10 Networking Predictions For 2018

The networking space promises to remain red-hot in 2018 as vendors and startups alike try to seize the opportunity in an ever-changing market.

The Year Ahead

2018 promises to be an eventful year for the networking space. Software-defined technologies like software-defined wide-area networking are coming into their own, presenting vendors and solution providers with tremendous opportunity to book healthy recurring revenue while seeing greater sales volumes in stickier accounts.

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Changes in the business will also require old-guard vendors to adapt not only their product and services strategy, but their management team in order to efficiently and effectively seize the opportunity the swiftly changed market presents.

The networking space, especially network security, will also see changes as the Internet of Things, virtual reality and augmented reality become more prominent components of the market.

SD-WAN Battleground

Telecoms and networking giants jumped headfirst into the red-hot market for software-defined wide-area networking in 2017, and 2018 is shaping up to be a battle royale between the market's major players. SD-WAN seeks to improve networking between corporate and branch offices with software rather than expensive, proprietary hardware. Solution providers know they need to jump into the SD-WAN space to stay relevant with customers. The battleground is occupied by companies including Comcast, Windstream, AT&T, CenturyLink and China Telecom, all of which launched SD-WAN offerings in 2017. On top of that, Cisco and VMware made two blockbuster SD-WAN acquisitions in 2017 – Cisco acquired Viptella and VMware acquired VeloCloud – that set up the two IT giants for fierce competition. Also jumping into the ring is Riverbed, which acquired Xirrus and Aerohive, which launched its own SD-WAN offering late in 2017.

Cisco Management Changes Continue

Cisco Systems is certainly cognizant of the fact that it must change in order to maintain its dominance of the networking market as it evolves to emphasize software delivered on a subscription basis. CEO Chuck Robbins has been in the top spot for a little more than two years, and he'll continue to move his executive team in that direction, hiring executives with a focus on software and recurring revenue.

More Solution Providers Begin MSP Practices

The future of the networking business is clearly in software-defined, and intent-based systems sold on a subscription basis. For solution providers, this presents a challenge. The days of selling expensive, high-margin, proprietary hardware are coming to an end. But opportunity exists in operating as a managed service provider selling complete life-cycle services around software-defined, subscription-based networking solutions. For these solution providers, the recurring revenue model will provide more stability, as well as the opportunity to move more quickly between customers, boosting sales volume.

Virtual Reality, IoT Drive Demand For Automated Network Management

The explosion of IoT devices and virtual reality can quickly overcome an organization that can't scale its networking technology or ensure network performance. To bring these technologies into the enterprise, businesses must understand how they are impacting the network and compute resources across corporate and branch offices. Modernizing the network with software-defined solutions and services is key to success in this arena, and many will opt for management by a managed service provider.

Vendors Go All In On AI, Machine Learning

2018 may prove to be the year major vendors' artificial intelligence and machine-learning efforts begin to bear fruit. For now, vendors know AI and machine learning could be the keys to automating network operations, boosting efficiency and cost effectiveness. Like SD-WAN, 2017 saw several major vendors begin leveraging AI. Aruba, a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise company, is using AI to better secure the network. Juniper Networks acquired Cyphort to do the same. Cisco also placed a large bet on AI and machine learning with its acquisition of Perspica and MindMeld, and by launching new machine-learning and AI -powered services including its Spark Assistant.

Machine Learning, AI Drive Network Security

With so many networking vendors working hard to take the human element out of network administration and maintenance, responsibility for network security will increasingly fall to machine-learning and artificial intelligence systems that can bring constant awareness to vulnerabilities and uninterrupted defense against potential threats, according to senior executives at Riverbed. Humans talk a good game when it comes to network security, but machine learning and AI will actually get the job done, identifying and mitigating threats faster and more efficiently than today's methods.

Extreme Networks Joins The Big League

The networking market, long dominated by Cisco, and to a lesser extent HPE Aruba, could have another major player in 2018. Extreme Networks threw a coming out party for itself 2017 as a serious contender in the enterprise networking market with its acquisition of Avaya's networking assets and Brocade's data center business. The company now has the largest networking portfolio in its history and has been public about its desire to win market share away from Cisco and HPE Aruba. The company's revamped portfolio and new partner program led solution providers to up their bets with Extreme and the company says it is now the only alternative to Cisco when it comes to end-to-end data center and networking products and services.

Service Providers Become IoT Kingpins

Service providers are in a great position to offer the technology and services that IoT relies on. By some estimates there will be some 30 billion IoT devices used globally by 2020, and they'll all need to be connected to the internet, managed and secured. Service providers have what enterprises want as far as connectivity, mobility services, broadband and network infrastructure are concerned. Service providers will also become leaders in managing the connectivity of IoT devices.

Customer Demands Will Bring Intent-Based Networking To Prominence

Traditional networks are dependent on expensive, proprietary hardware and can be inconsistent from location to location within an enterprise. That inconsistency can have a negative impact on an enterprise's perception and utilization of apps and services, according to the folks at Riverbed, making it more difficult for the business to get its money's worth from either. Software-defined, intent- or outcome-based networking like systems marketed by Cisco, VeloCloud and others, gives organizations the ability to seamlessly choose the right network paths, assign the desired priority to network traffic and ensure the health of network at all locations.

Cisco's Network Intuitive Platform Runs The Table

All signs point to Cisco's Network Intuitive platform racking up market share in the coming year as the suite of software, switches and security products penetrates further into the mainstream. The intent-based system can anticipate actions, stop security threats and continuously evolve and learn. In only about a quarter, the company's Catalyst 9000 family of switches, which is the cornerstone of the intent-based strategy, had won over more than 1,100 users. And the strategy could be a turning point for Cisco's efforts to evolve to more modern methods of technology sales and delivery. In the last two years, Cisco has gone from $1.9 billion on its balance sheet from software and subscriptions to $4.5 billion. "Today we are bringing a subscription methodology to our core networking portfolio," CEO Robbins said.