What's hot and what's not: A recap of IT networking strategies

Patrick Hubbard reviews the hits and misses of the year gone by. A hit: BYOD management improves. A miss: Netflix.

It's that time of year when we catch up on our help desk ticket queue, wrap up a couple of long-delayed cleanup projects and think back on the good and the bad of the previous year. The past year was notable for a palpable jump in change velocity and awareness that the coming years will be a period of fundamental change in the way we move traffic and deliver services. While there were a number of wins for those plotting IT networking strategies, there were also some stinkers.

HIT: BYOD got told where to go

Yes, mobile devices of unknown security essentially became a ubiquitous assumed employment benefit, but as networking administrators, we finally cordoned it off onto its own network and ACL-ed it safely away from our internal networks. Bring your own device (BYOD) still drives increased wireless infrastructure, IP address management and other management costs, but at least we all agreed it's bad for business to put BYOD on the corporate network.

HIT: Snowden and the NSA

While there were a number of wins for network engineers, there were also some stinkers.

As admins, we've been telling management for years that we don't have resources, staff or gear to properly secure our networks, especially firewalls and other elements at the edge. More than that, we haven't talked about the elephant in the room -- putting our mission-critical and secret sauce business data in the cloud. Whole companies are popping up providing new products focused on cloud security, while cloud providers have basically told Congress to shut off the NSA taps or lose the multibillion-dollar U.S. hosting nexus. For network engineers in the trenches, the cable-news level security focus is a terrific opportunity. It's motivating IT managers (via executive direction) to loosen the purse strings for security hardware, products and services.

HIT: 40 gigabit Ethernet and 100 GbE

Services concentration further accelerated in 2013, particularly in the area of combining services that don't share bandwidth well. Increasingly high-volume, low-latency storage traffic is forced alongside mission-critical but highly jitter- and drop-sensitive services like HD video and VoIP. Trunking or horizontal distribution can only go so far, and the real solution -- big pipes and routers and switches that don't choke --are finally becoming affordable. Ten GbE is approaching commodity pricing for any enterprise and 40 GbE is moving down in price to finally become an option for SMB networks. 

Miss: SDN

Though the original heart and soul of software-defined networking (SDN) still beats inside a few big shops like Facebook and Amazon, the idea of open SDN for the masses has died. We'll still get network virtualization and programmability, but the major vendors heard the hype, realized it was a threat to established markets and effectively developed proprietary defenses. We'll get a choice of vendor approaches, but the dream of white box mix-and-match is gone. But, just maybe, in 2015….

Miss: Netflix 

This one is a miss because it's actually a huge hit. Netflix became a force of nature in 2013, and, as a result, it now kills networks like never before. Furthermore, it also accelerates the adoption of hosted video in general, with enterprises begrudgingly relying on YouTube, Vemo or even private content-delivery network-based services like Brightcove and others. Once upon a time, users would accept choppy 360 pixels, but between their mouse and players' desires to push bitrate, HD streams have become the norm. The high compression of HD means that drops of a single packet have significant effects on the user experience. Keeping users happy is driving costs across the board from ISP to core to distribution.

Miss: Windows 8.x

Windows XP must die. Truly, it's a pox, a blight upon humanity that as a species we would be more successful without. Win 8 was a chance to finally put a stake in XP, but instead it's making people more determined than ever to stick with what they know: XP or Windows 7. The reason network engineers care is that Win 7 and above (heck, even Vista for that matter), are much better network security and manageability citizens than XP. The worst part of this glacial adoption has yet to come. When XP support ends and Microsoft stops issuing updates, the huge number of existing XP machines will become a global cesspool of infection, bot-nets and who-knows-what, providing endless contagion for our protected infrastructures.

Looking ahead (to next year's looking back list)

One thing is for certain, 2014 will be the year virtualization and automation take hold, and network engineers will see great opportunities in networking strategies and new career challenges. Cisco's Application-Centric Infrastructure, aka HDN, VMware Inc.'s NSX and a host of other new technologies will make this list. The only question will be whether they will be hits or misses. Check back next December: It's going to be an interesting year.

About the author:
Patrick Hubbard is a head geek and senior technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds. With 20 years of technical expertise and IT customer perspective, his networking management experience includes work with campus, data center, storage networks, VoIP and virtualization, with a focus on application and service delivery in both Fortune 500 companies and startups in high tech, transportation, financial services and telecom industries. He can be reached at Patrick.Hubbard@solarwinds.com.

This was first published in January 2014

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