Network Evolution In 2019 – A Year Of Challenges And Opportunities For Service Providers.

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Written by Anthony Webb, Vice-President EMEA, A10 Networks

Observing the evolution of global networks over the course of my career has always been fascinating. Our fast-paced, innovative industry has transformed the world, ushering in the age of mass communication that touches every part of our lives. Most people don’t give a second thought to how we keep networks in operation and evolve them to meet new demands, and that’s exactly how it should be. But for those of us at the coalface, the coming year is looking very exciting for the industry. Here’s my take on the key topics we’ll see ruling the agenda for 2019.

5G Reality Strikes
No surprise here that high consumer expectations and voracious demand for new services will drive the rollout of 5G throughout 2019. This is the shape of the future and we’ll see all stakeholders in the industry sharing roadmaps and innovations that will whet our appetites for things to come. The pilot projects that A10 Networks has been closely involved in have shed light on some of the new challenges that this major advance in infrastructure is going to create for service providers. We’ve learned that 5G demands are inherently different to 4G, with smaller packet sizes, more throughput, and higher concurrent session counts observed. That means service providers will need the facility to scale to multi-billion concurrent sessions with high throughput capacity.

As might be expected, core infrastructure security for 5G is a whole new and much bigger ballgame. The approach will need to be more advanced, automated and scalable to guarantee uptime and meet new requirements for control plane and user plane security. Alongside innovations in firewall and DNS protection, we’ll see a new generation of AI and machine learning-based security solutions brought into play to mitigate the increasing DDoS risk created by the proliferation of IoT devices and the resulting expanded attack surface.

Low latency, low TCO and high reliability will all be crucial factors for 5G success. Competition in this market will be fierce, so there’ll be focused investment in technology that delivers robust, secure and cost-effective networks.

Historical Investment Protection
With all the buzz around 5G we shouldn’t forget that it won’t happen overnight. Network evolution takes time and service providers still have a considerable investment in legacy infrastructure that needs to be maintained, and boosted, to cope with growing demand through the transition period. We’ve been seeing this over several years, as demand has skyrocketed and new entrants have started running advanced services over existing networks. Full network upgrades are cost-prohibitive, so service providers are having to invest in products that can make what they’ve already got work more effectively.

Take IP addresses as a case in point. The pool of IPv4 addresses is being exhausted by the explosion in volumes of IoT devices. The expectation was that everyone would move to IPv6 to solve the problem, but that’s effectively an upgrade and we haven’t seen service providers going full throttle down that route. Instead they’re adopting technology like our Carrier Grade Networking (CGN) solutions that helps them preserve their investment, and get the best out of the technology they have today by extending the lifecycle of IPv4, and carefully managing an effective and affordable transition to IPv6 over the longer term to underpin business continuity.

Overall, I expect to see a measured migration and network evolution. Rip and replace is simply too costly an option and service providers need to think carefully about how best to beachhead into profitable 5G services while maintaining existing infrastructure.

Security Gets Smarter And More Pragmatic
Cybersecurity will continue to be a defining challenge as we move into 2019. There’s a noticeable shift, though, as defence techniques and philosophies mature. We’re moving away from the fortress mentality of building a wall and defending it at all costs, to acceptance that the battle for the network perimeter has pretty much been lost and a more pragmatic approach is necessary. Cybercrime is big business and we know that resourceful adversaries are succeeding in penetrating our networks, so now the focus is on building resilient networks that are capable of rapidly identifying and eliminating malicious activity when it occurs.

The threat of DDoS attacks is still ever-present, and attacks are now so easy and cheap to launch that they will undoubtedly continue to intensify. Protecting against DDoS is now simply a cost of doing business, so organisations want to ensure that they’re getting the best protection for their investment. This means looking for protection that is automated, intelligent and scalable, but which also achieves this at a low TCO.

A Shift In The Business Model For Network Investment

As service providers maintain existing networks and build out new capabilities, I believe we’ll see a reversing of the trend for deferring capital expenditure in preference for operational expenditure that has dominated in recent years. Organisations used to be keen to reduce CapEx and accept higher OpEx but, when you know you’re in a major upgrade cycle, that approach ties you into existing technology and simply pushes problems further out into the future, building up a technology debt that will eventually need to be repaid. With the speed of innovation in today’s market, that’s a risk that many service providers are starting to question.

Service providers are now thinking further ahead, aiming to futureproof their networks by spending a bit more upfront in a bid to reduce that long tail of operational expenditure further down the line. Solution providers who can offer licensing and contract flexibility should reap the benefits of this change in approach.

The coming year promises to be incredibly exciting for all of us involved in the network industry. Overall, I predict that it will be a balancing act between looking forward to 5G and all the opportunities it offers, while handling the challenges of supporting existing networks and developing security strategies to defend against increasing threats. One thing’s for sure, it won’t be boring!

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