Nov 15 2023

Q&A: The IT Network of the Future Is Available Now

Modern computer networks are the backbone of every business. Extreme Networks’ Dan DeBacker says they must be infused with artificial intelligence to deliver agility, simplicity and security.

In organizations’ rush toward digital transformation, networking technology often gets overlooked. It’s understandable: With all the exciting advancements in collaboration, security, endpoint devices and more, the network is just, well, the network. Like an umpire in a baseball game, its job is to keep things running smoothly without making a spectacle of itself.

But just as the game would devolve into chaos without effective officiating, a modern business wouldn’t function at all without a reliable network behind it. And while networking solutions may not be the most exciting part of an organization’s tech stack, Extreme Networks’ Senior Vice President of Product Management Dan DeBacker argues that providers are working to build key advancements, especially artificial intelligence, into their products to make them more secure and agile. BizTech spoke with DeBacker to get a sense of the state of networking and its future.

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BIZTECH: How would you define the state of networking right now? Where is the industry in its evolution?

DEBACKER: For starters, the network has never been more strategic. There is almost nothing in an organization that doesn’t touch the network: It’s the central nervous system of every business, connecting all branch sites and linking every piece of technology. Yet with new devices, new locations and new demands placed on the network each day, it’s getting more difficult for organizations to deploy and manage networks effectively.

Customers are tired of the status quo when it comes to licensing complexity, management and cloud choice. They want network management to be simple, seamless and flexible enough to adapt to and scale with the changes in their businesses.

LEARN MORE: Explore the advanced tech that’s powering modern IT networks.

BIZTECH: What are your customers and prospective customers looking for in networking solutions? What are their biggest challenges?

DEBACKER: Customers want their networks to be simple and flexible. The number of users, devices, services and applications drives complexity, and it’s our job to help our customers cut through that. So many critical functions rely on the network, from online testing in schools to medical devices crucial for patient care. It absolutely must be reliable and resilient to potential interruptions.

When it comes to agility, this can be defined as a combination of flexibility and scalability. How easy is it to make changes to your network when you open a new branch office or hire a new remote employee? Or when security standards are updated, or when you need to swap out your operating system because your needs have evolved over time? People don’t want network solutions that they’ll need to rip and replace in a few years. They want a foundation that is easy to use and that can grow with them.

Dan DeBacker Photo

Photo courtesy of Extreme Networks

BIZTECH: What’s the next step in the evolution of enterprise networking?

DEBACKER: The next step in the networking industry is going to be twofold: We need to incorporate artificial intelligence into solutions so we can continue simplifying network management and maintenance, and we need to create network solutions that will support more user-facing AI and ensure that organizations can maximize their ROI.

Network management solutions that use AI are getting smarter by the day and are enabling IT teams to spend less time on tedious troubleshooting tasks and more time on creative problem-solving, which is the direction of the industry. IT jobs aren’t going anywhere, but it’s likely that a decade from now, they’ll look completely different than they do today.

BIZTECH: How do you see AI changing networking technology over the next couple of years?

DEBACKER: There’s real potential for AI when it comes to network management. For example, in 2021 we launched a feature called CoPilot that’s available on our management platform. CoPilot is already capable of detecting network anomalies, automatically creating trouble tickets, significantly reducing false network alarms and providing recommendations for a resolution. We named it CoPilot because it’s helping IT administrators move faster, but it’s not flying the network on its own.

The next step is the inclusion of generative AI to add even more in-app capabilities for users in terms of documentation and knowledge bases and help them make sense of the enormous amount of data that exists within the network. In a few years, that’s the road we’ll be going down. A scenario where an IT team spends hours trying to resolve a network issue will be rare. Instead, AI behind the scenes will be automatically rerouting traffic, pinpointing the issue and serving up a suggested resolution — all before users notice the difference.

BIZTECH: What about network security? How are modern solutions helping businesses stay safe, and what’s the role of AI in this area?

DEBACKER: Organizations must prioritize network security, and that means more than just putting up a firewall. Solutions such as network fabric, which can segment traffic to keep public users away from accessing more critical data, or zero-trust policies that provide a foundation for identity-based access, and even ensuring employees are trained to spot phishing attempts — all of this is necessary for ensuring your network is secure.

Security should not be something that is “bolted on” or orchestrated and managed separately from the infrastructure; that is far too complicated. We need to bring these together and include the ability to secure the network infrastructure as well as user application access, all based on identity. And when it comes to AI, this is where the anomaly detection capability that I mentioned becomes hugely impactful.

DISCOVER: How companies better secure remote network access.

BIZTECH: What else should people know about what’s happening in the world of networking?

DEBACKER: The thing to keep in mind when it comes to your network is that it’s not plumbing; it’s a massive pipeline of data running throughout your organization. Every organization has this, whether you’re a rural school in Colorado or one of the biggest retailers in the U.S.

The key is tapping into that data and using it to reach your organization’s goals faster and drive better outcomes for the people you serve. The network solutions vendors that can make it easy for their customers to start using the network as a strategic asset are the ones who will lead the market and set the standard for everyone else.


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