Top considerations for networking managers in 2023

By Markus Nispel, EMEA CTO at Extreme Networks
The goal for IT teams is to extend the connectivity and security of their networks without sacrificing the user experience
Markus Nispel at Extreme Networks speaks on the network management agenda for 2023 and what tech companies should focus on moving forward

1. What would you say is top of the agenda for network managers as we start 2023?

Businesses across industries have spent the last few years reacting to the new realities of a highly distributed, hybrid workforce and the changes in expectations of their customers. This has led to additional complexities in their network design and challenges to scale their operations in lieu of an increasing IT skillset shortage. Moving forward, the next focus for network innovation will be consumer-centric service delivery. In other words, network managers will be looking to find ways to ensure a superior experience for their workforce as they access private and public applications that are required to get their daily job done. In today’s hybrid world of work, service delivery is even more important in supporting a globally distributed workforce. Moving the operation and orchestration to the cloud is a key building block to achieve this.

The goal for IT teams is to extend the connectivity and security of their networks without sacrificing the user experience. It seems likely that in 2023 network managers will be looking at how this can be enabled by new ways to architect their distributed network infrastructure and basically remove the traditional boundaries of remote, office, campus, and WAN networks; becoming one network that should be managed and orchestrated by one cloud platform.

2. What will be the biggest challenges ahead?

Not only are more and more organisations embracing a highly distributed networking infrastructure, but they also need to ensure connectivity is secure. The network is essentially the central nervous system of an organisation. However, as operations and workforces rely on it more than ever, cyber threats are only growing in sophistication as bad actors look to take advantage of this trend, especially as hybrid work has opened a new attack surface that needs to be managed. Both consolidating identity and policy management across all types of network and application access will become important moving forward.

Network managers will need to think about prioritising investment in highly skilled security talent with the right knowledge and start to embrace the concepts of zero trust to keep their networks secure. In addition, security is not only about technology. It’s imperative that managers ensure their company’s entire employee base is educated in security awareness to counteract the breadth of malicious activity that could target networks. In particular, employees need to know what phishing looks like and how to avoid becoming the next victim.

 3. What other skills will network managers be seeking in 2023?

Data analytics proficiency is also going to be in high demand. Organisations are increasingly dependent on data and AI to promote robust business intelligence that supports smart decisions. It goes without saying that a workforce with strong analytical skills will help companies better understand their data and use those insights to inform strategic decision-making.

Meanwhile, enterprises need to look at unlocking the hidden value of the data they already possess – especially with the consolidation and private equity-backed investment to diversify portfolios that we’ve seen in recent years looking set to continue in 2023. For example, IT teams at stadiums and other venues could use data from their networks to create new opportunities in areas such as gaming, thereby driving more value for their company.

What’s more, investing more in data engineering talent will be critical in the year ahead as organisations start to lean into ML and AI to perform critical functions, improve ROI, catch problems before they become costly, and drive better outcomes to gain a competitive edge. But this can only happen on the basis of well defined, easy to discover, high quality and well understood data structures. So, data engineering comes first before any meaningful, reliable insights and actions can be derived from that data. And though budgets may be impacted, it will be critical to invest in upskilling existing workers in basic programming and basic data engineering as this will be necessary for organisations to better understand the concepts of data, ML and AI and unlock its true potential across the organisation. 

4. What emerging technologies should network managers be looking at this year?

Apart from the well-documented heralding of Wi-Fi 7, there is one emerging technology that is going to be incredibly useful to innovative network managers this year: digital twins.

Though digital twin technology has been long-established in other industries, network upgrades have traditionally been somewhat of a trial-and-error process. But networks are growing more and more critical as they evolve, meaning this method is no longer fit for purpose. This is where digital twins are starting to become a much-valued tool in the arsenal of network managers.

It’s now possible to create a clone of a network in a cloud environment, where managers can try new devices, software updates or configurations virtually before they go ahead and deploy in production. At the very least, digital twins can work to emulate network devices. Admins can also use a network digital twin to train new employees in a safe, sandbox environment. In 2023 we can expect to see the potential of digital twin technology expand and help network managers to undertake even more ambitious goals when it comes to network testing.

5. If you had to pinpoint one top priority for a network manager in 2023, what would it be?

Due to factors such as advancing digital technology and the post-pandemic landscape, users are more distributed than ever before. This inevitably means our reliance on networks will continue to grow while IT resources are increasingly scarce. Network managers are going to need to find a way to boost the productivity of their teams in order to meet this demand. The solution most will want to turn to is AI-driven automation, or AIOps.

These tools can perform a range of services for network managers – from being their eyes and ears when it comes to identifying and alerting teams of any network anomalies that might impact operations, to automating the creation of service cases based on those alerts. Network managers will also be able to define which recommendations to automatically accept, enabling them to resolve issues immediately and take the burden off IT teams. As a direct consequence of technology picking up these repetitive tasks, CIOs and their teams will also be freed up to focus on thinking strategically about how best to support revenue growth.

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