Things to Come
It’s traditional, at the start of a new year, to talk about the changes the year will bring. It rarely works out, because what we really need to talk about if we want to predict the future is the forces, the differences, we can expect. Change is driven by other change, rooted in fundamental shifts. What are those shifts?
The first one is that we’ll finally realize we’ve missed something fundamental in security. The SolarWinds hack was a revelation. “Security” in a network and IT sense means protecting information from unauthorized access or change, and yet many “security” frameworks don’t know what’s authorized or when something unauthorized is being attempted.
Zero-trust security is the gold standard for security. What is not explicitly allowed is explicitly blocked. Information relationships, created by network connectivity between users and information resources, have to be recognized by policy and authorized in this model. If something is left out by accident, it’s left closed until it’s recognized and opened. This tight closure of loopholes may not be the answer for applications and services that don’t involve critical information, but it’s the only way to fully secure those that do.
128 Technology builds their SD-WAN and virtual network offering around explicit session awareness, meaning that every relationship between users and resources, or even among resources, is recognized, even in hybrid and multi-cloud deployments. That means that relationships can be authorized explicitly, unauthorized ones blocked, and all unauthorized access attempts journaled for review. Even a “trusted” element, hacked, will reveal itself by doing things it shouldn’t be, and any attempt to test defenses is logged and can be followed up.
Number two in our list of the new forces driving 2021 is that we’ll realize that everything is a worker and everywhere is a workplace. We know already that WFH has greatly expanded the workplace, and we know that we can’t build a whole new network, to support WFH. in 2021 IoT will expand the workforce, augmenting people with “things”. Sensors and controllers are likely used in the same places where workers are supported, and we’re not going to build a new IT and network infrastructure to support that new paradigm either. What we have, what we do, will have to work for more things in more places.
We are not going to build a new network, a new IT, to meet the challenges of a mobile, WFH, workforce or to introduce critical control applications and IoT to networks and applications built for human response times. We’re going to have to expand our notion of both networks and IT, and expand it without creating a crippling level of complexity and an explosion in operations costs.
The third of our 2021 shifts is that networking and IT are becoming one, and the network is the agent that’s bringing them together. To a user, a cloud and a data center are both simply remote sources of information or experiences. The network is the agent that makes them both appear to be an extension of the user’s own device, whether it’s a big workstation or a smartphone, and now even a sensor or controller.
There’s another driver shaping the role of the network as the agent of IT unification, resiliency and scalability. We want IT to respond to changes in demand and to heal itself if something breaks. The mechanisms to provide for this aren’t IT-based, they’re network-based. The network is the easiest place to look for IT faults because they immediately show themselves at the interface points. The network redirects traffic for load balancing, and connects replacement resources, and cloud computing only magnifies the network’s role. We’re going to see “application operations” emerge, and network operations will be its foundation.
The challenge is that all these experience and information resources are not local, and in fact will become more diverse and more widely distributed as the year passes. We have to make things that are inherently global appear to be local, to make all of the challenges of distributing and connecting vast arrays of IT elements and IoT elements literally disappear, from the perspective of the user. A company who expects its workers, partners, and customers to debug their information and experience framework to use it is just as lost as those stakeholders would be.
Abstraction, virtualization if you will, is the key to creating and sustaining this increasing level of complexity. They’re the insight that lets us treat all resources, wherever they may be, as a common resource pool. They harmonize many devices to one set of information resources without demanding constant reprogramming. They let us introduce new users, new appliances, new resources without destabilizing the growing pyramid of tools and people that make up “IT” today.
If, that is, we have them and use them correctly. Juniper’s acquisition of multi-cloud technology and abstraction tools let them re-visualize both networks and IT as a few simple, easily integrated and managed, elements, distributed however business goals and constraints demand they be. All of this is rooted back in that essential session-aware, mission-aware, connectivity mesh. The network is bound to the user, because it’s bound to the uses the user puts it to. It’s like a line from an old move, in a non-sinister context. “I saw what you did, and I know who you are”.
The final one of our driving forces for the coming year is that we’ll learn that there is no contained solution to systemic problems. It’s comforting to think that we can automate operations, control connectivity, respond to user complaints, optimize traffic flows, and secure networks with little layers of functionality we add when we think we need to. Not true. Networks are already complex, and just adding piece-parts to band-aid issues will make them more so, and exacerbate the very problems we think we’re addressing. 2021 will be the Year of the ecosystem.
Enterprise and service connectivity are challenges of integration and coordination even today, and that’s going to be even more true in 2021. That means creating a package that includes tools to recognize traffic flows and connections, tools to organize resources and present them consistently regardless of how complicated or diverse they are, and tools to bring machine understanding to bear to supplement human intervention. Users can’t, and won’t integrate all of this. Vendors will have to step up and provide a solution whose scope and scale match those of the problem.
With its acquisition of HTBASE, Mist, Netrounds, 128 Technology, and Apstra, Juniper has created such an ecosystem, a network-wide solution to the growing set of network-wide challenges we’ll face in 2021 and beyond. One vendor, through one integrated platform, can now treat the ever-expanding network as a single entity, but divide it into functional segments to facilitate automation and surround it with full knowledge of user/resource relationships and almost-human-level intelligence to oversee its operation.
You can sum up all the forces acting on 2021 as no more business as usual. Businesses were preoccupied in 2020 by the pandemic and its impact, and as a result many didn’t take the baby steps they might otherwise have taken, steps to paint over challenges rather than address them effectively. We can see the accumulation of those challenges now, as we enter 2021. We will learn that they have to be addressed as a whole, because in 2021, the whole is not only greater than the sum of the parts, it’s the only thing that matters. There is one network, it is unifying with IT, and it must focus on sustaining the missions and connections that fit business goals. 128 Technology, and its Juniper parent, are committed to doing just that.
Happy New Year, everyone.