GTT: outlook 2021

By Paul Ruelas & Todd Kiehn
Paul Ruelas and Todd Kiehn of GTT share their predictions for the ICT sector in 2021...

Paul Ruelas is the Senior Director of Products at GTT.

Users can be anywhere, so security needs to be everywhere. SASE will take security to the next level in 2021.

During the pandemic, ensuring cyber security has been top of mind for many IT teams, because of the speed with which the attack surface of their corporate network perimeter grew, as many employees suddenly had to start working from outside the traditional office locations. Secure remote access solutions have been a key component for this year’s teams, but as we look ahead, the overall security approach is shifting to one of “zero trust.” This is where no individual user is trusted unconditionally, but instead access to corporate resources is given based on end-user and device identity, the individual application, the specific security posture, as well as any agreed privileges. In 2021, the emerging concept of Secure Access of Service Edge (SASE) will really pick up pace.

SASE involves taking SD-WAN and tying it to cloud-based security tools like secure web gateway, Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) and CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker). This approach ensures you have an agent broker between the user and the cloud to make sure applications are secure. The challenge is to integrate everything so you can also see how it performs, where the security gaps are, and where there may be bottlenecks in terms of capacity. SASE is more a concept than a reality at the moment, as most enterprises run on piecemeal security components they have purchased separately.

In 2021, expect to see a lot of announcements for solutions billed as SASE, but look out for amalgamations of separate capabilities and not the true integrated, orchestrated, managed approach businesses want. Innovation at that level is less likely to come before the end of next year or later.

The great WAN-edge refresh rolls on.

Industry analyst estimates have predicted that modern WAN edge would soon replace approximately half of all installed branch routers. The rate of adoption, of course, depends on what stage of the journey enterprises are at. Some have yet leapt to SD-WAN, some have already done it and will be looking to add SASE, while others will be trying to find ways to integrate SD-Branch.

In the past, there have usually been 5-10-year cycles for these devices to be replaced. However, as support for old devices comes to an end, there will now be a more significant push to upgrade to the new standards.

5G will enable new commercial models.

Where it wasn't possible to get ethernet, telecom service providers have long installed old leased lines, frame relay circuits, or T1s for affordable access. This status quo has been lucrative for providers, who were reluctant to have ethernet portfolios added on top. With the equipment now reaching end-of-life, telcos are starting to look to 4G and 5G as alternatives.

However, some providers are going even further by looking at changing the consumption model on wireless, especially for fixed wireless, where you need connectivity in a specific location – such as IoT-enabled vending machines or wind farms. Traditionally, this was inordinately expensive as businesses are using the same access technology originally designed for consumers. In the future, this might be replaced by a 5G flat-rate model aimed at businesses that allows more sites to be brought online, with settings that only allow certain types of data to be transmitted.

AI systems and automation will become more trusted in the network.

There is an increasing drive towards automation in network management and SD-WAN. In the coming year, we're going to see a lot more of this, not just on the application side but also on the network and for security. 

Increasingly, AI systems will understand what needs to be done and automatically tune the network and security measures. This means that businesses will no longer have to devote internal resources to these tasks. Instead, the network will be able to heal, adjust and adapt without human intervention. 

We're not quite there yet, but we're building the tools to achieve this with AIOps. Advancements should be made in 2021, allowing the industry to achieve network automation in the next 3-5 years. In time, we should be able to do things like bandwidth adjustments and server characterisation – for example, identifying something as an email server and understanding what to do with it, or spotting changes in traffic that would suggest server has been compromised.

As more and more enterprises get used to the idea of network automation, they'll trust AI to get on with it. As a transitional step towards full automation, we could see industries adopt a classification system for different levels of human intervention – similar to what SAE International has devised for self-driving cars. We'll soon be moving from a scenario where an AI spots an issue and asks if it can fix it, to one where you get a report at the end of the day to explain what went wrong and what happened to resolve it. With this type of advanced intelligence, you won’t be aware of the problem until after AI has fixed it.

Todd Kiehn is the VP of Product Management at GTT.

Widespread remote working will transform how networks are provisioned and prioritised

At the beginning of the global pandemic, there was a rush to get workers set up to work from home. Even with promising vaccines rolling out, a greater percentage of remote working is here to stay for the foreseeable future. The focus will now turn to making the working from home experience better. There will be investment in better collaboration tools and more efficient access in a way that’s cost-effective for businesses and easier for users.

Companies will also continue to look at improvements to hybrid working – where employees are accessing work tools, services, and applications both at home and in the office. We are likely to see businesses adopt a ‘zero trust’ approach to security – where employees face similar access, credentials, and authentication measures regardless of location. No matter where a worker is based, the experience of connecting to corporate systems will feel the same.

Ubiquitous hybrid working will also change how networks are delivered and consumed. Currently, businesses will typically buy network bandwidth for a location for a certain amount. In time, however, this approach will change so that it is focused on the users and the usage rather than the location – so that businesses are not committed to bandwidth for offices, when a significant portion of users are working at home. This will make for much more flexible network consumption which will appear seamless to the business.

Traffic prioritisation will also become more user-focused. The prioritisation and business policy applications of an SD-WAN will slowly transition to run at the user’s laptop or mobile device, as well as the overall corporate network. This will deliver better performance for remote users and allow them to participate in corporate priorities and policies, meaning IT has a better understanding of business needs and adapting network provisioning accordingly.

All of the changes needed for future networking will lead businesses to take a more integrated approach to the network stack. The philosophy won’t be about having lots of different technologies to cover the whole of the network stack, but rather looking at the solution that can best cover it all. It won’t be a matter of ‘best of breed’ but ‘best for the business’; fewer solutions that cover everything well, rather than a myriad of solutions tailored to every system.

In some cases, access to cloud services will become more important than access to the corporate network

The shift towards the hybrid cloud is poised to accelerate based on cloud development trends these last few years. This will be driven by the movement towards digital business and a growing need for online tools and services required by employees and customers. Businesses are no longer looking solely at the top three cloud providers – instead, they are considering all their workloads and deciding the best fit across a vast range of cloud options.

There are many forms a hybrid infrastructure can take, and it will differ from business to business. It could be a mixture of cloud and on-prem environments, or it could be comprised of a combination of different cloud options across the business.

Regardless, a hybridised approach can make the whole environment very complex. Ensuring connectivity between the different environments, and upholding the quality of the overall network experience, will become even more challenging for businesses. To tackle this complexity, IT teams will need to think more carefully about how they connect to the larger cloud ecosystem. They will need to consider the different cloud providers and where they are located, and in turn the connectivity best suited to deliver the best performance.

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