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On the right rack

The transition from hardware to software and on-premise to as-a-service models puts unprecedented pressure on the network. What lies in store for the networking industry in 2016? Which technologies will see higher uptake, and which will be phased out?Network

Over the last year, more and more organisations have recognised the critical role of IT in enabling business growth, thus bringing more focus on the network. The enterprise network has gone through great strides in 2015 and willhead towards an even more exciting period as the industry continues to evolve.

Amanulla Khan, Managing Director MEA, Linksys, says, “In 2015, a confluence of technological and IT trends relating to mobile and cloud created dramatic changes in how and where people worked, computing workloads were processed, and work applications were delivered.”

Meanwhile, Cherif Sleiman, General Manager, Infoblox Middle East highlights three key trends that shaped the enterprise networking space in the region during the past year. “Firstly, we have seen a continued push to adopt virtualisation within organisations,” he says. “Next is the cloud; the continued push towards virtualisation goes hand-in-hand with companies now moving within the roadmap of cloud adoption. Finally, we have seen a significant increase in security investments in this area, especially in this region where geopolitical conflicts are present.”

Research by Gartner underlines that by 2016, around 87 percent of IT leaders are expected to increase security spending. Moreover, 77 percent of technology decision-makers plan to ramp up their cloud security expenditure for mobile and cloud-based services. Agreeing with this and reiterating Sleiman’s thoughts is Glen Ogden, Regional Sales Director, Middle East, A10 Networks, who explains, “A lot of people now are focusing on network security,” he says. “This is mostly driven by the fact that we are in a region where there are geopolitical conflicts. There were increased possibilities of government to government cybercrime and I believe that with all these challenges in play we will see an upsurge in investments in security both at government and enterprise levels.”

Ogden also adds that another driver for investments in security in the coming year is the rise in Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) traffic. “Google is now ranking web pages that have SSLs higher than those that don’t,” he says. “This then creates several concerns from organisations, because with SSL encrypted sites they could no longer inspect these pages. So there are a lot of interest now for SSL insight or inspection.”

“In 2016, the region will see the continuing evolution of software-defined networks (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV),” stresses Khan. “The emergence of containerisation technology will highlight the changing landscape of the networking industry.

According to him, these new and disruptive technologies will enable businesses to create a homogeneous networking environment that abstracts away the physicality of traditional networks. “This will then provide networks the ability to seamlessly connect workforces with the workloads and work apps that organisations need, from anywhere,” he adds.

Gartner highlights that by the end of 2016, more than 10,000 enterprises worldwide will have deployed SDN in their networks, a tenfold increase from end-of-year 2014.

Recent industry reports also suggest that more companies will begin to recognise the benefits of SDN. As technology infrastructures become increasingly strained, enterprises will look to build networks that will enable them to have improved resource efficiency. However, questions still remain as to how mature the Middle East region is when it comes to fully adopting and benefiting from SDN.

“For the proper adoption of SDN, it requires the three trends which I have mentioned – virtualisation, cloud and security,” says Sleiman. “These three elements are powerful enough to pave the way for more SDN projects. However, I think that the term SDN today is being used very loosely to imply some virtualisation or automation within networks. The true meaning of SDN is generally about service orchestration and automation, regardless of the underlying infrastructure. In this region, we have a much bigger chance of succeeding in this transition than other regions because we don’t have a lot of legacies.

“From the very beginning we have based our infrastructures on next-generation standards. Hence, from that perspective we are capable enough to fully harness the potentials of SDN. As for the maturity among people working in this space, that depends on the progress in the mentality that IT organisations have,” explains Sleiman.

On the other hand, Ogden believes that SDN is still quite a complicated area. “There are two views to consider when it comes to SDN,” he discusses. “We have the propriety view, an example of this is the case of Cisco where they have propriety SDN technology and then they ask their partners to adapt that technology. Then you have the non-propriety or open-source aspect of SDN which is not commercially operated.

“I think this is where the issue of maturity is raised. IT players still need to decide whether they should go for propriety solutions or open-source. As the market matures through 2016 and the carriers start more of these solutions, I think we’ll get an answer for that. But as for now, I believe that it is still too early to say,” stresses Ogden.

Khan agrees with this, underlining that SDN in the Middle East region has not developed equally and the segment is progressing at different speeds and maturity, based on external competitive landscapes or internal operations requirements. “We nevertheless, see that SDN is one area that is widely adopted and is maturely applied by the companies relying heavily on the Internet, such as e-commerce companies and cloud service providers,” he says.

Today’s enterprises vie for technologies that can help them agilely transform IT to adapt to the challenges of competitive digital business. And, enterprises aspire for networks that are not only easy to deploy and maintain but also let them achieve tangible business outcomes.

“In a tight economy, few network infrastructure investments can be made without cost justification,” says Khan. “If a company hasn’t yet jumped on the new network infrastructure deployment bandwagon, or is stuck at the pilot stage, projecting ROI may help them turn the crank on broader networking deployment. Doing so may also highlight financial differences between various networking design alternatives, helping companies make more cost-effective choices.”

In his view, Ogden opines that for companies to achieve tangible ROI in the coming year, there needs to be a good customer-base for a specific network solution before it becomes profitable. “A good example is LinkedIn,” he explains. “If there’s only one person on LinkedIn it will not be any useful and it wouldn’t make any sense. So, an area that answers the need of multiple end-users will generate the most ROI.”

As for the verticals which will see the highest levels of spending on networking technology in the coming year, all three experts are in agreement that mostly government and telecom sectors will be leading investments on the networking industry.

With the Internet of Things swiftly becoming reality, more organisations are beginning to recognise the need to invest in flexible and scalable technologies to generate competitive advantage.

Sleiman emphasises the fact that the Internet of Things is all about creating a hyper-connected world while ensuring that business-critical tasks do not get overwhelmed with the data surge brought about by numerous devices. “Within this space, numerous entities come together to deliver a service or create an experience. The three key trends that I have mentioned are, as of now, the building blocks that are paramount to the fruition of IoT,” explains Sleiman. “Therefore, for the IoT business models to be truly successful and profitable in the coming years, organisations need these three factors to become mainstream.”

In his view, Khan states that 2015 so far has been the tipping point of everything to do with Internet of Things with data, processes, people and devices linking together with each other. “Companies in the Middle East are at the forefront at deploying solutions that make the Internet of Everything come to life,” he says. “As mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have become more affordable, we’re seeing a massive rise in mobility across the Middle East and Africa. This in turn is fuelling the growth for Internet of Things and associated networking solutions across the board.”

With the developments in the region’s IT landscape that took place over the year 2015 – with Global Industry Analysts projecting the global market for network analytics to surpass $1.9billion by 2020, and IDC forecasting that the global SDN market will reach $8 billion in revenue by 2018, the coming year surely has nothing in store for the networking industry but continuous growth.

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