It’s barely fall of 2023, but it’s already clear that CIOs aren’t particularly positive about their network plans for 2024. Of 83 I have input from, in fact, 59 say they expect “significant issues” in their network planning for next year, and 71 say that they’ll be “under more pressure” in 2024 than they were this year. Sure, CIOs have a high-pressure job, but their expectations for 2024 are worse than for any year in the past 20 years, other than during Covid. Nobody is saying it’s a “the sky is falling” crisis like the proverbial Chicken Little, but some might be hunching their shoulders just a little.
It seems that in 2023, all the certainties CIOs had identified in their network planning up to now are being called into question. That isn’t limited to networking, either. In fact, 82 of 83 said their cloud spending is under review, and 78 said that their data center and software plans are also in flux. In fact, CIOs said their network pressures are due more to new issues relating to the cloud, the data center, and software overall than to any network-specific challenges. Given all of this, it’s probably not surprising that CIOs say they spend less time on pure networking topics than at any time in the last 20 years.
The combination of the Internet and the cloud has changed computing, and the top mission for enterprise networking is connecting customers, prospects, partners, and workers to applications. Virtual networking has taken over the WAN (MPLS VPNs) and the data center (Kubernetes container orchestration includes virtual-network plugins), and obviously it’s a fixture in the cloud. These virtual networks are what users and applications see, and network engineers really don’t have much to do with their technology at all. These same changes have magnified security risks, which is what created the notion of a separate security group.
I’d argue that all of this is tied to a single trend: virtualization. The goal of virtualization is to create something that looks like a traditional resource but is really a service. Virtualization is a form of abstraction; you represent all those routers and trunks with a service that looks like routers and trunks but is managed by the provider. You represent a data center network as a real LAN, but it’s actually an overlay on a LAN – an overlay you can change and move without impacting gear. It disconnects users and applications from reality, in a sense, and gives more control to the things and people who use the network than to the technology of the network. That’s pulling the traditional network apart as each mission pulls virtualization in its own direction.
Network vendors are responding. Cisco, which has a line of servers and data center software, just bought security vendor Splunk to beef up its security, software, and AI credentials and support those separate missions directly. Juniper’s Apstra product virtualizes the data center network to support configuring it based on goals or “intents,” and it now supports Terraform-linked network changes and added measures for data center and application security. Other network vendors are also doing more for security and AI, and so are suppliers of software and software development tools. There’s no shortage of strategies here.
And that pulls networks apart even more. Every network operator and vendor will stand up and pledge standards support, but every vendor will at the same time design their products and strategies to pull through their whole portfolio. Add different strokes for all those vendor folks to different mission drivers, and you understand why 79 of those 83 CIOs say they don’t really have a “single network architecture model” in place, and 48 say they’re actually moving away from a standard approach. Virtualization can make the unreal look real, so why not allow multiple personalized “unreals”? Look into the virtual-network mirror and you see…yourself.