple: 5G means improved speed and battery life for smartphones.

In the enterprise, the impact of 5G will be a bit different: think new possibilities for IoT applications, as well as 5G fixed wireless as an alternative WAN connection.

5G fixed wireless will be a convenient option as a WAN connection. Additionally, 5G’s wireless technology could allow businesses to set up their own private 5G data networks via a lightly licensed CBRS.

For network admins, 5G’s network slicing capabilities are probably the most important piece of the puzzle. Using the same principles as software-defined networking, 5G network slicing would allow several virtual networks to be built on top of shared physical infrastructure—thus allowing network admins to partition a core network out to different use cases and services that may have wildly different requirements for functionality and performance. 

Cloud Data Repatriation Becomes a Niche Trend

More and more businesses are moving to the cloud, there’s no denying that, but there are also a small percentage of organizations that have found that they may need to return at least some of their data and applications to their on-premise networks and data centers. In fact, according to a recent IDC report, 80 percent of organizations repatriated at least some workloads in 2018 and, on average, companies expect to return 50 percent of their public cloud applications to hosted private or on-premises locations through 2020.

So what are the drivers behind this trend? Security issues drove 19 percent of that movement, according to IDC, with performance issues and cost following up at 14 and 12 percent. New compliance regimes like GDPR and CCPA, which can have strict rules on data localization, can also be a factor.

What Are Your Predictions?

Do you have predictions of your own? Will 2020 be the year IPv6 finally takes off? Will AI become an essential part of every network? Will the robots finally take over? Whatever your predictions, we want to hear them! Drop us a line in the comments below, and don't forget to attend our free 2020 Network Monitoring Predictions Webinar, where we'll discuss our predictions in more depth and give you a chance to showcase your own! Click here to register!


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