This guest blog was contributed by Jeff Aaron, Vice President, Juniper Networks
The networking industry has changed dramatically over the past few years. Driven by the sudden shift to remote and hybrid workplaces, today’s workforces are putting new demands on company networks and IT teams - forcing companies to adapt.
But this adaptation should be viewed as a good thing. For years, approaches to operating networks have stagnated, with little innovation. That means that inefficiencies and unneeded processes have carried on for far too long. This needs to change - and it can, with the integration of cloud-driven AIOps and similar technologies into the networking environment and a change in how network deployment and operations success is viewed.
Put simply, modern networks need to simplify network configuration, deployment and operations across wired and wireless LANs and WANs. AI tools need to be incorporated that can help to automatically identify and troubleshoot issues. Visibility and management needs to be consolidated, giving users a quick and easily accessible view into network conditions. Cloud-based management needs to be embraced, as it allows IT teams to do more with less. And security needs to be included every step of the way.
Limited IT Resources
It goes without saying that the workplaces of today present several challenges to networking teams. From the rapid move to remote working a couple of years ago, to the current hybrid (and often changing) situation amongst most companies, the only constant has been the need for networking managers to provide a way for employees to work efficiently and effectively, regardless of their location.
Focus on the Experience
Networks need to be set up to focus on the experience delivered to end-users. Unfortunately, this does not always correlate with network uptime. Just because a Wi-Fi Access Point is giving off a strong signal or a router is passing traffic doesn't mean users on those devices aren't having bad experiences, such as dropped video calls or frozen documents. If the user experience does not line up with network expectations, then users become frustrated and productivity goes down. If this continues to happen, employees will find their own methods of connecting or work-arounds to get their jobs done, which can create a whole category full of other problems. The experience delivered is what matters.
Security threats are ever-present within the enterprise. As the format of how employees work has changed, the attack surface has grown exponentially. Each new device or remote connection adds to what needs to be protected. At the same time, IT teams are more under-resourced than ever before, either because of the trouble in recruiting talent, or because the economic downturn has forced companies to cut spending.
Establishing a single, cloud-based way of understanding network operations and maintaining control also makes it easier to address security. Comprehensive security services that dynamically update policies to mitigate day-zero threats, whether they originate inside or outside the enterprise network, are something that companies should strive for. This approach is complementary to the single, cloud-based interface, and it helps change the paradigm to one where IT teams are acting proactively to solve potential issues, instead of rapidly having to work through a checklist until the problem is found.
Visibility and Control Across the Entire Network
To ensure a better experience for employees - one that recognizes and meets all of the existing and new workplace networking challenges that the world keeps creating - visibility and control across the entire network - devices, WAN, security and applications - is needed. Visibility into how the network is operating; i.e., what the traffic that traverses it is like, how important (or unimportant) it is, how secure it is and the effect that traffic is having on operations. Control is needed to then take advantage of visibility into traffic and decide how best to route and deliver it to its intended destination in a way that provides the end-users with the best possible experience. Enabling that control to be delivered through a single, cloud-based interface helps to improve overall management of the network, as well as reaction time when identifying and repairing an issue. Consolidating visibility and control in this way also helps to reduce manual configuration errors, speed up deployments and cut down on operational expenses.
Without the visibility to better understand the network - and the control to do something about it - the experience the network provides is uncontrolled. That said, having manual control and having the time to exert it every time traffic travels across the network are two different things.
Applying AIOps to the Problem
Today’s digital world also demands a reliance on artificial intelligence and machine learning to ensure the best possible network user experience. AI tools can help networking professionals analyze and route traffic correctly, without having to review and act on each piece of information. Traffic can be optimized and routed according to importance, ensuring that critical video calls are not dropped, for example.
AI technology can also be applied by networking professionals to quickly and easily troubleshoot issues and problems that arise. Many of these problems, if investigated without the assistance of AI, are akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. Imagine having to manually search down the reasons for a drop in Wi-Fi signal strength on a typical office floor. First, the degradation would have to be manually located, perhaps by walking around with a device to test strength and range. Then the area of the signal loss would have to be measured through trial and error to determine the cause. With AI tools applied to the problem, networking professionals can quickly gain the insight they need to solve a problem, or at least dramatically lessen what the potential causes could be.
In this way, AI is improving yet another experience - that of the overworked networking or IT professional trying to provide said great user experience. Improving the IT team’s work experience is just as important these days, as companies are faced with a labor shortage and a battle to retain the talent they do have.
The networking industry needs to put the end-user experience at the forefront of decision making and of measuring success. AI plays a large role in successfully making this possible; it can help improve efficiency, lower costs and improve security, all while improving the experience for both end-user employees and the networking/IT staff supporting them. The demands on networks have increased - it’s time we improved our approach and tactics to meet those demands.