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Outlook for 2021: Connecting your remote workforce securely

Outlook for 2021: Connecting your remote workforce securely

Enterprise SecurityInsightsNetworkingTop Stories

Todd Kiehn, VP Product Management, and Paul Ruelas, Senior Director of Products, GTT, share their thoughts on what remote working means for businesses and IT teams in the year ahead.

At the beginning of the global pandemic, there was a rush for businesses to get their employees set up to work from home. Even with promising vaccines rolling out currently, a greater percentage of remote working is likely here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The focus for businesses has turned to making the working from home experience better. There will be greater investment in better collaboration tools and more efficient access in a way that’s cost-effective for businesses and easier for users.

As businesses look to improving the remote working experience, there will be a greater emphasis on how IT teams can manage their security and their network.

Adopting a Zero Trust approach

During the pandemic, ensuring cybersecurity has been top of mind for many IT teams because of the speed with which the attack surface of their corporate network perimeter grew, as many employees suddenly started working from outside the traditional office locations.

Secure remote access VPN solutions have been a key security component for the past year, but as we look ahead, the overall security approach is shifting to one of Zero Trust. This is where no individual user is trusted unconditionally, but instead, access to corporate resources is given based on end-user and device identity, the individual application, the specific security posture, as well as any agreed privileges. Importantly, they will do this regardless of the physical location of the user: no matter where a worker is connecting from, the experience of connecting to corporate systems will feel the same.

Going forward, the emerging concept of Secure Access of Service Edge (SASE) will really pick up pace. SASE involves taking corporate networking concepts like SD-WAN and tying them to security capabilities, expanding beyond next-generation firewalls to include cloud-based security tools like secure web gateway, Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) and CASB (Cloud Access Security Broker). This approach endeavours to integrate all aspects of networking and security so you minimise security gaps and maximise performance. SASE also seeks to move as many security functions as possible to the cloud, where they can be deployed at scale and to users regardless of their physical location. 

SASE is not a reality at this point, but it has quickly become the dominant framework among analysts, technology vendors, carriers and enterprises for evaluating networking and security solutions. Looking ahead, we can expect to see a lot of announcements for solutions billed as SASE, but businesses must look out for amalgamations of separate capabilities that are not the true integrated, orchestrated, managed approach that they want. Innovation at that level is unlikely to come before the end of this year.

In addition to security, we’ll also begin to see changes in how the network is delivered and consumed, as ubiquitous hybrid working becomes more common.

Changing the way the network is managed

Currently, businesses will typically buy network bandwidth for a location for a certain amount of money and time. In time, however, this approach will change so that it is focused on the users and the usage rather than the location – so that businesses are not committed to bandwidth for offices, when a significant portion of users may be working at home. This will make for much more flexible network consumption which will appear seamless to the business.

Traffic prioritisation will also become more user-focused. The prioritisation and business policy applications of an SD-WAN will slowly transition to run at the user’s laptop or mobile device, as well as the overall corporate network. This will deliver better performance for remote users and allow them to participate in corporate priorities and policies, meaning IT has a better understanding of business needs and adapting network provisioning accordingly, even when the user is nowhere near a corporate office.

Looking forward, IT teams will start turning to new technologies to automate network management and SD-WAN, such as AI systems. In the coming year, we’re going to see a lot more of this, not just on the application side but also on the network and for security. 

Trusting AI to do the job

Increasingly, AI systems will understand what needs to be done and automatically tune the network and security measures. This means that businesses will no longer have to devote internal resources to these tasks. Instead, the network will be able to heal, adjust and adapt without human intervention. 

We’re not quite there yet, but we’re building the tools to achieve this with AI operations for IT (AIOps). Advancements should be made this year, allowing the industry to achieve significant network automation in the next three to five years. In time, we should be able to do things like automated application performance adjustments and threat network traffic analysis – for example, identifying changes in traffic patterns for anomalies, spotting changes in traffic that would suggest a network has been compromised.

As more and more enterprises get used to the idea of network automation, they’ll trust AI to control more of their operations. As a transitional step towards full automation, we could see industries adopt a classification system for different levels of human intervention – similar to what SAE International has devised for self-driving cars. We’ll soon be moving from a scenario where an AI spots an issue and asks if it can fix it, to one where you receive a report at the end of the day to explain what went wrong and what happened to resolve it. With this type of advanced intelligence, you won’t be aware of the problem until after AI has fixed it.

All of the changes needed for future networking will lead businesses to take a more integrated approach to the network stack. The philosophy won’t be about having lots of different technologies to cover the whole of the network stack, but rather looking at the solution that can best cover it all. It won’t be a matter of ‘best of breed’ but ‘best for the business’. We will see businesses opting for fewer solutions that cover everything well, rather than a myriad of solutions tailored to every system.

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