Understanding networking and related cybersecurity risks is so difficult. Many executives are asking, “How quickly can we get to the cloud?” Yet the truth is that they may not fully consider all the requirements for this transition. In fact, I’ve found that many executives are trading one set of problems for another.
The annual practice of adding more technology is unrelenting. As the COO of a networking software company, I’ve noticed that many executives today have very low confidence in the recommendations they are receiving for new spend. CEOs and boards employ outside consultancies to make informed decisions about networks and security. Companies are often encouraged to focus on the source of their competitive advantage, save money and mitigate risks instead of investing in the digital future. Networking complexity and related risks are now growing so large they are deemed to be defocusing and are a likely a candidate for outsourcing.
Rather than (or prior to) handing the keys to their technology infrastructure to others, I believe executives should instead develop a multi-year digital strategy. In my experience, most companies have arrived at their current infrastructure through piecemeal evolution. Some of the decisions they’re making today are done with little or no consideration for future technology trends. And like previous attempts at improvements, they may lead to additional waste and technical debt accumulation.
Many decisions around cloud migration in particular are reactionary, not strategic and have not given careful thought to major technological trends today, such as:
This next-generation standard for wireless communication is rapidly approaching, and I believe its technology could change the underpinnings of WAN technology, as well as how networks are segmented and extended for internet of things (IoT) deployments and home office workers.
Public cloud trends
It is critical for corporations to better evaluate and understand the long-term implications of public cloud usage. Comprehending the risks and rewards of public clouds is increasingly difficult, and it can also be hard to evaluate the efficacy of this platform.
One of the most complex threats facing any enterprise over the next decade is how to manage cybersecurity risk. Security experts say it involves technology, people and process. Most companies seem to be weakest in the people and process areas.
My industry, networking, arguably has more innovative startup companies now than at any time in history, so there is a mad scramble to innovate. If history is any guide, I believe transformative technologies will emerge and change the game.
Of all of the above, networking innovation may be the most important. Innovation could greatly improve the security of networks. Additionally, I believe public clouds are likely to become more numerous and closer to or implemented on premises; and there is likely to be more security in every aspect of networking, which could greatly reduce the attack surface area available to cyber attackers.
CIOs and technology leaders should embrace and participate in the wave of upcoming innovation
Boards and CEOs of large companies may need some direction and roadmaps to develop a digital innovation strategy. CIOs and technology leaders should embrace and participate in the wave of upcoming innovation. An action plan to encourage the formation of a strategy includes defining the following areas:
Executives need to clearly define their innovation objectives. They must feel empowered with budget and time to learn and explore potential solutions to nagging technical problems. These objectives can be expressed organizationally with committed resources, including people and equipment, to engage with innovative solutions and self-discovery. Larger organizations could even develop dedicated teams for innovation exploration, while smaller organizations might allocate personnel from existing resource pools. The goal is to research innovative offerings and open-source initiatives to identify and quantify sources of business value. Executive management should review the results and encourage further or extended discovery when business value warrants it.
Top networking engineers should be tasked with learning Linux and Python. Every IT executive and senior staff person could benefit from reading The Phoenix Project. Attendance at AWS re:Invent and Microsoft Ignite networking tracks should be required — or employees should at least watch the videos. (Disclosure: My company participates in both and has a business partnership with Microsoft.) Encourage active participation in open-source networking projects for learning. Formalized training and certification opportunities for staff should be encouraged and rewarded.
Neutering the networking-industrial complex
Instruct your teams to seek out various vendors and technologies. Participation in open-source networking projects should be rewarded. There are many open-source networking projects that emphasize managing data center networks, but these often need extensions or additional additive work to be useful. OpenStack, Kubernetes, FD.io, DPDK, Free Range Router, Squid, Bro and Snort are all excellent open-source products, but they often need to be combined with DevOps tools or extended to be useful. (Disclosure: My company participates in the DPDK and Free Range Routing open-source groups.)
Focusing on non-vendor-specific training
While incredibly useful in the past, vendor-specific certification tests can be expensive and time-consuming learning investments. You can encourage DevOps or Python training instead. Provide time and budget for project-based discovery of innovative solutions to your business’s needs. Executives should make workshops and professional development assistance available if requested.
No enterprise that wishes to be relevant in the future can outsource its digital strategy
In my opinion, no enterprise that wishes to be relevant in the future can outsource its digital strategy. True market advantage from transformation will be central to those companies that break out against their competitors. By stopping the cycle of upgrades and add-ons and encouraging discovery and innovation, executives can unleash engineering initiatives that will change the game.
Patrick MeLampy is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at 128 Technology.
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