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Firms balance new tech deployment, security and skills as IT moves past pandemic

Sunburst cyber attack rubs salt into the wounds of firms struggling to cope with the new demands on networks in the post-Covid working environment, says survey

As the Covid-19 pandemic forces a global reset of how people gather and work, companies are anticipating a notable increase in spending on advanced technologies such as software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) and 5G, according to the latest edition of Viavi’s annual investigation of enterprise networking and security challenges.

The 14th annual State of the network global study from the global provider of network test, monitoring and assurance systems compiled results from 794 respondents, including network engineers, IT directors, security engineers and CIOs worldwide. In addition to geographic diversity, the study population was distributed among networks and business verticals of different sizes. Study questions were designed based on a survey of network and security professionals.

Fundamentally, even with the disruptive challenges of 2020 and the extra pressures on networking departments due to Covid – the need to support the mass increase in remote working over the last year and the requirement to prepare for a new normal of hybrid working over the short term at least – IT teams have adapted to managing the end-user experience in today’s work-from-home paradigm.

Three-fifths of respondents were looking forward to increased spending in 2021 to deploy new technologies, including SD-WAN (62%), private 5G (52%) and AI operations (45%) – while supporting a surge in the use of unified communications (UC) and collaboration tools, spending more time in security threat detection and remediation, and reckoning with a skills gap.

Survey respondents reported spending at least 10 hours a week addressing issues related to UC and collaboration tools such as WebEx, Microsoft Teams and Zoom. The importance of network and application access has never been more critical, particularly as some organisations look to extend remote work indefinitely. Yet the challenge of troubleshooting UC and other applications was also compounded by a growing skills gap.

In fact, respondents’ top application troubleshooting challenge was the lack of requisite talent to solve performance issues. This gap was found to be most acute among organisations with less than $2bn in revenue, with more than 90% of mid-size companies citing difficulty in attracting candidates to help them keep up with the breakneck speed of technological innovation.

The survey also found that firms have embraced the cloud when it comes to hosting critical applications, citing “improved service availability and reliability” as the top reason for migration. IT teams said they were committed to deploying high-speed networks. More than 90% said they would deploy 100 Gigabit Ethernet (100GbE) during the next three years, and 80% said they were planning to deploy 400GbE.

Security was another key trend highlighted in the report, with 87% of network operations (NetOps) teams now involved in security threat detection and remediation – an increase of more than 25% from last year. Also, just over half (51%) said their organisations had been affected by the massive Sunburst cyber attack on IT performance monitoring platform SolarWinds Orion.

“The past year has been transformative for enterprises, as IT teams adapted to the task of maintaining smooth service delivery and optimal end-user experience in spite of pandemic-related disruptions,” said Charles Thompson, vice-president and general manager, enterprise and cloud at Viava.

“The challenges have not gone away, however, as this year’s State of the network study demonstrates. A widening skills gap is creating a troubleshooting hurdle more difficult than any technical issue, even as NetOps teams are spending more time than ever dealing with heightened security concerns.”

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