Way back in 1998 I did an MCSE course so I could get a start in the big IT world. It was a relatively easy certification straight out of school. However, the only exam that I had to re-write (twice) was TCP/IP. So it was somewhat ironic that I ended up chairing the WAN Summit London this year!
I think I failed those exams because I didn't really think networking had much to do with making sure servers worked. Networking was the reserve of clever people with CCIE's and you called them in the dark of the night to solve an issue and they were gone in a mystical plume of smoke, usually from a very expensive car they managed to buy as a result of their skill.
It seems that I was completely wrong about networking and it's role in delivering business applications. As a result, WAN Summit was far from the typical gathering of people talking about feeds, speeds and latency of connections.
With the world having been forced into a largely hybrid type of work scenario, the way that we connect users securely has become of paramount importance. We used to think of a WAN as managing branches and remote locations. All of a sudden, the WAN has become a massive multiple of those locations. We dealt with a customer that went from 7 branches to essentially 2300 as the bulk of the workforce started working form home and appears to be stating that way.
It was exactly this kind of conundrum that was debated between network providers, aggregators, value added providers and end customers. When you throw in the future of working and emerging scenarios such as the Metaverse, the importance of providing secure and efficient connections really bubbles to the surface.
For many years, the network teams were engaged at the end of the process. Now, networking, security and infrastructure teams have to work as a cohesive unit to ensure that applications are accessed securely and easily by users. Without this, projects are set for failure.
We built networks with a typical "MPLS" type of view. Bring the traffic in and break out. That way we control the user experience, security and SLA. This approach has definitely been turned on its head. We now have to worry about the senior executive who still has his home broadband router details as "admin admin" or the user trying to connect from outside a large town using copper or slow 3G type connections.
The silver bullet to many is SD-WAN. We often see people coming up with the solution before understanding the problem.
While this definitely has helped solve so many challenges when it comes to ensuring users are connected over whatever connection they may have, it also can't be seen as the only solution. We have to look at the security aspect in conjunction with the connectivity and find a happy medium that makes the CISO happy to deploy an SD-WAN solution.
One of the key themes from the 2 days was security. We can come up with soem great ways effectively providing and managing the connectivity in this new Hybrid work world. However, it cannot be done without effectively working with the Security teams in the organisation to make sure it is done responsibly. Ensuring the CISO understands your SD-WAN technology and architecture and means you can work together to to get the desired outcome for the business. Security IS a barrier. As it should be. Technology is infinite in its capabilities. Using it responsibly is the challenge. That is where the Security teams come in and assist us. Dont see them as an inhibitor.
When your organisation faces a massive security breach like we heard about from the CISO of Solarwinds, your first thought is not going to be "I wish I spoke to the security team LESS"...
The pandemic forced business to change. It also has forced technology departments to change in not only the solutions they deploy, but also in the way they interact with each other and the business.
IT is no longer stuck in the dark basements of buildings and spoken about with disdain in finance budget meetings. Companies who used technology effectively over the last 3 years are seeing their technology departments as heroes.