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Private 5G, NaaS, automation among top networking trends

Presentations at ONUG Fall 2023 focused on private 5G, network as a service and network automation, which have all become more important as network complexity intensifies.

As enterprise networks become more complex, the industry must develop new technologies to adapt to growing business needs.

Sessions at the ONUG Fall 2023 conference in New York City emphasized this evolution, as presentations from analysts, service providers and vendors focused on networking trends, such as private 5G, network as a service (NaaS) and network automation. Speakers discussed the importance of these methodologies and how organizations can take advantage of them to support new use cases.

Private 5G best practices

Private 5G was one of the most discussed networking trends at the conference this year. Several sessions focused on the driving factors, use cases and benefits of private 5G. While early adopters enabled connectivity in the petroleum and manufacturing industries, private 5G can also support other sectors, such as transportation, healthcare and education, said Allwyn Sequeira, CEO of Highway9 Networks.

Interest in private 5G has increased as enterprises look to gain more control, stronger security and better coverage in their networks, Sequeira said. He added that, for private 5G to support these additional industries, however, organizations need to integrate their private 5G connectivity to their existing network resources, such as policies, security, LANs and WANs.

"You have to dovetail to IT processes that are laid in place," he said, adding that this consolidation enables organizations to use private 5G in a more holistic manner.

NaaS to simplify operations

Network professionals struggle with complexity in their networks, according to Luc Boivin, managing director of 5G and enterprise solutions at Verizon. Factors like the convergence of networking and security, as well as the introduction of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN), have contributed to growing levels of network complexity, and NaaS could simplify the challenges, Boivin said.

The introduction of NaaS doesn't mean established technologies, like MPLS or SD-WAN, will go away, but enterprises will consume them differently. According to Khalid Raza, founder and CEO of Graphiant, NaaS combines the best features of SD-WAN and MPLS -- policy control and ubiquitous connectivity, respectively -- while removing complexity for businesses.

NaaS providers that manage the network for enterprise customers also manage the complexity, while organizations retain a level of control necessary to operate their business, Boivin said.

"If you have too much complexity in your business, it's hard to innovate," Boivin said. "[NaaS brings] the ability to focus on elements that allow you to innovate. NaaS should provide connectivity to where your workloads run but also to an ecosystem of technology partners you can spin into your network."

Approaches to network automation

As network management becomes more difficult due to increased network complexity and security vulnerabilities, automation can ease some of the challenges, according to Tom Whaley, chief technology advisor at World Wide Technology. But Whaley said it can be difficult for enterprises to enable network automation because few network professionals have experience with it.

Some network professionals even struggle with using automation for basic network management tasks, such as identifying changes in the network and remediating issues, said Ernest Lefner, chief product officer at Gluware. According to Lefner, out-of-the-box network automation tools can make network automation more accessible.

Out-of-the-box tools increase ROI and enable increased uptime, Whaley said. He added that there's still some value in building network automation tools, however, and organizations could benefit from using both build and buy network automation. Enterprises could use pre-configured tools to help with more complex processes and build in-house tools to help with workflow integrations or application performance monitoring, he said.

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