This past year has led to a new range of considerations for the network industry. The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact around the world has created a large move towards remote working. This rapidly shifting landscape has left many business scrambling, putting new technology and practices into place to ensure they aren’t left behind.

As life suddenly became remote, technologies that many enterprises were just beginning to implement or consider were moved to the forefront. Travel restrictions left many engineering teams figuring out how to complete Day One Provisioning, troubleshoot, increase security and complete every day device management from their homes. Major themes that we saw emerge to meet demands were automation, increased reliance on VPNs, more remote deployments and leveraging the cloud. 2021 is set to be a transformative period for network management. The Opengear team shares their thoughts on what may happen this year.

Our 2021 Predictions

Todd Rychecky, VP of Sales Americas

Enterprises have seen great challenges this year, which in large part is due to COVID-19. Now, network teams work remotely. Many are not able to travel and when they do sometimes they can’t even get into the building. This has created a need to find creative ways to collaborate and work together to bring up new sites, which is a necessity since new deployments are critical to stay competitive in the market place. This is where secure, remote access comes into play.

Those that have it are glad that they do and those that don’t wish they did. CIO’s will budget for these types of solutions that will prepare them for the next “event.”  There will also be huge investments in digital transformation, including network resilience solutions. These will include secure remote access, disaster recovery and most importantly, hyper-automation. It is the whole idea that anything that can be automated in an organization should be automated.  Legacy business processes need to be updated to improve efficiencies, speed, and business agility so they stay competitive and won’t get left behind.

Alan Stewart-Brown, VP of Sales EMEA

While equipment and digital assets have long been protected with physical security measures, the move towards working from home will mean additional layers of virtual security will be needed to protect remote workers, such as intellectual property and double factor authentication measures, along with defenses against cyber-attacks.

SD-WAN will benefit from implementation with Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) to provide scalable security controls for remote work, which will help mitigate security risks. Improvements in security will also increase uptake of blockchain technology, with more industries looking to adopt this solution. Integration of automated processes will help to improve efficiencies, speed of processes and business agility. Leveraging automation will enable businesses to balance and secure the increase in remote connections. Doing so will also augment local IT staff for service recovery and daily routine tasks. At the core of this automation will be the need to enhance resilience across operations, enabling organizations to be ready for any external factors that may affect them in future.

Brendan Walsh, Director of Sales APAC

The single biggest challenge this year has been the remote workforce and the numerous challenges it has brought to bear. Companies that had already invested in moving their environments into the Co-Lo or cloud were in a better position to ramp up to meet the demands of individual users logging on discretely. In light of this, enterprises are going to need to strengthen their network security.

The business world will never go back to the 2020 norm or pre-COVID-19 times. Many users will continue to work remotely and will want the ability to keep access to all their normal work environments regardless of location. However, as 2020 was spent getting people online and giving access, 2021 will need to migrate to security. With so many attacks these days, the cost to businesses is crippling. As the demand for remote access has ramped up, so has the need to add additional layers of virtual security. With the ever expanding security layers, a much more robust management layer will become a necessity, a management layer independent of the data and control layer.

Dan Baxter, Sales Engineering Manager, US

In the past year, many technology adoptions have had to been made very quickly. The entire tech field has had to change and adapt to a new dynamic. Prior to COVID-19 the trend to move services and infrastructure to the Cloud or COLOs was well under way.  That has accelerated that migration for end users and on the flip side meant providers have had to ramp up capacity.  All of this now needs to be done by workers operating remotely.  This means selecting the right remote meetings options, securing VPN access for an entire work force, expanding the capacity of secure portal access, and finding ways to build up infrastructure with limited remote hands.  Businesses shifting to the cloud, and it is almost everyone, will be looking to take advantage of new cloud services such as AWS Network Firewall Services or those offered by services providers like IBM.  It’s now no longer just about moving applications and services to the cloud, it’s about how you do it better, faster and more securely.

Alan Barnett, Senior Sales Engineer, EMEA

Organizations are going to need to strengthen their networks. Resilience is the key, with designed-in redundancy, multiple paths, and full WAN redundancy delivering the reliable network connectivity that is required for mission critical cloud services. The operations team need the ability to automate the remote provisioning of new equipment, upgrades and changes, and the often overlooked ability to re-provision the whole stack if something goes wrong.  This particularly applies to servers, which provide critical local services, and may be running virtualized network functions (VNFs), a whole stack of software including the operating system, hypervisor, and virtual applications, all of which need managing, configuration and regular updates.

David Fiore, Senior Product Manager

The pandemic has and will continue to push network engineers to increase edge build out, with a sustained focus on tools that allow remote diagnostics and troubleshooting. Many users will continue to be remote for a long time and getting data closer to them in region will become critical for continued business operations. This will make VPNs and end points of utmost importance. Users will be connecting to these sites and uptime is critical. To ensure work continues to get done, administrators will need tools in place to resolve issues remotely and efficiently. Redundancy is key to keeping networks up. Secondary connectivity, remote support tools and sustained throughput are keys to success for 2021.

Ryan Hogg, Senior Product Manager

Reliable, resilient, and self-remediating connectivity are more important than ever. With less physical access there is a need for more remote access resiliency. Organizations will require increased security for both physical and logical access to infrastructure. Hardware may be deployed in environments where physical access is difficult to manage, so devices will need HW tamper and stored data protection using TPM chips or a similar technology. Other technologies that will continue to increase in use are Zero Touch Provisioning and other automation tools, which have accelerated as a surge of users move from centralized site infrastructure to home based connections. This shift required deploying new equipment for VPN concentration, load balancing and remote backhaul bandwidth to on-prem resources. Organizations can leverage automation to help balance and secure the large increase in remote connections.

Looking Forward to 2021

Although there are many things we’d like to forget about 2020, there are also many things that we’ve learned through adaptation that we take with us into the new year. It’s not a question of if enterprises will invest in IT, but where. From distributed cloud models to edge deployments and increasing the use of automation, organizations will be using new technologies for their evolving demands. To learn how Opengear can help with your digital transformation to increase network speed, improve efficiencies and ensure business agility, download our white paper, The Network For Network Engineers.