By Sascha Giese, Head Geek, SolarWinds
The last two years have been chaotic, terrible and frustrating – for everyone. While our lives changed beyond expectation almost two years ago in 2020, the pandemic has also been a catalyst for innovation, even beyond the well-known example of vaccine development.
Thinking about network management, there was a sudden need to ensure every single person in an organisation could work from home at the same time, all the time, from all around the world. This was a kick up the backside in terms of what we are forever doomed to call ‘digital transformation’.
Network managers already knew that home working would one day become ubiquitous – the writing has been on the wall since phones got smarter and sofas got comfier. So far, the move to accommodate this has been a relatively slow burn, taking years to ensure users have access to the required connectivity. However, the events of 2020 meant that years of planning had to become a reality within weeks – a metaphorical brick placed on the accelerator of what was once a gentle drive towards innovation.
Both now and in the near future, we are seeing a phase of businesses and network managers, going back to reassess and repair the mistakes made at the beginning of the pandemic. This is no criticism of network managers – force a painter to finish a portrait in ten minutes and you’ll end up with a job that requires touching up. The beginning of 2020 was a hot needle scenario, implementing changes as fast as possible, even if it was imperfect. Now, it’s all about ironing out kinks, fixing any issues and ensuring that this enforced network optimisation is not just temporary, but can do the long-term heavy lifting.
This, however, is not the only trend we expect to see as we head into year three of this new way of living and working. So, two years into the pandemic, what does the future of network management look like?
Over the past couple of years, several businesses have raised concerns about their investment in SD-WAN prior to the pandemic. These organisations were worried that, with the way that users access resources changing so drastically, this would now be wasted.
However, this concern is unwarranted. SD-WAN solutions will instead grow increasingly prevalent as more people realise its usefulness in the ongoing global shift to hybrid working. While business networks pre-pandemic were typically on-prem with little bits here and there distributed to the cloud, the nature of the current situation means that everything is now heavily distributed. In order to make this approach more feasible for companies (and long-suffering network managers), multi-cloud is becoming increasingly popular.
Multi-cloud has its drawbacks, such as an overall lack of collaboration across different platforms. However, as businesses look to achieve their countless IT requirements, using different providers and their offerings to do so, it has grown in adoption. Multi-cloud does also offer many benefits, including the ability to place all sensitive data on a private cloud while using the offering of one of the big guys (you know the ones) for their endless computing power and processing.
SD-WAN’s place in all this is as connective tissue – empowering connectivity between the different solutions and users and offering a truly modern way of routing traffic. In 2022, network managers will primarily be concerned with adjusting how traffic runs through an organisation – a challenge, and a trend that SD-WAN can play a huge part in.
Despite the challenges facing IT teams over the past two years, the overall uncertainty regarding budgets saw IT spending decrease. Even though the problems that arose over the last two years will bleed into and likely define how businesses work for the next year, and many more going forward, network managers and IT teams will be expected to do more with less, strengthening tech that’s already in place to optimise businesses.
We can also expect this tightening of the purse strings to result in network managers becoming more creative in the way they spend their budgets. This will see attention shift from systems and infrastructure that were once considered business-critical (such as the fibre backbone running across a site), and instead concentrating on parts of the network that were once deemed as “nice to have”, but have now become essential (such as client VPN connections for every employee).
In fact, with the wave of innovation initially set in motion in 2020 unlikely to crash any time soon, creativity will continue to be required in the longer term for network managers.
With workers and network managers now having two years of practice at working from home and the tech required to make that happen, 2022 may be more certain than the year that preceded it – but it certainly won’t be boring.