The top 9 trends in network technology for 2019

In the new year, expect SDN and SD-WAN to come back down to earth. Meanwhile, multi-cloud, edge computing and intent-based networking will ramp up. Plus, data centers are not dead.

As 2018 draws to a close, what should we look forward to when the calendar flips to January? The overwhelming trends in network technology for the new year include expansion and decentralization.

Networking will become a more prevalent connector, as more business shifts to the cloud or moves out of the data center. These migrations will keep IT on its toes, as well as the following trends in network technology:

1. Software-defined networking vendors will trim expectations, with more focus on smaller, near-term improvements, rather than huge data center projects. The lack of desire to change existing infrastructure is shifting vendor emphasis from data center efficiency to project efficiency, focusing instead on smaller pockets of deployment. The data center total makeover is instead looking more like a haircut and new suit.

2. The SD-WAN market will continue to consolidate, but most of the winners have already been acquired. Any SD-WAN-only vendor without a significant footprint or growth trajectory will be challenged, as SD-WAN becomes a feature or a product, not a company.

IT needs to start speaking the language of business, because for almost all companies today, IT is business.

3. Companies realize cloud is here to stay. But they are also finding no single vendor can meet all needs. Multiple cloud providers increase complexity, but it also brings better leverage. Expect multi-cloud will become more prevalent in the new year as one of the top trends in network technology.

4. While many will speak of cloud repatriation -- apps moving from cloud back to on premises -- the increase in on premises won't come from apps moving back; it will mostly be those apps that never moved in the first place. Even AWS launched on-premises services, an indicator that data centers aren't dead. Most of the repatriation activity will be businesses trying to find equilibrium or balance. It is not an indicator that cloud is dying; it just may have been overhyped.

5. Structure will continue to decentralize, pushing more emphasis toward edge computing. With fewer constraints at the edge versus the data center, data and apps will grow quickly, as companies try to reduce decision-making latency. In a few years, the concern will be edge sprawl. But, for now, plan for larger trunks and upstream traffic.

6. Everything is now IoT-enabled, bringing deeper insight into operations and actions. But the other side of this coin is we will have so much data that decision-making may actually slow from trying to correlate too much or wait for that last data point to arrive.

Networking technology trends will be about incremental change and evolution, not revolution.

7. Security will get worse. Yes, the security fiasco that is 2018 will be eclipsed by 2019. The two trends above, edge and IoT, will increase the attack surface and create more opportunities for misconfigurations that can be exploited by outsiders -- or even insiders. Watch for more stories about incursions and data loss throughout the year.

8. Every vendor's marketing team will push AI and machine learning. But most of those teams won't accurately comprehend what either technology is or how they work. Almost every network device is instrumented, sending telemetry to huge data lakes. But our ability to glean true insights is greatly lagging. As with IoT, it is easy to collect data, but far more difficult to turn that data into real insights. Look for lots of claims, but fewer quantifiable results.

9. The continued gap between business needs and network devices is increasing with each generation due to complexity. Intent-based networking will become more mainstream -- not to make things simpler or dumb them down. Instead, it will be about connecting infrastructure with business goals in a reasonable manner. IT needs to start speaking the language of business, because for almost all companies today, IT is business.

Call me a pessimist or an optimist. Either way, 2019 will continue many of the networking technology trends we have seen play out over the years.

The most common question reporters ask me is, "What is that next big thing that fundamentally changes networking?" The good news is no bombshell is on the horizon. Networking technology trends will be about incremental change and evolution, not revolution.

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