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5 Emerging Enterprise Network Trends to Watch in 2021

The New Networking

COVID-19 has changed daily life for millions across the globe, but it also upended entire industries in 2020, from hospitality and retail to medicine and technology. The networking space, for better or for worse, was no exception.

It’s safe to say that teleworking isn’t going anywhere, and vendors are making adjustments to their portfolios to enable remote networking and right-size offerings such as SD-WAN, especially for small to midsize companies. On the plus side, the demand for edge networking offerings is going through the roof as businesses demand compute and storage at the edge to empower brand-new use cases that perhaps no one was expecting at the start of this year, such as outdoor connectivity in unusual places. Those use cases will continue to pick up steam heading into next year as solution providers become more well-versed in the new and creative ways they can enable and please their end users.

From the increasing focus on IoT and edge networking in a COVID-19 world, to the rise of 5G and teleworking, here are five enterprise network trends that we predict will flourish in 2021.

1. Teleworking becomes permanent

Most companies and businesses have designed their networks to support their campuses and branch office locations. Even though many companies had at least some remote employees, businesses all over the globe are coming to terms with what they’ll need to better support more —if not the majority—of their employees that will be working from home into next year. That work not only requires a reliable connection, but also one that can support bandwidth-intensive applications that employees need to stay connected and collaborate remotely, such as videoconferencing services and platforms.

With that in mind, many networking vendors have developed remote working offerings, everything from wireless connectivity in a box to security and SD-WAN offerings aimed at teleworking use cases, including Aruba Networks, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, Cisco Systems and networking software startup 128 Technology.

2. SD-WAN Consolidation 

The past several years has seen the SD-WAN market shrink as startups and specialists were bought up by some of the biggest incumbent networking vendors in the industry.

Just in 2020 alone, Hewlett Packard Enterprise in September closed its acquisition of SD-WAN leader Silver Peak for $925 million, and Cradlepoint was acquired by Ericsson in September for $1.1 billion. CloudGenix was scooped up by Palo Alto Networks in April for $420 million. But there are still several stand-alone SD-WAN players on the market with their own, unique flavors of SD-WAN that will appeal to networking companies looking to fill the gaps in their portfolio with WAN edge technology.

3. The SASE Evolution 

Speaking of SD-WAN, as this market matures, vendors are tying together security and SD-WAN more tightly together and are building out Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) portfolios to take SD-WAN a step further.

SASE in particular is addressing remote working use cases as many businesses rearchitect their environments to serve not only the campus and branch office locations, but also very small sites, IoT endpoints and teleworkers, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With remote working expected to continue on a more permanent basis for many companies, at least part time, SASE offerings will only increase in popularity heading into next year.

4. IoT/Edge Networking 

If there’s one silver lining to COVID-19, it’s that the pandemic has forced many businesses to get really creative in terms of how they reached new end users and enabled their employees in brand-new places. For example, many retail stores connected pop-up, outdoor points of sale to enable pickup or curbside ordering, and medical facilities armed parking lots with wireless solutions to triage new patients and provide COVID-19 testing for the masses.

The trend was already in motion, but COVID-19 has hit the gas on the edge computing trend. Enterprises will need more compute, storage and networking at the edge to continue to power brand-new and, at times, exciting use cases. By the same token, IoT use cases that rely on edge networking were already surging in popularity prior to the pandemic, and IoT expertise will only increase in demand in 2021.

5. Focus On 5G 

5G promises to turbocharge some technology use cases, such as IoT and autonomous vehicles thanks to its lightning-fast speeds and lower latency. Even though the next-generation cellular technology is still very much in its infancy, 2021 will be the year that real-life 5G use cases go into production and more 5G-capable devices hit the market.

Right now, the major U.S.-based carriers are racing to become 5G leaders and are building out their footprints. AT&T said its 5G network touches 355 cities, the Verizon 5G millimeter-wave network is live in parts of 45 cities with plans to go-live in parts of 60 cities by the end of the year, and the newly combined Sprint/T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G network touches 121 cities and towns, according to the carriers.

More businesses relied on cellular connectivity in 2020 than in arguably any other time, with a slew of new use cases popping up as a result of COVID-19. Businesses are expected to tap 5G to help reach more users and get work done even more quickly in hard-to-reach places.

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