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What does networking hold for us in 2020? What are the top networking technology trends to track in the new year? Here are five predictions that could shape the networking market for the next 12 months.
1. SD-WAN starts really ramping up
Interest in software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) picked up significantly in 2019 as the vendor field has thinned and production deployments have become more commonplace. The technology has moved from a proof of concept to actual deployments for many customers. Vendor stability and choice are the primary drivers for customers deciding to move forward with an SD-WAN implementation. With many of the smaller companies now gobbled up, the field is led by larger players, like Cisco and VMware, which reduces many of the vendor-related risks.
2. 'Next year will be big for 5G'
We heard that last year. We heard that this year. And we'll hear it again throughout 2020 as one of the top networking technology trends. The biggest 5G driver for networking will probably be branch office automation, often through SD-WAN. But the meager 5G coverage will remain the biggest obstacle for most businesses. Carriers continue to expand their 5G trials, but without pervasive coverage, don't expect wireless to supplant MPLS or broadband Ethernet in the WAN space just yet. The year 2021 is a more realistic target, but watch SD-WAN deployments as a clue to how this is unfolding.
3. Wi-Fi 6 won't be a blockbuster
Wi-Fi 6 will be hot on the consumer side. But, for corporate customers, the technology will be less prevalent as the existing install base of 802.11n and 802.11ac products are adequately handling wireless traffic. You'll need Wi-Fi 6 clients to truly benefit from the performance and management capabilities. So, until the technology is standard and not an upsell, it won't become a corporate standard. Additionally, to get the performance gains, you'll need 160 MHz channels, something that is easier to do at home with a single device, as opposed to a corporate environment with many access points installed. The financial effects of the install base will be a drag on new deployments because break-even projections will run high.
4. Everything will be AI-enabled
Being AI-enabled means different things to different vendors. Look for more intelligence and predictiveness across 2020 products as vendors strive to reduce the amount of manual work involved in monitoring and managing networks. AI capability in network security is a hot topic, and vendors are working hard to comprehend this in security products. However, the real bang for the buck will come with management products. AI is an interesting facet for security, but most customers want to be more hands-on with their security. Their trust in algorithms is growing but still has a way to go.
5. Network automation fragmentation
The good news is the drudgery of network management is lessened through automation. But the bad news is the lack of true automation standards. Every vendor is approaching automation slightly differently. As networks become more multivendor and complicated, managing automation across all those products is an infinitely larger task. Automating the automators may be the next big opportunity.