Today’s enterprise network has changed beyond recognition from what it looked like a decade ago—and the rate of that change is accelerating. Gartner, for example, predicts that enterprise IT workloads deployed on global cloud platforms will double from 2020 to 2023, reaching 40 percent of all workloads.

This is just one of many changes that are reshaping enterprise networks. To help IT leaders adapt to these changes, we have launched a series of articles on how to modernize your enterprise network. In part one, we examined three key network challenges every enterprise should address. In this second installment, we explore four key trends every IT leader should understand in the post-pandemic era.

1. The future of work is hybrid

Before the pandemic, 99 percent of C-suite executives expected their employees to work in the office at least four days a week. But that figure has dropped to just 10 percent, a global McKinsey survey has found.

The traditional office-bound way of working has been replaced by a hybrid approach, where employees work flexibly at home, in the office, or anywhere in between.

But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work. One in 10 executives say employees with traditional office-based roles can now spend 20 percent or less of their work time in the office, according to the McKinsey survey. Four in 10 executives expect 21–50 percent office attendance and the same proportion want a 51–80 percent office presence.

What’s more, those figures are likely to be fluid as employers and employees continue to adjust to work in the post-pandemic era.

IT leaders need to allow for this flexibility with remotely accessible digital workspaces and adaptable physical workplaces. In the office, this might mean supporting hot-desking with high-speed wireless everywhere, or creating a smart office that provides occupancy management and safety monitoring.

The office of the future will differ depending on each organization’s needs, but all will require a pervasive network for people and devices to connect from anywhere, easily and reliably. It’s also vital to ensure employees have a consistent experience whether they are at home or in the office.

2. The future of apps is distributed

Migrating to the cloud is essential to providing the flexibility needed for today’s digital workspaces. However, it’s rarely just one cloud service, with most organizations now investing in a multicloud strategy.

As a result, applications are now widely distributed across multiple locations. And they are becoming more complex and interconnected as enterprises strive to streamline business processes and gain more insights by unifying siloed data.

How users access apps and data is also changing—and it ranges from the mobile devices field workers use to manage jobs, to the business intelligence apps used to pull together data insights for executives.

This shift to highly distributed, interconnected apps has not only added complexity, but it also has fundamentally reshaped the enterprise network. The cloud has effectively become the new data center and the internet has become the new intranet.

Organizations need end-to-end visibility of traffic from users and devices to apps, and between apps, across traditional private networks and the internet. So, IT leaders are increasingly turning to a new breed of analytics, management, and security tools to support the modern enterprise network.

3. The future of security is borderless

In particular, IT leaders need network security tools and techniques that are effective well beyond traditional office perimeters. For example, network segmentation, consistent policy, and endpoint analytics can mitigate the risk of breaches turning into enterprise-wide attacks.

Other tools gaining in popularity include virtual private networks, software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs) and cloud-native solutions such as secure web gateways and cloud access security brokers. As these are deployed, more IT leaders are adopting a zero-trust network model, which continuously verifies all devices and users accessing applications, services, and data.

However, securing a complex enterprise network with an array of tools is resource-intensive. So, a new approach is emerging, called secure access service edge (SASE), which bundles a number of these tools in a single cloud service. This integrated service provides multi-layered, enterprise-wide protection, and optimized WAN edge connectivity.

4. The future of IT operations is AIOps

Meanwhile, the way IT teams work continues to change to keep up with modern enterprise needs. For example, IT operations, software development, and security staff members are banding together as multi-discipline DevOps and SecOps teams.

These changes have resulted in more agile, efficient teams, yet it’s still a challenge to manage and protect today’s complex IT environments. As a result, IT leaders are increasingly using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to assist with operations—an approach known as AIOps.

And as enterprise networks continue to grow in scale and complexity, AIOps is fast becoming an essential way to simplify and automate network management and orchestration, improve end-to-end visibility, and accelerate troubleshooting.

A new full-stack solution for a new era

Adapting to these trends is a big challenge for IT leaders. It requires new capabilities with network infrastructure that provides:

  • Pervasive connectivity for people and devices to connect from anywhere, easily and reliably
  • End-to-end visibility of highly distributed apps, devices, and users across both private and public networks, along with insights and analytics to enable proactive action
  • Protection of business data and assets well beyond traditional office perimeters
  • AI to simplify and automate the management and orchestration of complex enterprise networks.

At Cisco, we believe the best way to gain these capabilities is to take an integrated, full-stack approach to your network infrastructure. It’s an approach that can ensure your enterprise network is ready for the post-pandemic era.

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