Insights / Blog / Crucial Connections: Networking Industry Analysis and Insights
April 16, 2024

Crucial Connections: Networking Industry Analysis and Insights

Jim Frey
Principal Analyst, Networking

Market Topics


And so it begins, again. A few weeks ago, I joined TechTarget’s Enterprise Strategy Group to lead the Networking and Network Management analysis practice, and I could not be more thrilled. I’ve spent the last 30-plus years in this space, working mostly for network management product vendors in engineering, product, project, marketing, partnership and executive leadership roles. Amid that 30-plus year span, there was also six-plus years as an industry analyst, putting my knowledge and experience to work in tracking and analyzing real life networking challenges and potential solutions. It is to this role that I now return, to study, learn, listen, contemplate, discuss and share findings and insights.

Why so long in the sector? Reason number one: Networks have never been more essential. Just look at our tech-heavy economy and you quickly realize that without reliable, high-performing networks, at the local, wide area, data center and internet levels, everything grinds to a halt. Networks are the plumbing of the modern world, and just like the physical plumbing in our homes and businesses, they are often taken for granted because they just work. But when something doesn’t work, networks typically get the first blame. And while networks do have their fair share of culpability, the reality is that problem sources are more commonly elsewhere in the stack—in the apps, servers, storage, endpoint or, in no small percentage of cases, with Layer8—the user themselves.

Reason number two: When there is a problem and there is no obvious cause—such as a server or switch on fire—then the network can be an excellent place from which to start the process of isolation and identification. Just like a traffic map for a busy metro area, viewed in Google Maps or Waze, you can use the network to quickly recognize where things are working smoothly and where they are not, so you can zoom in on the most likely source of issues, accelerating and focusing efforts to restore normal function.

Reason number three: It’s never dull. There is so much change to keep up with. Networking technology has largely settled in at Layers 2-4, converging around Ethernet and TCP/IP, and this is a good thing. No one wants to go back to the days of FDDI, Token Ring, IPX and Banyan Vines, when interoperability was a massive challenge. But this convergence does not mean the fun is over. There is still innovation due to the relentless growth in network speeds and capacity, and we continue to see evolution and change in other parts of the stack. Witness the continued, rapid development of wireless access, such as WiFi 6, 6+, 7, and Private LTE and 5G. Look for some fresh insights coming from Enterprise Strategy Group on this topic very soon.

And we can’t forget the fascinating work going on to support purpose-built generative AI (GenAI) infrastructure, including the use of both traditional networking technologies and specialized tech developed for storage networking such as RoCE—RDMA over Converged Ethernet—and Infiniband. I’ll be tracking the latter under the general heading of “Networking for AI.” I’ll be writing more on this very soon as well.

Of course, the change does not stop there. Personally, I’m fascinated by a number of ongoing developments in the sector, and hope to spend time studying and covering the following issues and challenges:

  • Convergence of networking and network security. In my view, this is an absolute necessity in today’s connected world, lately manifesting using integrated functions, SASE, SSE and multipurpose monitoring and analytics techniques.
  • Multi-cloud, hybrid networking. This freight train has been heading toward us for a long time, bringing major complexity headaches, but also opportunities to rethink network strategies.
  • Network-as-a-Service. Part of a broader move toward a subscription basis for acquiring and licensing network technology, but also a great alternative for modernizing and hardening enterprise networks.
  • AI for Networking. GenAI and natural language processors are already working their way into network management tools for diagnostic and troubleshooting workflows, but can they also make a difference in planning, configuration and overall network automation?
  • Network Observability. Making sure that proactive, effective visibility exists across complex, hybrid networks, and is fully integrated with cross-domain observability stacks continues to be a priority for most but also a struggle for many.

There’s more, but that should be enough to get me off and running. As I renew old contacts and make new ones across the networking sector, I’ll have my head up and ears open for feedback. What excites you about networking and network management today? What areas of change are you most interested in? I’d love to hear and discuss.

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