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What to expect at Cisco Live 2021: Future of work, networks

At Cisco Live 2021, attendees will hear about the future of work and what that means for the future of networks and network technologies, like SASE, 5G and cloud networks.

The networking industry's biggest conference of the year is taking on its second consecutive virtual event, focusing on the future of work and how the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to shape enterprise operations.

Cisco Live 2021's agenda features a lineup of both old and new networking technologies for remote access, including the internet, Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), cloud networking, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G. Attendees of Cisco Live 2021 can expect to hear about lessons learned from COVID-19 and better ways to prepare networks for a potential future disaster, according to Bob Laliberte, senior analyst and practice director at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), a division of TechTarget, based in Milford, Mass. Laliberte also expects to hear about Cisco's DevNet program one year after its launch and Cisco's diversity and inclusion initiative.

Explore more of what to expect at Cisco Live 2021's virtual conference, according to Laliberte, as well as which technologies will continue to drive the future of work and how future work environments may look.

Editor's note: The following interview was edited for length and clarity.

What topics can networking professionals expect at Cisco Live 2021?

Bob LaliberteBob Laliberte

Bob Laliberte: The future of work is certainly going to be one of them. I think the other thing you'll see [is] the theme around inclusion and diversity. They were highlighted last year … so I'm expecting to see a little bit of a follow-up from that, as well, on their progress.

The other big trend we saw this year, as part of work from home, was organizations accelerating their cloud adoption. I would expect to hear about how they're helping organizations accelerate migration of workloads to the cloud.

What role will cloud networking play in the future of work?

Laliberte: Everyone calls it either a 'hybrid cloud' or 'multi-cloud' environment. … At ESG, we refer to it more as a 'distributed cloud' environment, meaning workloads and modern applications are distributed across private data centers [and] multiple public clouds.

What makes [a hybrid work environment] work is it's a seamless experience whether you're at home or in the office.
Bob LaliberteSenior analyst, ESG

Part of that is home workers are becoming more distributed. In our research, 95% of organizations we surveyed said they currently have something in place to allow employees to work from home for COVID-19 and so forth. And 72% said, going forward, they're much more open to work-from-home environments. … By that very nature, more people are going to work remotely.

You've got this environment that will be far more distributed, which also means it will be much more complex, so organizations will look for network solutions that help drive greater operational efficiencies … to manage it effectively. A lot of what we're seeing in the networking space is the shift towards cloud-based management solutions that can take better advantage of AI and ML [machine learning] technologies to help drive higher levels of automation.

Your network has to not only connect, but the key word is to 'securely' connect. So, you'll see a lot more about security brought in, whether its intrinsic security [or] SASE that's specific to the network side. That's a huge component because, now that you've got this distributed environment, your attack surface is larger, so you need to make sure everything is secure. That's where you see things like SD-WAN [software-defined WAN] being tightly integrated with security capabilities that can be either deployed in the SD-WAN appliance or via the cloud.

What role will SASE play in the future of work?

Laliberte: Network and security teams are starting to come together more. SD-WAN drove some of that, where you could have security tightly integrated with it … and now you're seeing SASE is driving much more tightly integrated solutions.

The interesting part about SASE is so many [vendors] say they're SASE vendors. The way we've looked at [SASE], it's a framework of what functions need to be incorporated and brought together more so than an actual tool. So, it'll be interesting to see how organizations look at it from either a best-of-breed or an all-inclusive platform approach.

The hard part there is so many organizations already have solutions in place. So, if you go with a platform approach, it probably means a lot of rip and replacing. If you go best of breed, maybe there's an opportunity to integrate, but you won't have that common console in the platform. It will depend on the organization and their plans -- definitely a space to watch.

Expectations for Cisco's future
Cisco Live 2021's agenda features many of the vendor's technologies that enabled it to survive 2020 and look forward to the future of work.

Are we moving toward hybrid work? What's the role of networks in that?

Laliberte: It's twofold. What that tells us is there still will be a need to have robust networking in offices to accommodate a varying amount of employees and make sure they've got a positive experience. It also brings up the question: To what extent should organizations extend their corporate network into employees' home environments?

I've seen, over the past year, everything from deploying remote access points from the company -- so it's as if they're logging on from the office when they're at home -- to deploying SD-WAN. That was really prevalent, especially for organizations in contact centers that needed a good quality of experience with customers. [Employees] weren't able to take advantage of a lot of things the corporations do, but [SD-WAN] would enable them to deliver a better experience over whatever network they had and ensure they could prioritize business applications over their kids doing online games.

Our research showed this year … the top reason why [organizations] increased their budgets was to put in long-term solutions to better prepare themselves, for lack of a better word, for 'COVID next.' How do we build in business resiliency in case something like this happens again? Do we have enough network bandwidth? Do we have the right security and access protocols so people working on sensitive data know it's protected? Is it encrypted when it's sent out?

It's also got to support collaboration tools, which we saw a huge uptick in. How many times have you been on a call where someone has shut off their video because of bandwidth constraints? If you want to have that seamless experience, that's one thing people will be looking at. A lot more people have looked into home mesh networking and things like that so you've got equal coverage and better distribution throughout the house.

It's also about collaboration apps and desktop as a service that also had a huge increase. It's about making sure the network can support those applications. This all ties back to the ... hybrid work environment. What makes that work is it's a seamless experience whether you're at home or in the office.

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