How security fears are driving network modernization

The negative impact of legacy networks can be substantial: increased operational costs, restricted potential for digital transformation and difficulty responding to the demands of the business. NTT’s research finds that two in three organizations confirm their technical debt has accumulated, with 71% saying that low network maturity levels are negatively impacting their operational delivery and ability to meet business goals.

Legacy networks are under unprecedented pressure. Upgrades and patches often run behind schedule. Points of vulnerability are multiplying. The shift to hybrid working requires more openings in firewalls, which in turn places a premium on frequent upgrades to firewall protections. Managers face a crisis of visibility, which is destined to get worse as more devices connect to enterprise networks. Research findings show that 93% of organization see the convergence of security and networking as a key focus of how future network characteristics will be changing.

Amit Dhingra, Executive Vice President of Enterprise Networks at NTT, identifies a raft of available protections, including the combination of identity-based security policies and zero trust network access (ZTNA).

Dhingra points out that ZTNA means remote users no longer have to tolerate reduced performance while VPNs “throttle everything down in order to inspect all the packets to ensure the right security protocols are in place. You can actually achieve the same benefit with ZTNA features that are readily available.”

In addition, Dhingra points to NTT’s anomaly detection services across multiple domains, and automated vulnerability assessments, both driven by AIOps. “In the past, this has been a very manual process,” he says. “Now, it happens instantaneously.”

The good news is that decision-makers are universally aware of the security risks that proliferate in the absence of these solutions. NTT’s research found that 90% of organizations say they need AIOps, automation & improved analytics to further optimize their network operations.  Overall, respondents identified inconsistent security policies and increased security risk as the leading consequences of underinvestment in the network.

The threats involved are familiar: 93% of organizations have no doubt that new vulnerabilities will drive increased security demands and 91% plan to move to an identity-based security architecture. Moreover, when NTT’s researchers asked what is driving network modernization, the number one answer was the ability to implement a cybersecurity mesh – the distributed architecture that enables a zero trust approach to network security.

One of the intriguing aspects of the research is the way it examines the network strategies of organizations that generate above-average financial returns. (NTT’s survey defines top-performing companies as those whose year-on-year operating margins were more than 15% and revenue growth was 10% or more in the last financial year).

Top performers are more likely to invest in cybersecurity (87% do so, compared with 41% of organizations not in the top-performing ranks). Notably, they are also more likely to involve their cybersecurity teams in network-vendor selection decisions. More broadly, top-performing organizations score highly in terms of the sophistication of their network strategy. For example, 79% told researchers their security strategy is fully aligned with business strategy. Only 48% of organizations performing at a lower level of commercial success said that this was the case.

Organizations that decide to upgrade their security posture face a wide array of choices and a need for new skills. Respondents to NTT’s survey identify a series of challenges arising from managing multiple vendors, ranging from SLA complexity to lack of interoperability and the difficulty of finding employees with the skills required to manage vendors.

As a result, nine out of 10 respondents agreed strongly that their organizations prefer paying for outcomes and buying from a catalog, with the ability to scale resources as necessary. This suggests a shift away from traditional in-house network management toward network-as-a-service offerings provided by specialist managed service providers (MSPs).

“Actually, this was a part of the report that surprised us,” says Dhingra. “We didn’t expect to hear that so many enterprises are looking to partner with managed service providers. But we do know that access to technologies and skills has become very challenging everywhere, in every part of the world. The answer for many enterprises will be to partner with MSPs who can provide those skills, and that access.”

Download the 2022–23 Global Network Report from NTT now.