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Enterprise Network Futures: Data!

By Gregg Meade & Jim Lucking on 22nd Nov 2017

The Enterprise Network of the Future from Ensign Communications

The rate of change and technological advancement often leaves us with little perspective on both how far we have come and indeed, where exactly we are heading.

The phrase ‘sleepwalking’ is often used to describe the way in which we, as a societal or even global whole, accept and enter into new technological status quos; so we thought it a useful exercise to consider the future of enterpise networking; both distant and not-so-distant, positive and negative, realistic and downright speculative.

In part one of this ‘network futures’ focus, we have considered the impact of data on our professional and personal lives.

The Challenges

It may come as no surprise that ‘data’ is our first stop in this journey – there is just so much of it. In fact, research suggests that the global figure for data production currently sits at around 2.5 quintillion bytes every single day; an unfathomable number I’m sure you’ll agree!

Data Storage & Security

So, with all of this data comes a storage problem. Businesses are increasingly pushing their data to the cloud (an ambiguous and overused term if ever there was one – essentially, this means to a third party server) via services such as DropBox and Office 365, which has resulted in the majority of data no longer residing on the premises (or ‘on-prem’ if you wish to use the vernacular).

Although this is a convenient solution to an unavoidable problem, it does bring with it some network challenges.

For instance, with so much data now being passed outside of our organisations as opposed to local server storage, the reliance on robust, ‘always-on’, connectivity is increasing dramatically.
This trend for cloud storage has had – and continues to have – a profound effect on network security. Traditionally, network traffic (with the expection of Internet traffic) has moved in what is known as an ‘East-West’ direction (from the user to the server and back again), but growth in cloud-based systems increases ‘North-South’ traffic in which users effectively ‘leave’ via the network perimeter to collect data from the cloud before ‘pulling’ it back.

For this reason, it is of high-importance that network perimeter security is enhanced, reviewed and monitored on a regular basis to mitigate potential security risks and adds more credence to the view that layer 7 firewalls are, or at least should be, an absolute standard for the modern enterprise.

Network Bottlenecks!

In a nutshell, having visibility of what data is ‘doing’ will become increasingly important for businesses to ensure the health and performance of their networks.

The modern network – and, of course, the one of the future – is increasingly ‘active’, especially in scenarios and environments where guests or customers are granted access, such as in retail or hospitality verticals.

Using WiFi analytics to understand how the business network is behaving and what the people on it are doing is a huge area of growth and concern for a number of reasons. On guest networks, the benefits of understanding what your customers are consuming are numerous; but with regard to performance, capacity and security, they are the same as for private corporate set-ups.

More data; more critical

Our reliance on consistent connectivity and network access is explicitly ‘mission critical’ (a topic we have written blogs on previously), meaning that without a reliable level of performance, the business activity and productivity grinds to an alarming halt.

Monitoring and managing data will ultimately ensure that your staff members have the network capacity they require to access files and transfer the masses of data which are now characteristic of the modern enterprise.

The Internet of Things

Surprise! – or not, as the case may be.

Of course, we couldn’t possibly create an article about the future of enterprise networking without mentioning the Internet of Things. You may well disagree that this is a ‘future’ topic, given that, in many ways, it is already here with around 14bn objects already connected, but we feel it is accurate to think of the current IoT landscape as the ‘light’ version – as scary a thought as that may be!

Many of you reading this will, no doubt, have at least one item which can be classified as being part of the Internet of Things, and the implications of this for us personally and as businesses are huge.

On a purely technological level, the degree to which wearables and remote-fixed IoT devices are already impacting upon our day-to-days lives is both substantial and amazing. There are a great many detractors out there who will remind us of the ‘darker’ side of such a connected lifestyle, but the positive impacts upon things such as our health, healthcare delivery, lifestyle and the usage and sharing of data could be positively transformative to say the least.

Our health and wearables

As I write this, I am wearing an Apple Watch supplied to me free-of-charge by my life insurance provider under the agreement that I perform and share my level of weekly activity in order to gain 'points' and, ultimately, a lower monthly premium. Exercise is important to me, so this isn’t much of a burden, but for those who might need some encouragement this type of incentive could really change the game!

Imagine this; in a decade’s time and you could well see a future in which we have our health monitored on an even more granular level via implants, which transmit data directly to our GP – “Mr. Smith, we are slightly concerned about your cortisol levels. Would you like to book an appointment?”

Of course, the trade-off with my Apple Watch is that I ‘give away’ a great deal of data about my life – where I go and when, what my daily habits are etc. but nothing is really ‘free’, right?

In terms of the impact upon business networks, all of this convenience and interconnected ‘gadgetary’ can be boiled down to three things – more endpoints; more traffic; and more security concerns.

The first two of our ‘axis of evil’, endpoints and traffic, are not really ‘new’ and are somewhat less of a conundrum than the issue of securing this myriad of devices.

Hacking the IoT

It would be easy to be flippant about the consequences of unsecured Internet of Things devices – and many have been – but warnings of hacked ovens and living room lights or errant central heating systems are - or at least should be - a real concern.

The fact is, if it can be hacked into – even for mild amusement as opposed to more sinister ends or financial gains – people will try and people will succeed!

Imagine a teenager, sat at home with the know-how to make his neighbours’ curtains appear possessed, opening and shutting with demonic excitement – try to tell us he or she wouldn’t try it!?  

A somewhat humorous example, but someone with an alternative set of ambitions could certainly take advantage of the existing weaknesses in the technology. (Take a look at our blog on IoT security)

Data Sharing

We love to share our data; doing so defines the contemporary human experience, for a great many of us at least. According to some research, sharing our data has become so integral to us that 68% of people say sharing their activity gives them a better sense of who they are and what they care about – profound indeed. 

But, as I mentioned earlier re: my Apple Watch, sharing can have a negative side. In the hands of big business, your data could paint a picture of you which makes you a rather unattractive candidate for something like health insurance, a loan or even a job, perhaps. And, in the hands of hackers, your data can give highly useful information about your whereabouts, your likes and dislikes and even your latest purchases, all of which makes you an easier target for unscrupulous individuals to attack, extort or bribe. 

Big Shifts!

So, it is safe to say that in the past ten years we have witnessed some big shifts in technology and its impact upon our networks.

  1. The trend toward virtualisation - the removal of hardware from the business premises – and the growth of cloud-based storage looks set to continue, making both better connectivity and network security major concerns for businesses.
  2. ‘Headless devices’, which characterise the Internet of Things, have resulted in an explosion of endpoints on our networks, creating a headache in terms of management and security.
  3. Our appetite for sharing data and universal access to it, simultaneously enhances and enriches our daily lives, whilst raising a great deal of questions as to the sustainability of such practices.

Keep an eye out for part 2 in our Enterprise Network Futures series!

What Next?

For advice on designing or upgrading your business WiFi network and associated systems, to the deployment of security solutions like Next Generation Firewalls and Endpoint Network Security, please contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.

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