While humanoid robots that can do box jumps and back flips get more attention than enterprise networking tech—after all, if you’re not in the IT business, you have no clue what SD-WAN is—2020 is poised to be the year when trends become reality.
One of those much-hyped trends is 5G. But it’s more likely to be used by consumers than enterprises in the coming year. So what does that mean for your enterprise network?
Wi-Fi 6 vs 5G
“In 2020, Wi-Fi 6 will enter the enterprise, through the employee door and through enterprise access point refreshes. 5G will also appear, although in 2020, it will be mostly for consumers,” says Anand Oswal, senior VP of engineering for Cisco’s enterprise networking portfolio, in a Cisco blog about enterprise networking trends.
Indeed, Cisco projects more people will be using Wi-Fi 6 in 2020 than 5G. In part, that’s because 5G service still won’t provide “the ultra-high speed connectivity that we have been promised or that we will see in future years,” Oswal points out in his blog.
So expect a continued reliance on Wi-Fi, at least for the time being. Eventually, though, once 5G gets up to speed (literally and figuratively), Oswal believes we’re in for a “period of innovation in access networking.”
Interestingly, the Consumer Technology Association expects 5G to be driven by enterprises—despite all the hype about 5G handsets. During a presentation at CES 2020, CTA vice-president of research Steve Koenig said smart cities, factories, agriculture and media would help build out the 5G ecosystem over the next few years. (Consumers, of course, won’t be far behind.)
SD-WAN takes hold
In addition to Wi-Fi 6, plans to move toward software-defined WANs will solidify this year, according to Cisco—thanks, in part, to the growth of multi-cloud networking.
An IDC survey last year found that almost 95 per cent of enterprises surveyed plan to be using SD-WAN within 24 months. So what’s the impetus? Secure cloud connectivity, performance of cloud apps and simplified WAN management are the top driver of SD-WAN adoption.
“Considering cloud usage is a key driver of WAN technology choice, and considering the top challenges faced by enterprises today, the WAN is demanding a new architecture,” says IDC in a technology spotlight. “SD-WAN fills that void in the market.”
With more demand, expect to see more managed service providers offering SD-WAN as a service (and some pretty niche offerings at that, according to IDC).
Changing roles for network pros
As enterprise networks become much more complex, intent-based networking (IBN) has stepped up to the plate to monitor, identify and react to changing network conditions.
But it’s not an architecture in and of itself. As Gartner’s Andrew Lerner put it back in the early days of IBN (so, 2017), SDN is an architecture, while “intent-based network software can ‘drive’ a network that is either SDN-based or non-SDN based.”
Cisco was one of the earliest supporters of IBN, which it’s dubbed the ‘intuitive network.’ But if the network is becoming more intuitive—to the point of identifying malware in encrypted traffic—what does that mean for IT pros who keep the network up and running?
Oswal addresses this in his blog, too. Intent-based networking means networks can do a lot of the work that network engineers do. And that means the role of network engineer is shifting to the role of network programmer.
“New networks run by APIs require programming skills to manage. Code is the resource behind the creation of new business solutions,” Oswal says in his blog.
Easier said than done, of course. IBN represents a big opportunity, but as Oswal points out, retraining is expensive—and not everyone will adapt. (That may be why Cisco has revamped its certification and career-development tools, and added a new set of professional certifications for developers.)
But like the network itself, change is inevitable, and as ‘trends’ become ‘reality’ it may be time to embrace that change.