More Thoughts on 2016’s Crystal Ball Networking Predictions

The year 2015 is almost in the books. That means it’s time to say, “I can’t believe the year is almost over,” and time for many of us in the industry to make some bold predictions as to what we think the future holds. I had intended to write a post with some standalone thoughts on what the coming year will bring, but then I read the recent piece by David Hughes filled with 2016 networking predictions and thought I would weigh in on his prognostications instead.

David’s first prediction is that 2016 will be the year SD-WAN goes mainstream. I understand the thought process behind this but my prediction is a bit more conservative. If you believe in the Gartner Hype Cycle, 2016 will be the year SD-WAN hits the first peak, that is, the “peak of inflated expectations”. In my opinion, Gartner named this peak incorrectly — it’s not that it’s a peak based on inflated expectations; rather, it’s a peak created by early adopters who get the technology, don’t need complicated ROI models, and who develop their own best practices. The market then settles down while the vendors gather up information, create case studies, and learn how to sell the solution to a broader audience —that’s where we are now. Based on that, I believe 2016 will be the year SD-WAN best practices are developed.

David’s next prediction was regarding LTE in the branch. This is a trend I have been bullish on for sometime. In fact, earlier this year, I wrote this post discussing the fact that it was indeed time for the WAN to go wireless. More of the mobile operators have jumped on this bandwagon and I agree with David: we will see more wireless WAN in 2016.

David also predicted the network software revolution would continue. I agree with this as well, although I still believe there will be a significant amount of hardware being sold. What we are likely to see in 2016 is more vendors decoupling the purchasing of hardware and software and offering the software as a subscription service. This will bring a new economic model to network infrastructure and change the way customers buy and add additional features.

The “Crystal Ball” predictions post mentioned that network functions virtualization (NFV) would take off in service providers. I agree with this, but feel there’s a second side to this coin that David didn’t mention. In 2016, we are likely to see enterprise adoption of NFV. Service providers will use NFV for service chaining and rapid service creation. Enterprises will leverage NFV to bring costs down, consolidate infrastructure, and make network services agile. NFV in the enterprise also addresses David’s prediction that we will see new branch architectures. It’s hard to make an architectural shift if the platforms don’t change so NFV becomes an enabler of new branch architectures.

David devoted a fair amount of his post to the topic of regionalized network services. I think this is an inevitable step in the migration to the cloud. One of the inhibitors to cloud services is the latency created by distance, so moving the cloud services closer to the user can help with that. One way to think about this is that we will see cloud services such as UC, big data analytics, and security become “fog” services.

Staying on the services theme, David mentioned managed SD-WAN services. We saw the first glimpse of these in 2015. In this September post I highlighted Verizon’s managed service. I believe in 2016 we will see almost every tier 1 service provider introduce a managed SD-WAN service.

Lastly, David discussed the growth of analytics and visibility. One of inhibitors to SD-WAN adoption is a concern regarding security. Analytics and visibility will be the path to improved SD-WAN security. This means it’s important for the SD-WAN solution providers to develop more instrumentation, capture more data and provide the analytics.