SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — VIAVI Solutions Inc. released the results of its 14th annual State of the Network global study of enterprise networking and security challenges. As the COVID-19 pandemic forces a global reset of how people gather and work, the survey provides key insights into how organizations are adapting. According to the results, 60% of respondents are looking forward to increased spending in 2021 to deploy new technologies — including SD-WAN (62%), private 5G (52%), and AI operations (45%) — while supporting a surge in use of unified communications (UC) and collaboration tools, spending more time in security threat detection and remediation, and reckoning with a skills gap.

Despite the disruptive challenges of 2020, the survey reveals that IT teams have adapted to managing end-user experiences in today’s work-from-home paradigm. Survey respondents now report spending at least 10 hours per week addressing issues related to UC and collaboration tools, such as WebEx, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom. The importance of network and application access has never been more critical, particularly as some organizations look to extend remote work indefinitely.

The challenge of troubleshooting UC and other applications also was compounded by a growing skills gap. In fact, respondents’ top application troubleshooting challenge was the lack of requisite talent to solve performance issues. This gap was most acute among organizations with less than $2 billion in revenue, with more than 90% of mid-size companies citing difficulty in attracting candidates to help them keep up with the breakneck speed of technological innovation.

“The past year has been transformative for enterprises, as IT teams adapted to the task of maintaining smooth service delivery and optimal end-user experience in spite of pandemic-related disruptions,” said Charles Thompson, vice president and general manager, enterprise and cloud, Viavi. “The challenges have not gone away, however, as this year’s state of the network study demonstrates. A widening skills gap is creating a troubleshooting hurdle more difficult than any technical issue, even as NetOps teams are spending more time than ever dealing with heightened security concerns.”

“Our research has shown that the skills gap is real, whether network teams are working with legacy technology or next-generation solutions,” said Shamus McGillicuddy, vice president of research and network management at Enterprise Management Associates. “There are ways to mitigate the gap. IT organizations can adopt network management tools with role-based workflows that are aimed at empowering lower-level admins to take on tasks usually reserved for power users. Another option is to embrace network automation tools that can either shorten workflows for skilled engineers or allow them to delegate more tasks to admins.”

Additional Survey Findings

  • Organizations have embraced the cloud when it comes to hosting critical applications, citing “improved service availability and reliability” as the top reason for migration.
  • IT teams remain committed to deploying high-speed networks. More than 90% will deploy 100 gigabit Ethernet (100GbE) during the next three years, while 80% are planning to deploy 400GbE.
  • Approximately 87% of NetOps teams are now involved in security threat detection and remediation — an increase of more than 25% from last year.
  • More than half (51%) reported their organizations were affected by the Sunburst cyberattack.

Key Takeaways for IT Teams

  • Finding and retaining qualified talent is hindering efforts to troubleshoot applications. Roughly half of respondents noted that network automation helps to free up IT staff to focus on strategic initiatives and drive business innovation. For example, automated network monitoring can help alleviate the shortage of trained technicians.
  • Executives should be aware that pooling NetOps, SecOps, and DevOps into conventional IT war rooms impacts the ability to meet deadlines for key projects. While war rooms may be inevitable to solve severe performance and security escalations, their frequency can be reduced with tools and workflows that facilitate collaboration across silos via shared data sources.
  • It may be futile to try to entirely outrun a massive global incident, such as Sunburst. IT teams can prepare for future attacks with network monitoring tools that capture full-fidelity, court-admissible forensic data. This speeds threat detection and remediation, helping to limit stolen data, reduce legal costs and regulatory fines, and keep reputational damage to a minimum.

State of the Network Global Study Methodology

Viavi has conducted its global study for 14 consecutive years, drawing insight about network trends and painting a picture of the challenges faced by IT teams. Results were compiled from 794 respondents, including network engineers, IT directors, security engineers, and CIOs worldwide. In addition to geographic diversity, the study population was distributed among networks and business verticals of different sizes. Study questions were designed based on a survey of network and security professionals.