Throughout most of 2020, businesses have been scrambling to adapt to ever-changing modes of operations. First, they had to stand up the infrastructure to support all-remote workforces. Then they had to dream up new ways to automate in-office tasks that were getting left undone in the wake of that shift. And even now, they're debating whether to make flex work a permanent part of their operations going forward.
But through it all, it's been the unsung heroes of the IT field that end up with the task of making everything work. For them, it's been an enlightening experience. They've had to rethink years of infrastructure and software choices. They've had to prioritize function over form. But most of all, they've had to embrace a new kind of flexibility that hasn't exactly been the hallmark of network engineering.
In the end, though, the experience will be worth it if it pushes more IT organizations to start taking a long-term view of their future infrastructure plans. And to do it, they'd do well to start working on evolving their networks into a more automated, near-autonomous state. Here's how they can do it.
Deploy Secure Access Service Edge Hardware
In recent years, business networks have been moving away from the old-school walled garden approach and toward an SD-WAN topology. At first, this was meant to accommodate a growing number of cloud services and applications that had to be integrated with on-premises systems. But as it turned out, the new networking paradigm also worked well for provisioning secure services for remote workers.
Now, though, IT planners have to take the next step forward into a secure access service edge (SASE) model that moves services and security into the cloud. By doing this, they can build secure networks that can scale up and scale down on demand. That way, if there's a sudden surge of remote workers to deal with, administrators won't have to check the best VPN service to roll out temporarily. Instead, the network will simply adapt to the new requirements, as it does not distinguish between in-office and remote access.
Leverage Provisioning Automation
Building a flexible network makes it possible to react to changing needs without having to re-engineer things, but it doesn't make the process fast and transparent. There's still a whole lot of work to do from the standpoint of access controls and provisioning, creating a labor chokepoint that can slow things down. For maximum agility, IT planners should embrace provisioning automation solutions that can do most of that work unassisted.
In that way, IT departments can take a hands-off approach that frees up human resources to focus on more useful tasks like security auditing and physical maintenance. In most cases, automated provisioning can make it possible to get a new network user up and running just by adding their name and relevant information into the main control system. After that, appropriate services, software, and access are made available almost instantaneously. The same goes for altering access levels when a user moves between in-office and at-home work.
Embrace AIOps Automation
With much of the day-to-day operational work handled by automation, the last step IT planners should take is to embrace AI-powered operations (AIOps) automation. Doing so can help IT staff gain improved visibility into network events, so they can react to them in real-time. Better still, they can establish pre-set workflows to aid in their response to everything from potential security incidents to network performance degradation.
And because AIOps technology is still in its earliest stages of development, the ways in which it can help network administrators are only going to increase. In the near future, AIOps solutions will be capable of mounting sophisticated multi-tiered defenses against network intrusions. That will make it possible for businesses to better defend themselves from near-constant cyber-attacks, as well as to stop in-progress attacks without bringing critical functions to a halt.
Ready for What the Future Brings
By beginning the process of building future-forward networks now, IT planners can turn the upheaval of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic into a net positive. With the right foresight, they will then create an infrastructure that's ready to meet the demands of the coming years on all fronts. At the very least, they'll gain the flexibility required to deal with the ever-changing needs of the businesses and users they serve – even if those changes are of the unforeseeable variety. And in the world of IT, that's about as close to perfect planning as it gets.