The explosion of digital life in the COVID-19 era has made network traffic balancing, optimization and security a critical priority for businesses, schools and other organizations. After a long year, there are signs of hope that the pandemic may be beginning to ease, but the need for increased bandwidth, security and connectivity is here to stay.
While COVID-19 sparked a surge in work-from-home, school-from-home and shop-from-home as a matter of necessity, digital transformation had been moving in this direction long before the pandemic began, and it will continue long after the crisis has passed. Enterprises will continue to field a large remote workforce to reduce facilities costs and increase employee flexibility. Schools from K–12 to universities will continue to use the investments and best practices of the past year to broaden their reach. For many consumers, the convenience of online shopping, banking and other tasks will remain compelling even as in-person options expand.
We’ve already seen a rapid expansion of hybrid cloud strategies to enable a more agile response to changing needs. In addition, consumption models are also changing; vendors are now required to provide flexible solutions for on-premises and hybrid scenarios as well as flexible licensing. But with these changes come new challenges for IT, including ensuring availability, maintaining security, optimizing performance and simplifying management across a more complex infrastructure.
Solving these challenges is a key mandate for CIOs to support new ways of operating—not just during a pandemic, but for the long term. In key IT applications, there is also a clear need to operate in a hybrid environment by taking advantage of growing cloud infrastructure while maintaining control of important business processes. This approach also provides investment protection and addresses the skill gap in cybersecurity while taking advantage of the massive growth in cloud infrastructure.
Surging demand drives a rise in hybrid cloud
The increased use of online applications, websites and services during the past year has had a marked impact on network traffic. In recent surveys conducted by Gatepoint Research and A10 Networks, 47 percent of financial services firms reported rising application services traffic; among e-commerce respondents, a full 86 percent saw an increase—including more than one-third seeing more than 20 percent growth. IT has been quick to respond.
The cloud has played a large role in this effort. In those surveys, 60 percent of e-commerce businesses planned to move applications to the public cloud in the next three years, while 49 percent of financial services firms already hosted applications primarily in the cloud.
At the same time, significant investments in legacy data center hardware make a cloud-only strategy unfeasible for many organizations. As a result, IDC expects that by 2022, more than 90 percent of enterprises worldwide will rely on a mix of on-premises and cloud environments—a hybrid strategy that increases flexibility and scalability, though at a potential cost of greater complexity.
As both shifting demand and ongoing digital transformation drive organizations quickly down the path to hybrid cloud and multi-cloud infrastructure, the application delivery challenges now facing CIOs include four critical areas:
- ensuring continual application availability;
- securing applications against rising threats;
- optimizing performance for a high-quality user experience, and
- maintaining visibility and manageability across a more complex and diverse infrastructure.
Ensuring continual application availability
In the digital age—and not just during a pandemic—applications are the lifeblood of many organizations. Any downtime can bring employee productivity to a halt, alienate customers and leave students stranded. As organizations move beyond legacy architectures to a more software-centric strategy, automation and artificial intelligence offer opportunities to remove layers of complexity and human error, and thus improve the consistency of application delivery. Advanced server load balancing can help ensure that applications are consistently and reliably available, while global server load balancing extends availability by intelligently distributing application traffic across multiple geographic locations. Redundancy throughout the infrastructure will be key to ensure uninterrupted service as companies look to re-channel their infrastructure investments into new revenue streams.
Securing applications against rising threats
As cyber threats grow in frequency and sophistication, applications, networks and data are vulnerable to risks that include web exploits, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, ransomware, phishing, data theft and threats hidden in encrypted traffic. It’s critical for organizations to maintain effective protection across application delivery infrastructures wherever they are located.
The transformation of network environments has spurred interest in Zero Trust security, in which access controls are extended throughout the environment rather than being limited to a hardened network perimeter; in the A10 Networks surveys, more than 40 percent of financial services firms already had established a timeline to introduce Zero Trust. A complete defense-in-depth strategy should also include measures across the hybrid cloud infrastructure, such as advanced load balancing, web application firewalls (WAF), authentication access management, malicious traffic and bot mitigation, integrated DDoS protection with real-time threat intelligence, data center firewalls and TLS/SSL offload.
To keep employees productive, customers satisfied and students engaged, organizations have to provide an exceptional and dependable user experience. User experience software can play a valuable role in meeting the expectation for a high level of speed and responsiveness, with optimization to enhance performance across applications, geographically distributed data centers and clouds from different vendors.
Maintaining network management and visibility
In a modern hybrid infrastructure, device-by-device and environment-by-environment management is too complex and too manual to ensure reliable service. IT needs to be able to achieve a holistic view into devices, applications, policies, users, and more across data centers and clouds. In the A10 Networks surveys, a majority of both financial services and e-commerce companies cited addressing management complexity as a key priority, with many calling out a lack of visibility across cloud data centers. These challenges can have a direct impact on cost, compliance, security, and more.
In response, organizations are seeking to modernize application infrastructure by managing on-premises and cloud deployments together as a unified system, rather than within separate silos. This can enable greater simplicity, agility, security and consistency in the way applications and policies are managed.
The ongoing upgrade of infrastructure may have been accelerated by COVID-19, but its necessity has been growing for years. The benefits it delivers will continue long into the future.
Guest author Dhrupad Trivedi is President and Chief Executive Officer of A10 Networks and an expert in the field of application load balancing. Trivedi holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a master’s degree in electrical engineering from University of Alabama and an MBA in finance from Duke University.