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The New Normals of Network Operations in the Year Ahead

Director of Internet Analysis
January 29, 2021

Last week I had the honor to participate in the PTC 2021 conference. Held in Hawaii every January, PTC’s annual conference is the Pacific Rim’s premier telecommunications event. Although this year’s conference was all virtual (no boondoggles to Honolulu!), it was no less important as the theme this year was New Realities. In the following blog post, I summarize what I presented in my PTC panel entitled Strategies to Meet Network Needs.

New Normals of Network Operations in the Year Ahead

While it is impossible to predict exactly how and when we’ll come out of the pandemic, we believe that there are going to be some lasting changes to how companies in the internet and cloud space operate heading in the future. Here are five “new normals” that Kentik customers are considering as they pandemic-proof their businesses to survive this year’s New Realities.

New Normal #1: Expanded Disaster Recovery Planning

Not many (did any?) Disaster Recovery plans included a scenario of the magnitude that we’re dealing with now. DR scenarios can be either long-lasting or short-lived. They can have either regional or global impact. But unlike an earthquake or hurricane, the pandemic is a truly global event that, as we are well aware by now, is of indefinite duration thus making it uniquely difficult to prepare for.

Aside from the unprecedented changes to our day-to-day work life, companies have faced profound challenges in their supply chain. How does a company continue to operate when replacement equipment can’t be shipped? Acquiring servers was a big problem in the beginning of the pandemic - fans from one country, motherboards from another, hard disks from yet another. With countries opening and closing, equipment acquisition became a nightmare.

One lesson we learned was to understand all the downstream dependencies and consider forward stockpiling. We learned that one must assume that you could lose physical access to multiple geographically separated data centers whereas previous DR scenarios only included the loss of access to one or two data centers in a single geography.

New Normal #2: Zero Trust by necessity!

Zero Trust is a security model that moves away from depending on a traditional security perimeter to a corporate compute environment that is segmented into many secure zones. By isolating services and resources, the hope is that they can be better protected individually, hopefully limiting the impact of a potential security failure.

However, Zero Trust takes on new meaning during a pandemic when much of the workforce is working from home using untrusted networks. Work-from-home means there essentially is no trusted network and nearly all connections are over untrusted networks.

New Normal #3: Advanced Provisioning

When traffic volumes ramped up dramatically in March 2020, global networks could handle the additional load due to advanced provisioning - intentional slack built into the system for future capacity. Outside of some last-mile exceptions, it was this advanced provisioning that really saved us as much of our lives moved to an exclusively online existence.

But traffic levels continue to grow and some of our new online habits (including working from home) will remain with us after the pandemic ends. Kentik customers are planning to continue to increase capacity into 2021.

New Normal #4: Edge/cloud native development

Heading into 2021, we expect to see more cloud native development. No app gets approved that isn’t cloud native (i.e. containerized). In 2020, we didn’t see much in the way of mass deployment of edge architecture, but in 2021, we expect to see the first of these “edgier” deployments start to take place around gaming, manufacturing/logistics, and distributed performance monitoring.

New Normal #5: Evolving Regulatory Environment

The pandemic isn’t the only source of challenges for the internet cloud space. The regulatory environment continues to be an active source of worry. GDPR and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) are here today, but what will businesses have to contend with tomorrow?

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has become a focus of political debate. The law protects internet businesses from liability if a user posts something illegal, but as social media platforms become a central part of our politics this protection may erode or its interpretation may be revised. Will there be changes in what is required to police content from our customers?

Companies may need to form a more developed opinion about their stance on law. It means even more meetings with the legal team. Kentik has 20+ customers in the cloud and CDNs space that are very concerned about this.

Conclusion

Those are five of the New Normals we see facing our customers in the cloud and internet space heading into 2021. This is a very challenging time, but if we can get through it, we will be stronger and more resilient companies. From everyone at Kentik, stay safe and healthy!

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