The networking industry in 2020 is not the same as it was in 2019, nor any year prior for that matter.
The global pandemic has changed the role of the network and networking technology from being an enabler for business to being the foundation on which all businesses, schools and homes run. That's not just an idle observation - that's also the view of the top networking industry CTOs.
At the annual Interop conference, which Enterprise Networking Planet has covered for decades (and like all other events, has gone digital), the CTOs of the largest and most influential networking vendors came together in a panel to talk about the future of networking.
No conversation in 2020 can start or end without discussing the pandemic, however.
John Apostolopoulos, VP & CTO at Cisco, said the pandemic has helped change the mindset that many have about IT. It's now about how, under challenging circumstances, IT can make changes to help enable networks meet the demands of remote work. Raj Yavatkar, CTO at Juniper Networks, and Partha Narasimhan, CTO of HPE/Aruba, emphasized that now more than ever the network is the basis not just of IT but of business continuity.
While security has always had a role in networking, moving forward that role will become even more integrated than before, according to all three CTOs. With everyone working from home, the complexity of securing distributed organizations is exponentially more difficult than when everyone is inside an office. With security integrated into the fabric of the network, that same network that enables connectivity can and should enable secured connectivity.
The Growing Role of SD-WAN
Before the pandemic, and likely continuing after it's over, SD-WAN has been a hot topic of conversation.
Yavatkar said he's seen a lot of hype around SD-WAN and in his view, it's a technology that's still in its first generation. Over the next few years, Yavatkar expects that we'll see a second generation of SD-WAN technology that provides a more integrated approach that combines security, networking, access and even artificial intelligence-powered insights.
Apostolopoulos sees SD-WAN evolving in the coming years to being more about enabling end-to-end application delivery and experiences. It's an idea that has a lot of value given the extremely distributed nature of application deployments and microservices today.
Narasimhan observed that in the last few years there has been a lot of consolidation in the SD-WAN space and he expects there will be further consolidation in the years ahead. Ultimately he expects that there will only be five or six important SD-WAN vendors in the market.
How Networking will be Measured in the Future
While conversations about SD-WAN, security and remote work are interesting, perhaps the most insightful part of the CTO panel was about how networking - and by extension networking professionals - will be judged and evaluated in the future.
There was a time when the nuts and bolts, the so-called plumbing of the network, was what networking was all about. Networking conversations and professionals had the job of learning all the nuances of protocols and configuration.
The network today is more of a given, a foundation, and networking is judged by what it enables.
"It's about the quality of experience," Yavatkar said.
And that will keep pressure on networking vendors to continue evolving regardless of what the future of work looks like.