What does the future hold for enterprise networking?

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The rollout of 5G networks and the next generation of wireless technology could lead to a shift in focus from software and apps back to infrastructure as organizations look to take advantage of the latest technologies. Couple this with the fact that AI and machine learning are making their way into the networking space and feels as though we are about to see a real shakeup in enterprise networking.

To better understand the current trends dominating the networking space and what the future holds for enterprise networking, TechRadar Pro spoke with Extreme Network's Vice President of Sales and Services EMEA John Morrison.

What are the big trends currently dominating the networking space?

For years, the primary focus of the industry has been on delivering innovations that sit within the top layers of the network, namely around software, applications and other virtual solutions. However, we are now gradually seeing a shift back towards investments in physical infrastructure that form the foundations of any network. Modern hardware, including new multi-rate switches and next-generation Wi-Fi infrastructure, has become much smarter and faster. This has kickstarted a new hardware refresh cycle that, for many organisations, will lead to new business opportunities, significant innovation and accelerated growth.

Additionally, technological advancements like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are slowly finding their way into the networking space. New solutions powered by AI and ML can, for example, help organisations in the fight against cyber threats through advanced behavioural analytics that flag unusual device activity, as well as automated remediation and containment that stop network-based cyber attacks dead in their tracks before they can cause any damage. This is particularly important as the proliferation of IoT devices - and consequently the potential attack surface for cyber criminals - continues to expand.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Image credit: Shutterstock

How are these trends impacting modern organisations?

Regardless of their size or level of maturity, organisations across all sectors share one common goal: to grow their business by becoming more efficient, effective, and, ultimately, more profitable. Advanced network technologies support this objective in three major ways.

Firstly, they provide the foundation upon which future innovations can be built. A renewed focus on and investment in networking hardware ensures that the operational backbone of any organisation can continue to evolve and adapt to market and customer needs. By putting the right hardware in place today, organisations can, for example, benefit from Wi-Fi 6 and 5G technologies in the future. Equally, if organisations strive towards having a fully autonomous, self-driving network that automates mundane tasks and optimises end-user and customer experiences, then they need to have the right network infrastructure in place first.

Secondly, and equally importantly, networking technologies powered by AI and ML can improve operations of existing infrastructure and make it run even more efficiently. From telemedicine in healthcare to electronic shelf labelling in retail, to digital learning in schools, these technologies can transform networks from a binary utility into a powerful, intelligent engine that automatically connects people to technology. This supports businesses and helps them improve the customer experience like never before.

Finally, modern networking solutions that come with advanced analytics can protect organisations from cyber attacks by providing full visibility onto device activity and by taking remedial action based on behavioural device and network analysis. With the number of IoT devices expected to surpass 20.4 billion by 2020, the potential attack surface continues to expand and the likelihood of an organisation being targeted by cyber criminals is only going to increase. As an organisation’s network is both a key target and the last line of defence against an attack, businesses should invest in these kinds of solutions to keep cybercriminals at bay.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Image credit: Shutterstock (Image credit: Shutterstock)

What does this mean for organisations’ digital transformation efforts?

For many organisations, digital transformation is more than just going completely paperless or deploying Voice-over-IP (VoIP) telecommunications infrastructure. Instead, it often describes a profound shift away from how a business has operated to date and onto a more modern, efficient and flexible way of working that reflects the expectations of the modern workforce.

However, this is easier said than done. According to Gartner, two-thirds of all business leaders believe that their companies must pick up the pace of digital transformation to remain competitive. To catch up, these organisations need to realise that without an, intelligent, adaptive and secure network in place, they will continue to lag behind. Upgrading their network should therefore be the first priority of any digital transformation initiative.

What does the network of the future look like?

The networks of the future will be fast, smart and increasingly autonomous. Their autonomy will go way beyond just basic automation features. These networks will be self-driving, self-healing and self-operating most of the time, and help solve problems across all industries and organisations. This will range from remotely connecting doctors with their patients or powering next-level robotics, to identifying mission-critical parts wherever they are within the supply chain on Earth and sending them up to the international space station when they're needed. The power of these autonomous networks and the freedom they provide to organisations around the world will be almost limitless.