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Nokia 2021 Predictions: Three Predictions for More Efficient, Secure and Resilient Networks in 2021 (with Zero Trade-Offs)

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual VMblog.com series exclusive.

Three Predictions for More Efficient, Secure and Resilient Networks in 2021 (with Zero Trade-Offs)

By Jeff Smith, Director of Business Technology Strategy for Nokia's IP and Optical Networks

The year 2020 was one for the ages. Our personal and business lives have been challenged tremendously as health, work-from-home, shopping and entertainment (to mention four daily activities) have changed dramatically -  in just a matter of weeks. Our lives depend on the digital world now more than ever, and that would not have been possible without high performance, secure and resilient networks. 

Network engineering assumptions around capacity, quality of service, customer experience and security have all been challenged this year. Network usage, for example, grew by more than 40% practically overnight and our long-standing assumptions around upstream (think video conference from your home) versus downstream (consuming Netflix on your home TV) were thrown out the window. Security attacks also increased dramatically - with malware infections doubling and Distributed Denial of Service (or DDoS) attack traffic increasing 40% over pre-pandemic levels, as Nokia Deepfield found in its latest research.

Despite these new challenges the networking industry's emphasis going into 2021 continues to focus on lowering costs, increasing efficiency and pushing for commoditization. However, prioritizing these alone can  often result in trade-offs that may reduce network flexibility and responsiveness as a whole - something 2020 has shown us it vitally imperative to keeping our work and personal lives running in the new year.

So how do we engineer and operate networks that can simultaneously improve efficiencies, prepare for new performance requirements and also prioritize the resiliency and security required in a dramatically changed, fully digital society? 

Here are three predictions we have for how the networking industry will likely tackle this in 2021:

1.   Challenging trade-offs that may bring short-term benefits, while standing in the path of delivering high performance, resiliency and/or security needed in the future

Innovation, digitalization and adaptability have created a digital ecosystem of applications and services that demand incredible agility levels in today's networks. Network engineers require instant intelligence about what is traversing their networks in the context of their existing footprint and services. They must respond rapidly to consumer and enterprise demand and consumption changes while absorbing and protecting the delivery of these digital applications and services in the face of various security threats.

Trade-offs in network architecture and design limit their options. Past applications and services were more static; in such an environment, trade-offs were possible. Today, the compromises you put in place to handle certain applications or traffic types may be completely overturned when the latest applications, traffic trends or attacks invalidate your previous assumptions.

In the quest for efficiency and cost-reduction, network service providers can no longer give in to playing the trade-off game. The next year is poised to be a critical one, and will fully test the mettle of our all-digital lives and societies, and also the networks as our digital lifelines. As a result, we predict that in 2021 the focus will expand from using traditional approaches to keep the networks running to relying more on deeper knowledge about networks - particularly how and where network traffic is originating, how it's being funneled through the network and delivered to end users - in order to keep the network optimally performing, resilient and secure.

2.   Building security into the network will occur deterministically

As networks evolve from controlled transit (with more predictable connections between business customers, peering and content partners) to dynamic transit (where the vast majority of the traffic is off-net, coming from cloud and application providers), it's time to rethink basic security principles such as traffic isolation, encryption, attack detection and response. 

In the past, relatively static services could be supported by networks engineered with basic security access control, isolation and pre-determined attack protection clusters put in place weeks or even months in advance.  

However, today's dynamic environments demand protection that is equally dynamic - which we see as a growing focus in 2021. The days of designing security using the perimeter of networks alone are gone. In 2021, we see this being replaced with security at scale: ubiquitous coverage for the entire network.   

With critical applications and data crossing internet connections every day, end-to-end network encryption for both isolation and privacy protection will move from being viewed as a ‘nice to have' to a vital component of network security. As terabit-level attacks coming from multiple entry points (inside or outside of a network) continue, networks of the future will require rapid detection abilities using built-in distributed, terabit-level responses in order to preserve the integrity of network services and applications.  

3.   Network intelligence will be viewed as the backbone of the future

In a world where most of the network traffic is coming from cloud applications, traffic visibility and analysis in the context of a network will become paramount to enabling highly reliable, responsive, scalable and secure networks moving forward.

Network engineers always have been (and will continue to be) the critical success factor for these types of networks. However, current engineering practices need to evolve in 2021 from static service models to supporting highly dynamic content and applications. 

The new service delivery chain of these critical applications, content and services is complex and largely lies outside of a service provider's control. For that reason, measuring performance, reliability and security across the whole network is a must - and just the start. Moving into the new year, a broader and more holistic perspective of consumer or enterprise performance and security is required to provide maximum value to subscribers and end-users.  

New ways of obtaining accurate network intelligence, such as relying on the network's big data, will allow yesterday's network engineers to become tomorrow's champions.

In many ways, it's difficult for anyone to predict what 2021 will hold. However, we feel confident these shifts will begin to occur in wider-sweeping ways, if for no other reason than 2020 showed us they must.

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About the Author

Jeff Smith - Director of Business Technology Strategy for Nokia's IP and Optical Networks

Jeff Smith 

Jeff has over 20 years of experience leading product and strategy groups driving security and networking technology.  His current role is with Nokia's IP and Optical Networks (ION) as Director of Business Technology Strategy with focus on driving security and analytics initiatives. His previous areas of focus include leading security R&D teams, operating security pen-test teams and leading security product teams across enterprise and communication service provider customers.

Published Wednesday, December 16, 2020 10:53 AM by David Marshall
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