Looking ahead to the network technologies of 2023
What’s the most important thing businesses need to know about networking in 2023? Forget all that speed-and-feed nonsense you hear from salespeople. The answer is that networking is now, and forever, tied to business applications, and those applications are now tied to the way we use the Internet and the cloud. We are changing how we distribute and deliver business value via network, so network technology will inevitably change as well, and this is a good time to look at what to expect.
Growth in internet dependence
First, the Internet is going to get a lot better because it’s going to become a lot more important. It is not only that the top-end capacity offered will be increased, in many cases above 2 Gbps. Every day, literally, people are doing more online, and getting more interactive, dynamic, interesting websites to visit and content to consume. Internet availability has been quietly increasing, and in 2023 there will be a significant leap forward, largely because people who rely on something get really upset when it doesn’t work.
With “goodness” will come “wealth”.
Adobe, which makes software that enriches the user experience online, had a good quarter in large part because the Internet is becoming more important every day. That enrichment is not going to stop in 2023.
Businesses will increase their reliance on the Internet, both as a channel for sales and customer service and, increasingly, as a way for their own workers to access core applications. During COVID, one of the less reported changes businesses made was to start using the Internet to support work-from-home requirements. They then discovered that if they supported workers via the Internet, they could take their traffic directly to the data center and bypass VPNs. Thus, the Internet has begun to erode VPN traffic growth, and it will continue and accelerate in 2023.
Press to tackle internet lag
The growth in Internet dependency is really what’s driving the cloud, because high-quality, interactive user interfaces are critical, and the cloud’s technology is much better for those things, not to mention easier to use than changing a data center application not . However, a lot of cloud interactivity adds to latency and further confirms the need for improvement in Internet latency.
Interactivity and latency sensitivity tend to drive two cloud impacts that then become network impacts. The first is that if you move interactive components to the cloud via the Internet, you create a new network in and to the cloud that parallels traditional MPLS VPNs. The second is that you encourage cloud hosting to move closer to the edge to reduce application latency. This puts pressure on the network to reduce the latency it contributes, which is one justification for 5G, but also a reason to wring latency out of wireline broadband services.
Virtual networking abounds
All these application things running across the internet and the cloud make any fixed network strategy difficult. In fact, if you were to name a single trend to characterize 2023, you would choose “virtual network becomes network” as far as users are concerned. In the cloud, in branch locations and in the data center, the mission of connectivity will shift from the “physical network” to the virtual. Companies’ “networks” will be an overlay of multiple, diverse, physical networks. Applications will connect to virtual networks, and it is virtual networks that will provide us with security and that will allow us to ensure information access and content delivery.
It doesn’t immediately displace MPLS-VPNs, but it does make it necessary to elevate connection management above them; think virtual-network-over-MPLS. Since network connectivity is what users see of a network service, it draws differentiation away from the physical transport elements of the network (think plastic pipes connecting a fancy bathroom to the public mains). It takes a critical step toward converting virtual network technologies into the framework for network-as-a-service, or NaaS.
NaaS is now what I call a UFO; a technology that isn’t going to land in your yard and present itself for inspection, leaving you free to assign whatever features you want to it without fear of contradiction. We are going to get so many conflicting definitions for “NaaS” that it will sound like a political debate, but in 2023 we can expect to see a gradual strengthening. There are a number of possible NaaS models, some little changed from current capabilities and some decisively merging network and cloud concepts. We will come down somewhere in that continuum of models, maybe by the end of the year, and where our country will determine exactly how effective networks are in improving or improving jobs and lives after 2023.
Security offered by the cloud is gaining momentum
What about security? The internet and cloud combination is also changing this. You can’t rely on fixed security appliances inside the cloud, so more and more applications will use cloud-hosted instances of security tools. Today, only about 7% of security is handled this way, but that will triple by the end of 2023 as SASE, SSE and other cloud-provided security elements explode. We can already see a shift in security focus to the cloud and also to a broader use of virtual networks that can connect those pesky agile cloud elements with increasingly mobile workers. Even SD-WAN, which was launched as a way to use broadband Internet to replace MPLS in creating VPNs, is now being used at least as often as a way to connect between and with cloud applications.
Existing sellers have the advantage
Who wins in 2023, seller-wise? The incumbents, where there are established network commitments. The big players, where not there. Yes, enterprises are looking for alternative networking strategies, but they’d really like to see those come from some giant they can trust, preferably one they already use. As economic uncertainties are not going to magically resolve in 2023, businesses will be even more risk adverse than usual.
If you do want to evaluate new network technologies and models in 2023, be prepared to drag the stories out of your vendors. Only 9% of enterprises in 2022 said that the primary competitor for their network provider has an “innovative” response to the future. That’s down from 15% in 2021 and from a peak of 22% in 2019. Given that we’ve probably offered more innovative network technology today than ever before, this sad number seems to show that providers aren’t really promoting a vision of the future. it is worthy of our technological progress. That’s too bad, because we’re going to face, even need, that future in 2023.
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.