Despite the challenges posed by economic turmoil, epidemics, and political upheaval, network researchers are continuing to blaze new trails in innovation, performance, management, and security.
In summary, 2023 is shaping up as a year of network evolution and transformation.
Here are eight network technologies you will want to pay particularly close attention to.
1. Unified SASE: Addresses hybrid workforce, hybrid clouds
Unified Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) tightly integrates security and networking into a single platform. The technology uses a single-pass scanning architecture combined with a unified policy that's configured via a unified console that draws from a unified data lake.
"This is significant for organisations to continue to provide a consistent and assured user experience while protecting users, devices, sites, and data amid the rapidly evolving dynamics coming in 2023," says Kelly Ahuja, CEO of networking and cybersecurity firm Versa Networks.
In 2023, many enterprises still require employees to work in the office at least some of the time.
"This creates a hybrid and migratory workforce that will be transient across the enterprise perimeter, essentially dissolving the enterprise perimeter," Ahuja warns.
Unified SASE addresses this concern by offering both network and cloud-centric security anywhere and anytime, to any user, device, or location in a consistent manner. Unified SASE also addresses the management and security challenges presented by hybrid clouds.
"Most enterprises entered 2022 with a strategy to migrate workloads and applications to one cloud," Ahuja says. "Today, most organisations have a hybrid cloud strategy, and many follow a multi-cloud approach for business continuity, cost, and efficiency."
Unified SASE, he says, helps organisations deliver always-on, high-performance connectivity and application access across multiple clouds.
2. Multi-cloud networking software (MCNS): Enforces policies across clouds
Multi-cloud networking software (MCNS) addresses the challenges related to connecting networks and applications across multiple public cloud environments.
MCNS products aim to ensure consistent networking governance, policy, security, and visibility across multiple cloud environments via a single point of management.
"Many cloud providers aren't able to effectively handle the integration of multiple clouds," says Ron Howell, managing enterprise network architect at IT consulting firm Capgemini Americas.
He explains that each public cloud service tends to focus on its cloud as if it were the only one an enterprise would ever need.
"This is where multi-cloud networking software adds value," Howell notes.
MCNS is more than just a tool that connects a network to multiple discrete clouds.
"Multi-cloud networking provides automated, policy-based networking that offers connectivity and network services for distributed workloads in and across multiple clouds," says Brad Casemore, vice president of research, data centre and multi-cloud networking, at technology research firm IDC.
3. Cilium: Open source networking, security controls for containers
Cilium will emerge as the hottest network technology in 2023, says Ashish Kakran, principal at venture capital firm Thomvest Ventures.
He notes that Cilium open source software effectively tucks networking, observability and security into a single, easy to use solution for container-based applications hosted on multi/hybrid cloud environments.
"There are a few unique advantages of using Cilium: no code changes required for granular visibility, no need to learn a new language, and blazing fast performance," Kakran says.
Under the hood, Cilium uses a powerful open-source technology called eBPF, which effectively makes the Linux kernel programmable.
He notes that eBPF makes it possible to run code securely inside the kernel without making any kernel level code changes.
"This technology solves Kubernetes related networking and observability challenges for enterprises of all sizes, but especially when they hit scale."
4. Data Security Posture Management (DSPM): Automates data protection in the cloud
"After years spent securing the network, endpoints, and devices, enterprises are now focusing on data security to ensure that data layer-level risks, particularly the vast amounts of unstructured data contained in the cloud, are rapidly identified and secured," says Karthik Krishnan, CEO of data risk assessment and monitoring firm Concentric AI.
He says that Data Security Posture Management (DSPM), by automating data detection and protection operations, will help adopters better discover, monitor, and protect their sensitive data, giving them highly accurate results without the need for large security teams.
Krishnan notes that DSPM offers multiple benefits.
"It discovers all the sensitive data in an enterprise environment, from financial information to intellectual property to personal information, without any rules or upfront configuration," he says.
DSPM also monitors data for risk, including inappropriate permissions and incorrect entitlements. "It remediates these issues in a timely fashion and prevents data loss," he adds.
5. Network function virtualisation (NFV): The next step in WAN networking
Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) was introduced in 2014, setting the stage for a software-centric approach to wide-area networking.
The next step requires a holistic approach, ensuring that all related network functions in the WAN also are software defined, says Roopa Honnachari, director of network advisory at technology research and advisory firm ISG.
“NFV-based virtual network services allow for traditional hardware-centric network functions, such as routing, WAN optimisation, and firewall to be deployed in a software format," she says. "A single, standardised x86 hardware box, known as a universal CPE (uCPE), can host multiple functions."
Virtual network services promise to dramatically reduce the cost and complexity involved in deploying large, global WAN networks.
"By consolidating multiple functions on standardised hardware, businesses can reduce reliance on specialised hardware for each function and reduce hardware sprawl overall," Honnachari says.
When virtual network functions (VNFs) run on a virtualised uCPE, the number of devices requiring physical maintenance is limited, freeing network personnel to handle other tasks.
"In the traditional network approach, if a device fails, the hardware needs to be replaced for each function," Honnachari says.
"In the case of VNFs, network administrators can simply rip and rebuild that function, since it is deployed as software."
The VNF download and storage configuration can be up and running in a matter of minutes, as opposed to days when following a hardware-centric approach.
6. Next-Generation Hotspot (NGH): Automates roaming, logins for Wi-Fi networks
Also known as Hotspot 2.0, NGH allows seamless and secure roaming across different wireless networks.
"This is achieved through the use of the IEEE 802.11u standard, which enables devices to automatically discover and authenticate with Hotspot 2.0 networks," says David Witkowski, an IEEE senior member and broadband strategist.
There are currently several Hotspot 2.0 variants, including OpenRoaming, from the Wireless Broadband Alliance. Hotspot 2.0 makes it easier to connect to wireless networks, eliminating the need to manually enter login credentials or configure device settings.
Hotspot 2.0 technology could also replace current Wi-Fi roaming technologies, such as the WISPr protocol, which are less secure and don't support automatic network discovery and authentication.
"This will lead to a better user experience and increased adoption of wireless services," Witkowski predicts.
Hotspot 2.0 also benefits cellular carriers, allowing them to offload data traffic from 4G and 5G services onto Wi-Fi networks.
"This can help reduce congestion on the cellular network and improve the overall user experience," Witkowski says.
7. AI-based conversational interfaces/virtual assistants for network teams
This will be the year that conversational interfaces and virtual assistants for networking teams will become widely adopted, predicts Sujai Hajela, an executive vice president at Juniper Networks.
"With the combination of a talent crunch and a down economy, it's unlikely that organisations will be making many new hires in the short term," he says. "This means technologies that can assist existing team members – making them more efficient and effective – will be embraced."
Conversational interfaces and virtual assistants are rapidly becoming a crucial tool, helping users find the root causes of network issues quickly and easily, Hajela notes. Trial and error will be almost eliminated from the IT team vocabulary, he predicts.
"Issues that used to take days to resolve, such as a bad cable, a missing VLAN, or a poor LTE signal, can be found in seconds with conversational interfaces, virtual assistants, and AI-based technologies."
8. 6G: Satisfies needs of high-bandwidth applications
Even as 5G cellular technology continues to play a major role in broadband expansion, next generation 6G wireless is being developed.
The new technology offers speeds up to 100 times faster than its predecessor, making it highly suitable for bandwidth-hungry applications such as streaming high-definition video and gaming.
Another important benefit is 6G's ability to handle a massive amount of data, says David Almodovar, managing partner at business consulting firm Almodovar Group.
"This is because it will use a new type of encoding, orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), which is much more efficient than the older CDMA standard."
Almodovar notes that 6G can also handle simultaneous multiple users much better than its predecessor.
"This is because it will use multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) technologies, which allow multiple users to share the same physical connection without interfering with each other," he explains.
Also noteworthy is 6G's reduced latency, which virtually eliminates lag on supported devices.
"This is important for applications like virtual reality and augmented reality, where even a small delay can cause problems," Almodovar says.