From integrating cloud services to sustaining the hybrid workforce, network managers and architects face myriad challenges every day.
According to Neil Anderson, area vice president of World Wide Technology, a $14.5 billion global technology, the key goal for large enterprises is to prioritize these challenges to adapt network architecture so that widely distributed applications, services, and Users can be managed, and corporate resources to protect service providers.
The pandemic has exposed weaknesses in traditional network architectures’ ability to support distributed workers at scale, and while organizations have weathered the crisis with quick-fix solutions like VPN for remote access, it’s become clear that fundamental architectural changes are needed over the long term are success, Anderson said.
With this in mind, WWT recently released a report detailing what it believes should be the top networking priorities for organizations.
Network automation initiatives mature
The first of these priorities is automation.
“In terms of automation, we’re moving into a new phase of SDN. The first phase was somewhat proprietary in that, for example, Cisco works with Cisco and Aruba works with Aruba,” Anderson said. “And I think customers have been experimenting with it. They took advantage of the benefits that SDN offers, including programmability.”
According to WWT, customers are now starting to build their own automation platforms on top of vendor platforms, and these are most likely multi-vendor environments — leveraging platforms like Red Hat’s Ansible and HashiCorp to build their own runtime engines and playbooks on those systems, Anderson said.
“We’ve seen the automation business really take off with our largest customers, where they hire us to teach them how to accelerate their automation capabilities.”
Acquiring automation skills is essential because while the technology can be implemented to help organizations with tight IT resources, it’s difficult to find automation professionals who already have the skills to build them, Anderson said.
WWT offers courses, including a mentoring program, to upskill existing IT staff who are willing to learn programming skills.
“You have to learn software, configuration management, APIs and programmability. It’s no easy task, but companies should leverage structured training and mentoring programs to strengthen their existing teams,” Anderson said.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is another area that requires skill development by network professionals.
“There are a lot of parallels to what’s going on in programmability right now that have to occur if you really want to adopt AI,” Anderson said. “It’s going to require brand new skills in terms of data and manipulation and AI engines, and there’s a lot of new terminology and a plethora of different toolsets that most people don’t even know, let alone know how to use properly.”
SASE, SSE and SD-WAN
Network complexity is another challenge companies face today.
Traditional private data center networks were designed for high-performance delivery of on-premises applications. However, the number of SaaS and public cloud applications has increased dramatically, and services for these applications are often distributed across on-premises data centers and hosting facilities.
To improve connectivity and increase security, WWT recommends organizations consider technologies such as SD-WAN, Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), and Secure Service Edge (SSE).
SASE, a term coined by Gartner in 2019, describes a single, scalable, cloud-based platform that combines five key security and network technologies: Cloud-Access Security Broker (CASB), Secure Web Gateway, Zero-Trust Network Access (ZTNA), Integrated SD-WAN and Firewall as a Service. More focused on security, SSE is SASE minus SD-WAN; it bundles CASB, Secure Web Gateway and ZTNA.
“While most applications have evolved toward public cloud and SaaS, many connectivity architectures have not. SD-WAN provides a scalable and programmable way to build connectivity between users in branch and campus locations and the cloud-based workloads they access,” states the WWT report. “Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), or specifically the SSE half of the architecture, provides security and policy enforcement right at the cloud edge. With many employees returning to the office and many remaining remote, network leaders should evaluate the implementation of SD-WAN and SASE/SSE,” explained WWT.
According to WWT, transforming edge-to-cloud architecture starts with learning more about current traffic flows. Networking leaders need to know where their applications are running today and where they expect to run in the future. When applications are presented this way, it’s easy to visualize the suboptimal paths that traffic flows must take to reach applications, as well as which design changes can have the greatest business impact, according to the WWT report.
“There are many applications consuming SaaS, public cloud workloads, private cloud workloads, and off-prem workloads, and organizations need to figure out how to connect users to those workloads. You can no longer transport back to your private data center and then go online through your nice, tidy DMZ. It’s just a terrifying experience for most people,” Anderson said.
WWT offers labs where customers can see how a variety of the different components of SD-WAN offerings from multiple vendors interact and how customers can set up different configurations effectively, Anderson said.
5G and WiFi 6
WWT recommends that companies look into private 5G as an alternative network option for IoT, field area networks, and industrial and warehouse environments.
“Since the opening of the CBRS spectrum, private 5G is definitely an option for some users, and we’re seeing interest from the public sector, manufacturing, utilities and even some healthcare organizations looking at it seriously,” Anderson said.
Businesses considering private LTE and 5G wireless infrastructure should start by identifying which parts of the business could benefit most from a dedicated cellular network, WWT said, and address connectivity challenges. “Consider the types of devices and gateways supported by private LTE on CBRS. User devices must support dedicated LTE and 5G frequency bands such as the 3.5 GHz CBRS band. Newer devices often do this, but older ones may not,” according to WWT.
WiFi 6 and 6E technology are also on WWT’s priority list.
Bandwidth requirements and device mobility will require network leaders to reconsider their RF planning, according to WWT.
Wi-Fi operators must consider the number of users, which applications are now basic applications, and how to most effectively employ the tri-band channel plan (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz bands) to to provide the best experience for employees. According to WWT, this can mean installing more APs than traditional designs.
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