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Exclusive: How self-driving networks help shift IT strategy

FYI, this story is more than a year old

Recently IT Brief had the opportunity to talk to Juniper Networks CTO, Kireeti Kompella, about self-driving networks, digital transformation and enterprise security.

1. To start off with can you tell me a bit more about Juniper Networks? 

Juniper Networks is an industry leader in automated, scalable and secure networks. We believe that creating simplicity through engineering is innovation’s highest form, so our products, solutions and services are all purposefully designed to simplify the complexities of networking for enterprises, service providers, and cloud providers.

As the industry’s problems became more complex, so did the solutions. While complexity cannot be rid of, we can control where it shows up; and that’s our job here at Juniper – to shift that burden away from our customers.

2. In this era of digital transformation and digitalisation in your opinion what are the keys to success? 

In this digitised world, enterprises must remain flexible. It is nearly impossible to predict what will happen next, so you need to be able to adapt quickly to whatever comes.

The era of digitisation came to us twenty years ago, but it has accelerated exponentially over the past five. Technologies such as the Internet of Things and cloud are now being widely adopted and the world is more connected and integrated than ever before. In this world, enterprises that aren’t quick and willing to adapt risk falling behind.

The other key is to understand that the network has never played a more critical role in an enterprise’s success than now. Today, everything is digitised and information transfer has become much quicker and simpler. But with this near-instant exchange of information has come a near-instant transfer of security threats to the network.

Traditionally, network security was about locking down the perimeter by choosing the endpoints and monitoring them for security threats. But with the rise of bring-your-own-devices in the workplace and cloud adoption becoming the norm, many sophisticated threats now come from within the network. Security has to move away from just detecting known malware to being baked-in across the entire network – from switches and routers to the network operating system itself.

3. Security is often a concern for many companies entering the digital realm, is this concern valid? 

Security is absolutely a valid concern for companies operating in a digital world. In fact, enterprises cannot be concerned enough. Prior to digitalisation, you had to physically be somewhere to cause damage. If I wanted to break into a business, I had to physically travel to the business to cause damage. But the onset of digitalisation has made these attacks much easier to conduct – incredibly quickly and from anywhere in the world.

In the digital realm, the scale of these attacks has also hugely increased. Pre-digitalisation, the information bad actors could steal was limited to business information or funds. Now, hackers can install malware and access any data they need to steal your identity, almost in an instant.

Scale becomes an even greater concern when you consider that the Internet of Things is only getting bigger and more connected. Your smartphone today is an entry point to personal information such as text messages, financial data and health records. When this smartphone enters the workplace, it can very quickly infiltrate your company’s network if left unsecured.

4. Can you tell me a bit more about security automation and how it applies to A/NZ?

Bad actors are nimble, tech-savvy and many have already added automation to their artillery. Unless your business deploys a security approach that matches or exceeds those used by hackers, you will lose.

Businesses in Australia and New Zealand are typically smaller in size than their North American and European counterparts. While large enterprises have the resources to employ dedicated cyber security teams, this isn’t a luxury often afforded to small-to-medium sized businesses. With A/NZ businesses being among the most connected in the world, they are prime targets for hackers.

For these smaller, already-stretched IT teams, the sheer volume of security alerts that come through every hour mean that IT managers are not just drowning in alerts but manually responding to threats that can put the entire network at risk.

Combined with machine learning, automation promises to more quickly and accurately identify potential threats to an organisation’s network by analysing ones that have come before it. Rather than taking several hours for IT teams to manually locate the source of a threat and devise a plan to contain it, automation allows threats to be identified, located and resolved in a matter of seconds.

5. Moving away from security, as networks grow they become more complex bringing with them a lot of challenges. Can you tell me a bit more about self-driving networks and how they tackle those challenges?

The idea behind self-driving networks is training technology to get to a point where the network can completely run itself, helping IT managers anticipate attacks and failures before they happen. It is about moving beyond reactive management of the network while freeing up valuable IT teams to focus on higher value work such as refining network architecture and security.

“I’ll get to it later” is a common trap among IT managers. While many hold well-intentioned plans to simplify, speed-up and rearchitect the tech that keeps their organisations running, it often falls down the priority list after repetitive maintenance and monitoring work. With autonomy, self-driving networks will self-configure, monitor, manage, correct, defend, and analyze, all with very little human intervention. 

Along with freeing up IT teams to perform the high-value, nuanced human tasks, self-driving networks and the automation technology that powers it can help IT teams improve response times as human intervention is no longer needed before actioning repetitive and prescribed tasks. This is particularly important when it comes to security. If someone is hacking into your network and stealing passwords, the quicker your response, the less impact on your business’ security and operations.

6. In closing what would you say to embolden companies hesitant about digital transformation? 

Businesses need to realise that the competition is already embracing digital transformation. The bottom line is, if you’re not gearing your network up to keep pace with the speed of change and threats that are coming, you risk losing the confidence of your customers and relevance in the market. That’s the profit conversation.

Beyond that, digitisation promises to simplify and improve the workplace, boosting employee morale, engagement and satisfaction, while enabling your business to be more responsive to customers.

During my short time in New Zealand, it’s been exciting to see firsthand the openness of New Zealand businesses to digital transformation. I have no reservations in saying that New Zealand businesses are braver than those in the US and some parts of Europe, and more willing to take the plunge – particularly those at the small-to-medium end of town. I’ve seen more walk than talk in this market, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the most forward-thinking organisations are born out of New Zealand.

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