Last year cast a spotlight on the challenges that businesses faced with managing their outward-facing networks. But, in 2021, as employees head back to the office and the effects of the pandemic hopefully wane, the network infrastructure design focus will shift to the on-premises network.
Office and campus networking improvement efforts -- some of which are being pursued by IT staff working remotely -- center around a few common drivers: network security, network flexibility and network access. Let's examine each area.
Building a more secure network
IT teams are working to bring zero-trust principles to campus networks. One key reason for adopting zero trust is the ongoing flood of personal and visitor devices onto networks. Another driver is the rise of IoT, especially industrial IoT, which has led to skyrocketing device counts on enterprise networks.
Faced with these issues of scale and connectivity, enterprises are dusting off long-delayed network access control plans, with many opting to roll out a true zero-trust platform. Some methods, such as those based on a software-defined perimeter system, don't require network involvement, but others will use the network to enforce the "by default, no connection" approach intrinsic to zero trust.
Ensuring a more flexible network
Many IT shops want software-defined networking (SDN) to play a larger role in their infrastructures. Reasons vary for this strategy.
Sometimes, IT pursues SDN to support its security efforts because any port in a software-defined network can become part of the policy enforcement infrastructure. Some see SDN as a way to automate the network, especially by enabling a greater degree of centralized control. Others adopt SDN to support a shift from branded network infrastructure to white box gear.
In all cases, a key goal is to increase IT's ability to reconfigure the network more quickly, more completely and more reliably than was possible in a legacy environment centered on manual configuration and management of switches.
Maintaining a more accessible network
Companies are accelerating their Wi-Fi rollouts in anticipation of employees returning to the office. The installation of Wi-Fi 6 gear will enable organizations to extend their wireless reach to support flexible and untethered work environments more comprehensively. Additionally, Wi-Fi 6 will enable some companies to make wireless their primary network connectivity technology -- adding wired connectivity only when necessary. Going unwired yields a variety of benefits.
For example, organizations with many small offices that don't stay in one place for too long can dramatically reduce setup and tear-down time for branch locations if a wired network is no longer required. Similarly, companies that are renovating space can reduce cabling costs by deploying Wi-Fi; those with aging cable plant can avoid the cost of comprehensive upgrades by just rewiring for the wireless access points and controllers.
Satisfying the need for speed
As always, network speeds are steadily creeping upward -- not just at the edge on wireless networks, but also upstream in aggregation and core components. As devices multiply and Wi-Fi speeds increase, these other network tiers have to accommodate the anticipated upsurge in traffic. As a result, 10 Gbps and 100 Gbps connectivity will push further out into the network.
Whether it's to improve security, flexibility, access or performance, enterprises are orienting their network infrastructure design strategies to ensure their on-premises networks are not standing still.