“Flatten the curve!” the medical experts have been shouting for the past five months, and in most parts of the world, public health measures to reduce new cases of COVID-19 have done just that.
The novel coronavirus has also flattened another curve, however: spending on certain IT products and services. As IDC analysts pointed out during a recent webinar on their latest research, in most economic crises, businesses and enterprise organizations sharply pull back on IT spending in a bid to slash overall costs.
According to IDC’s new data, COVID-19 is definitely triggering that type of pullback in specific areas of the enterprise IT budget:
- SD-WAN: Spending is down by two per cent since the pandemic went global in early March; IDC expects SD-WAN investment to grow by a piddly 0.2 per cent in 2020, down drastically from the 39.8 per cent growth that was forecast before the pandemic
- Campus Network: 15 per cent of planned spending on campus network operations has been shelved due to coronavirus and a further 37 per cent has been delayed due to COVID
- WAN: 14 per cent of planned WAN spending has been cancelled due to COVID and another 38 per cent has been postponed
As IDC’s Rohit Mehra explained during the webcast, much of this spending is being rerouted to one thing: WFH enablement.
“Especially in the medium to larger enterprises who do have campuses and large branches, since a large number of folks are continuing to work from home in the near term, obviously the sentiment is ‘Let’s try and redirect some of our investments into areas where we can better support our employees,’” said Mehra, IDC’s VP of network infrastructure.
Enterprises surveyed by IDC said 52.7 per cent of their employees are now doing WFH, up from just 6.3 per cent before the pandemic.
Where the IT money is going
Here are some enterprise technologies seeing increased investment as money is funneled towards supporting WFH:
- Cloud: 43 per cent of enterprises plan to increase their usage of a cloud-based platform for managing the network
- UC&C and UCaaS: Actual spending (not just planned spend) in UC&C is up by 5 per cent since the pandemic began (IDC did not disclose a figure for UCaaS but said it has also seen higher spending)
- Videoconferencing: 63 per cent of organizations doing free trials of videoconferencing platforms plan to continue using them past the trial phase
Networks under pressure
Enabling WFH for millions of employees around the world almost overnight required a lot of scrambling. Now that things have settled down a bit, enterprises are taking a breath—and taking a look at how this whole WFH thing is going. Based on IDC’s findings, some aspects of WFH IT … could use a little more work:
- Network Proxy Servers: 20 per cent of enterprises say this is one of their top WFH support challenges
- Security: 70 per cent of organizations say less than half their WFH staff is using a VPN
- Application Access: 51 per cent say their WFH employees can’t access enterprise applications “multiple times per week”
So security could definitely be stronger. The WFH user experience could be vastly better. And overall, WFH is putting pressure on enterprise networks.
“This shouldn’t be surprising,” said senior IDC research analyst Brandon Butler. “These networks were basically designed to support less than 10 per cent of the workers being remote and now there’s a five times increase in the percentage of remote workers. It’s just a tremendous amount of new strain that’s been placed on these networks that they really weren’t designed to account for.”
The ‘new’ enterprise IT network
How can enterprises cope with the new demands being placed on their networks by WFH?
“Many enterprises would benefit from a dynamically scalable network,” Butler suggested, “one that’s able to spin up additional capacity as needed and then, equally important, flexibly scale down that capacity as organizations return to their pre-pandemic phases.”
While cloud is obviously a huge part of that, organizations are also funneling investment into other areas to reshape their networks for WFH demands, including:
- Automation: 48 per cent are increasing their investment in advanced network automation platforms
- Remote Management: 46 per cent are spending more on efforts to remotely manage network operations
- Analytics: 41 per cent are investing in analytics related to users, devices and applications on the network and their performance
Remember the big drop in SD-WAN spending? That may turn out to be a momentary pause rather than a full stop, said Brad Casemore, IDC’s research VP of data centre networks.
“There’s an opportunity to extend SD-WAN through integration with VPN concentrators to users at home and to IoT use cases,” he said. “And SD-WAN is an enabler for optimized cloud connections and integrated security. We’ve seen that as SD-WAN looks to provide better performance and experience for SaaS apps and IaaS apps, as well as applications in on-premise data centres.”
All of that may explain why 41 per cent of organizations now plan to increase their reliance on software-defined networking technologies.
This new network, adapted to run an enterprise during the new normal of a pandemic, will include cloud, automation, remote management and yes, even SD-WAN after all.