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VMblog Expert Interview: Chiara Regale of Forward Networks Talks Network Verification, Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic, and Network Effects from Distributed Workforce

interview forward networks chiara regale 

In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are struggling to maintain the robust and scalable network infrastructure needed to support the transition to a fully remote workforce.  The shift in working habits should be considered a stress test for businesses that will have to grapple with the growing preference among employees for remote work capabilities in the long term.  With connectivity concerns accelerating given the unprecedented nature of this shift, it is critical that network teams are prepared to react quickly and confidently to address issues connectivity to avoid lost productivity and revenue.  Simultaneously, teams need to ensure that they do not inadvertently open up the network to attacks.

To better understand where things are today, VMblog spoke with an industry expert and subject matter expert, Chiara Regale, VP of Product Management at Forward Networks.

VMblog:  Can you begin by telling us about your journey in technology and about why you joined Forward Networks?

Chiara Regale:  I've been in technology for more than 20 years, starting from a software engineer in my early days, all the way to product management roles. When in 2015 I came across Forward Networks, I immediately understood they were into something that was game-changing. In my many years of product experience, I became empathetic with network operators and network engineers telling me how difficult it was to manage large networks with confidence, efficiency and reliability. I quickly understood Forward had the unique opportunity to revolutionize network operations by offering the first accurate software model of large multi-vendor networks to quickly emulate and analyze all possible behavior. Fast forward to 2020, and now I'm fortunate to lead the product team at a startup that is transforming the way network operations are done at Fortune 500 companies, with some of the best customers, funders, and teammates I could imagine who are all passionate about moving the networking industry forward. 

VMblog:  What is it about Forward Networks that is different from other network verification platforms?

Regale:  Forward Enterprise, Forward Networks' revolutionary platform, is transforming the way large, complex networks are managed. Historically, network operators managed their networks by depending heavily on acquired skills and low-level, time-consuming interactions with individual devices. We built the Forward Enterprise platform to examine network designs and predict future behaviors in order to eliminate configuration errors and policy violations, no matter how large or complex the network may be. Our advanced software delivers a "digital twin" of the network. This enables network operators to verify intent, predict network behavior, avoid outages, and simplify network management. All of this together results in stronger, more reliable networks, reduced outages, and reduced business risk. 

As an enterprise-focused software company, we look at where our software is most crucial on a daily basis for network operation teams. Today, we have deployed single instances that span 15,000 core network devices, affect over 100 network operations team members, and help enable thousands of application developers to receive provisioned resources for their apps. Our software allows IT teams to act faster and expose problems prior to a security breach or a network outage.

VMblog:  How has the need for network verification changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?  Have you seen an impact on Forward Network's users?

Regale:  In the current health crisis, networks are not less important or less fragile. In fact, networks are more critical today than before. As such Forward Networks' value proposition did not change at all and network verification continues to be essential to improve troubleshooting, eliminate errors and reduce outages.

That said, COVID-19 represents quite a change for our users who tell us how in effectively one week, their roles have completely changed! 

Network usage has gone up, as has the importance of every application being available remotely to everyone who needs it, plus performing well. Development projects are getting deferred, as network teams rush to solve the operational issues and newly-prioritized work items that have appeared. Fortunately, providing easier access to the data and insights that networking teams need to do their jobs - especially in a remote capacity - is exactly what we do! Hearing about these user stories has certainly been motivating. Nobody knows how short-term or long-term this change will be, but the experience so far suggests we can come out of this significant, shared experience stronger - not just better able to integrate remote workers and remote work productively, but with a greater connection to each other.

VMblog:  Long term, how will the shift towards a more distributed workforce and widespread work from home policies impact network operations?  Will networks be able to tolerate increasing connectivity and network demands from the resulting digital surge?

Regale:  We are fortunate to be both a startup that has built-in the ability to work remotely from the beginning. We're in the enterprise software industry in which all roles within the company can continue to operate remotely and effectively. We have learned that when an entire company is suddenly remote, you have to collectively define what the new norms for interaction and communication are. At Forward Networks, we are evolving how we work and communicate in this new world, with video and screen-sharing making the remote working as close as possible to in-office experience.

For our users, COVID-19 represents even more of a change. 

Application and network connectivity issues are bound to arise given the unprecedented nature of the change. It's important for the network teams to be able to react quickly and confidently to address these issues, because every minute of lost connectivity for the employees translates to lost productivity and lost revenue. At the same time, keeping the security tight is paramount -- network and security teams need to ensure that they don't inadvertently open up the network to attacks while they fix connectivity.

Fortunately, technologies like Network Verification have matured and are becoming mainstream in enterprise networks. The same technologies that help with making day-to-day network operations efficient are also applicable in times like this, where the infrastructure is going to be stress-tested at scale and change is expected to be frequent.

VMblog:  What lessons can we learn from addressing the issues brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic and how will this influence preparedness for future pandemics and/or natural disaster scenarios?

Regale:  During a pandemic or not, network assurance technologies become a necessity. Ensuring your infrastructure is ready and able to handle the new remote load being placed on it is critical. Remote access via the corporate network to resources, communications software, network access control, and bandwidth at both the office and home locations must all be in place and work in concert for your remote workers to be successful.

I expect that the effects of this exercise will be quite long-lasting. Many organizations have suddenly been shocked to discover that their networks were not ready for the new demand, that critical communication or remote access capabilities were either not available or not sufficiently provisioned to handle the load. Since we are all now living with this harsh circumstance, I would expect after we come out on the other side of it, that all major organizations will bump up the priority of ensuring their networks and services are adequately provisioned as part of business continuity planning to ensure they can smoothly transition into this mode of work should we ever have to do it again.

On a personal level, I suspect that the majority of us will have much greater respect and understanding for those among us that had already been working remotely full time and for the hard-working teachers that care for our children.

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Published Tuesday, May 12, 2020 7:34 AM by David Marshall
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