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Future-proofing the network: Why you need to optimize for user experience

The last year-plus has been a transformative one for businesses and the technology used to help them operate efficiently and effectively. Pundits have estimated that anywhere from 16% to 30% of workers will select to remain working remotely after the pandemic.

Successful networking experiences depend upon positive end-user experiences. This has become obvious with the pandemic and the rise of remote work. When the pandemic struck, employees did not wait for approval from their IT departments to use useful technologies like Zoom that would help them operate remotely without missing a beat. At this moment there was a major change that will be a lasting one – the idea that not all traffic is the same, and that it is OK for employees to utilize tools, applications and solutions that did not originate from their company.

Your network needs to be set up to prioritize these experiences and types of traffic – and anything else that employees need – both for the rest of 2021, and to ensure you're ready for what the future might hold.

Understanding tour traffic

Put simply, if you don't understand your sessions, you can't understand your network.

Over the past five years, the core of the company network has been changing shape. Software is delivered as a service. Increasingly, organizations' solutions and services are delivered via the cloud, their employees use cloud-based tools and applications, and critical data and information is stored in the cloud. The idea of an on-premise data center storing all of a company's critical data began to sunset before 2020 and the pandemic sped up this transformation.

Employees are connecting and working remotely via open, public Internet connections. This has brought about a new understanding of the different types of traffic, or sessions, that networks see every day – and the fact that not every type has the same level of importance.

The questions organizations need to ask themselves ask are: "Why is my employee using this service?" "What is my employee using this service for?" "How important is this service and employees' use of it?" and "Do I need to interject company rules and security preferences into this process, or will that only hurt the experience and usefulness of the service?"

Gaining a better understanding of employee Internet traffic is critical to ensuring that companies and providers can deliver on the promise of "just working," and provide a great end-user experience.

The network of the future

The network of the future understands sessions and experiences; it can identify what is running on the network and why, and can help prioritize one type of traffic vs. another. With this knowledge, companies can allow traffic such as Zoom calls or Slack chats to be held over the public Internet while guaranteeing service levels remain at what end-users expect, rather than forcing that traffic to be routed into a corporate network before making the connection. This process can slow down service levels and connection times, and essentially become inefficient and counterproductive to an end-user (and, ultimately, to the company itself).

Providing your network with the means to understand and speak the language of services will optimize what traffic goes over your network and what doesn't. Decisions can be made based on efficiency and security, and bandwidth can be freed up by not automatically interfering with traffic that is fine to have travel over the public Internet.

Incorporating AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a game changer for the future of networks. AI, machine learning and big data analysis tools enable companies to quickly understand network sessions and traffic types, helping to facilitate the decision making on what priority and security should be given to what type of traffic. Automating these decisions as much as possible will inevitably lead to a faster, more efficient process for optimizing your network traffic, freeing up your network engineers to spend their time on higher-level tasks.

AI also has another important role within network optimization – helping to identify and solve issues before they become full-blown problems. These advanced tools can automatically find network problems and help fix them, being trained to recognize patterns of failure to ensure they aren't repeated. AI can find things that humans can't such as a cable not working properly. AI, ML and big data will help companies ensure that their networks are consistently providing the expected service-level and experiences.

How do you get started?

The remote workforce or any mobile sites or branches are the easiest to take control of in the beginning process of realizing a fully optimized network that understands traffic and user sessions. These locations are where the action is for the time being, not the office.

Start by understanding the sessions these users are undertaking. What is the most common traffic these employees have? What is the importance of this traffic? Does any of it need strong security? Once you have analyzed their sessions, group them into specific types of services (for example, video conferencing, contracts, financial information, less important documents, email, etc.).

Then, set up your network to manage and route the traffic uniquely depending on the type of service, and the type and importance of the session. Allow traffic of less importance, such as Zoom calls, to continue travelling over the public Internet.

Apply varying amounts of security as needed for each specific session and the specific traffic. If possible, security should be personalized based on need. Focus on network security as a whole, and on ensuring that the routing to these locales is secure and efficient. Ask yourself: Do you really need a full firewall everywhere, or can you implement one in the cloud to lower the cost?

IT and data centers take a lot of time to change and adapt to the latest network trends. Data centers will eventually give way to cloud computing services. As businesses move more critical data and services to the cloud this will happen naturally.

By starting with your mobile workers and remote/branch sites and working inward, you will be able to immediately begin seeing the benefits of optimizing your network traffic depending on specific experiences. At the same time, you'll lay the groundwork for ensuring your infrastructure is ready for whatever variables and changes in work norms are thrown at it in the near and distant future.

Patrick MeLampy, Juniper Fellow, Juniper Networks

Patrick MeLampy serves as a Juniper Fellow at Juniper Networks. Before joining Juniper Networks through acquisition, Patrick was the Co–Founder, COO and CTO at 128 Technology. Prior to 128 Technology, Patrick was CTO and Founder of Acme Packet until it was acquired by Oracle in 2013. After th e acquisition, Patrick served as Vice President of Product Development for Oracle Communications Network Session Delivery products. Patrick has an MBA from Boston University, and an Engineering Degree from University of Pittsburgh. Patrick has been awarded 35 patents in the telecommunications field.​​

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