Five top networking and security trends for 2024

Five top networking and security trends for 2024

February 2, 2024 | Symphona

The 2023 business climate was ripe with innovation, disruption, and challenging macro-level conditions, with ever-increasing pressure on IT departments to accelerate business transformation. In this environment, it’s critical to be on top of industry trends and innovations to stay competitive. Here are the five things I believe will have the greatest impact on networking and security in 2024:

Prediction 1: the death of the standalone firewall

The rise of the hybrid workforce and the extensive deployment of IoT devices have irreversibly eroded the network perimeter, and the standalone firewall is dying with it.  No longer can a good “inside” be protected from a bad “outside” by a ring of firewalls.  Trying to plug the gaps by deploying even more firewalls inside an organization only adds complexity, creates room for errors, and slows down businesses that want to move rapidly.

Consequently, the next-gen firewall appliance is rapidly becoming the last-gen firewall appliance. On one side, the secure service edge (SSE) is replacing firewalls and proxies with cloud delivered secure web gateway, cloud access security broker and Zero Trust Network Access. SSE provides a compelling way of managing security for users accessing applications from anywhere. On the other side, for IoT security, segmentation is needed on-prem, right at the edge of the network, and to achieve this firewall services are being built directly into access points, switches, and SD-WAN gateways.  Even in the data center the introduction of top-of-rack switches with L4-7 security functionality can deliver east-west segmentation far more cost-effectively than traditional next-gen firewalls at end-of-aisle. Over the coming couple of years, the next-gen firewall market will continue to decline as these new cloud-based and built-in capabilities usher in a simpler way of managing secure connectivity.

Prediction 2: Zero Trust principles accelerate alignment of security and networking objectives

Most—but not all—organizations have separate teams managing networking and security, and in many ways their goals can be at odds with one another.  In 2024 leading enterprises will demonstrate how Zero Trust principles can be employed to align the two team’s interests to deliver better end user experience and business outcomes.

In a typical organization the networking team’s objectives are to keep people and services connected reliably, up and running with predictably good performance.  They are incented to make it easy for people to connect to anything and avoid complexity that will result in outages, latency, or slowdowns.  On the other hand, the security organization is tasked with minimizing risk and maintaining compliance.  Too often the user and their experience are caught in the middle.  An overzealous security implementation might make it slow or impossible for users to access the apps and data they need, slowing down the business.  On the other hand, lax security or a networking team that aims to please by bypassing security measures can result in infiltration and ransomware.

Leading enterprises will adopt Zero Trust architectures where the network’s job is defined not in terms of connecting anything to anything, but rather as being an enforcement layer for security policy.  For users accessing applications, security policy may be enforced in the cloud, but for many traffic flows, (particularly for IoT devices and their associated services), it will be more efficient to automatically implement this policy in access devices like access points, switches, and routers. With the right level of shared visibility, automation, and clear delineation of policy and enforcement, networking and security teams will have aligned goals and deliver a better experience. 

Prediction 3: measuring end user experience becomes a must for driving operational excellence

In order to deliver what employees and customers expect, IT organizations will need to shift to service level objectives (SLOs) and service level agreements (SLAs) based on measured user experience.  Users don’t care what is at fault, they are focused on one simple thing: is the application they are using working well or not.  User satisfaction plummets when they are first to find problems and are then rebuffed by IT with reports that all devices are up and operating correctly.

To address this organizations will widely deploy digital experience management (DEM) tools, that both measure actual experience of end users and make synthetic probes to ensure infrastructure readiness even when users are not present.  Organizations will likely want a mix of measurements collected from endpoint agents (like an SSE agent) and measurements collected by dedicated hardware sensors, particularly when monitoring Wi-Fi performance.  Ideally these same measurements feed automated AIOps that are able to learn and then implement best practices, rapidly triage problems and automatically remediate issues.

Prediction 4: 6GHz Wi-Fi adoption skyrockets—and will continue to be the biggest feature of Wi-Fi 7

The barriers slowing Wi-Fi deployment in the 6GHz spectrum will be removed in most geographies, and adoption will start to skyrocket.

A couple of years ago, the Wi-Fi 6E standard introduced support for the 6GHz band, more than doubling Wi-Fi capacity, enabling more users and faster speeds.  It’s been rapidly adopted in some segments, but others have been more cautious.  In 2024 the last remaining barriers to broad adoption will be resolved.

First, use of the 6GHz band, particularly outdoors is subject to approval by government authorities.   Although some, like the US have been quick to open the spectrum for Wi-Fi, other countries have been slower. Fortunately, there has been much progress in this area, and in 2024 most enterprises will have 6GHz spectrum accessible in most parts of the world.

Second, some enterprises have been wary about adopting Wi-Fi 6E when Wi-Fi 7 is around the corner.  Now with Wi-Fi 7 ratified, there is no doubt that Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 will be interoperable, so with 6E devices and access points shipping in volume, 6GHz Wi-Fi deployments can move ahead full steam.

Finally, adoption is gated by support on both access points and client devices.  We are witnessing a slew of new devices that support Wi-Fi 6E, and the mainstreaming of 6E access points. On top of this, more Wi-Fi 7 devices on the horizon, and these can utilize the 6GHz band to deliver better user experience with either Wi-Fi 6E or Wi-Fi 7 access points.

The combination of these developments see a big uptake of 6GHz spectrum in 2024, and with it, faster transfers and better user experience!

Prediction 5: AI will liberate IT admins

It is sometimes quoted you that won’t lose your job to AI, you’ll lose your job to someone who is effectively using AI. This is absolutely becoming true for the IT admin.

The increasing burden of implementing new technology and maintaining cyber-security with a fixed or even shrinking headcount means that each admin must handle more.   Fortunately, AI and automation are advancing rapidly, shifting the job from managing and configuring individual devices, to instead defining policy across a whole estate and having that policy implemented automatically and consistently.  AI is also able to comb through huge volumes of data to identify anomalies and recommend (and even implement) remedies.  It’s now well established that AI is only as good as its data set, and bigger, high quality data sets are key.  Leading vendors will be drawing AI insights from data lakes representing millions of managed devices and hundreds of millions of end points.  Finally large language models (LLMs) are turbo charging existing natural language interfaces and providing a more convenient way for admins to get the information they need.

The bottom-line is organizations need to ensure that they are providing their IT teams with the AI capabilities admins need to remain competitive.

Here’s to 2024

2024 is sure to bring new opportunities and new challenges, but armed with the right information, your enterprise can thrive through it all. Watch the webinar to hear my networking and security predictions for the year ahead to help you learn more and come out on top.

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