IT trends shaping the network — and your job

The job of a network pro is getting harder, thanks to increased complexity and new responsibilities. Find out what’s keeping your peers awake at night and which technologies are a top priority (hint: SDN), according to IDG’s annual State of the Network Survey.

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No, it’s not just your imagination: your job really is getting harder by the day. “The role of the network [IT] professional has never been more challenging,” IDG proclaims in its 2018 State of the Network Survey.

The annual poll of 268 network professionals — about 59 per cent in the U.S. and 41 per cent from outside America — confirms they’re being pulled in a lot of different directions at once.

“The enterprise network grew a lot more complicated in 2017,” the authors state. “IoT projects, the demands of a growing mobile workforce, an explosion of apps in the cloud and other developments prompted network professionals to step up their game, and their network infrastructure, just to keep up.”

Here’s a closer look at what’s keeping network managers awake at night, and what they see as top priorities for the next 12 to 36 months.

More responsibility

“As the network’s tentacles reach farther and wider than ever before, networking professionals are now being asked to help shape IT strategy, which requires them to become more strategic and business oriented. They’re also communicating with the CIO and lines of business more often,” says the report.

This trend, which has been going on for a few years now, sees IT pros morphing from siloed technical specialists into collaborative deliverers of digital transformation. Fortunately for them, the burden of bigger responsibility is also being accompanied by …

Bigger budgets

Ninety-three per cent of respondents say their budgets will likely rise or stay the same over the next 12 months. Enterprises (with 1,000 or more employees) expect a 10 per cent increase in budgets, while SMBs predict a 15 per cent jump.

Where will all that money be spent? Network managers have earmarked the following areas for spending increases:

  • network security (mentioned by 61 per cent of those polled)
  • application development (61 per cent)
  • cloud services (60 per cent)

Biggest challenges

Security and uptime are causing the most sleepless nights for network chiefs. Eighty-two per cent say their networking team is spending more time on security than in the past. Overall, the top challenges named in the survey were:

  • maintaining network security while assuring network connectivity (cited by 42 per cent)
  • protecting against data breaches and leaks (36 per cent)
  • ensuring network availability (35 per cent)
  • business continuity (35 per cent)
  • reducing operational expenses (34 per cent)

Top priorities

“Software-defined networking (SDN) is the top network/data center initiative that organizations are focused on, with 40 per cent of respondents actively researching the technology,” the authors state.

As noted in the report, SDN is an enterprise priority because it “enables the network to interface with applications directly, improving speed and efficiency.” Data management and analytics are also hot because, as IDG points out, “Now, companies need to shift from being data-generating to data-powered organizations.”

On the fence

Despite the buzz around blockchain, survey participants aren’t fully convinced enough to buy into it, with 69 per cent reporting no plans to pursue it over the next 12 months.

The same is true for composable infrastructure, with 50 per cent of network chiefs taking a pass on it for the coming year. As described in the report, the technology “virtualizes the entire IT infrastructure” by “treating physical, compute storage and network devices as services, and manages all of IT via a single application.”

Network admins are bullish, however, on the Internet of Things; 46 per cent plan to start IoT projects in the next 12 to 36 months and 22 per cent already have programs underway.

Pace of change

The most interesting read in all of this may be the section that suggests IT is strategically running a marathon, not a sprint, when it comes to modernizing enterprise architecture. Fifty-two per cent have opted to gradually replace one application or component at a time, while 24 per cent plan to “modernize only underlying infrastructure and will redesign legacy systems.”

Why the cautious stance? With technology advancing so rapidly over the past decade, network managers have realized rushing into anything can be costly: half of those surveyed “expect to face integration issues and the possibility that applications won’t function properly” once they do buckle down to modernize and replace aging systems.

As a whole, network managers are putting their data ducks in a row, setting the table for SDN and IoT, blasé about blockchain and truly obsessed with security.

Image: CasarsaGuru/iStock

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