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Federal IT: Seven networking and security trends to watch in 2024

By John Klopacz, Vice President and General Manager, HPE Aruba Networking, Federal

Before we get into the Federal IT Network and Security Trends to Watch in 2024, please allow me to briefly introduce myself. I am John Klopacz and I was recently appointed to the position of Vice President and General Manager of the Federal Region within HPE Aruba Networking. I’m honored and privileged to have been given the opportunity to lead the extended HPE Aruba Networking, Federal team and look forward to working strategically with our Field Sales, Systems Engineering, and Product teams to serve the digital innovation, IT modernization, and secure networking needs of the Federal government.

It’s been a challenging several years for Federal IT leaders, as they have adeptly navigated IT modernization and cloud priorities, supply chain disruptions, massively expanded telework initiatives, and fought back against unprecedented cyberattacks. As we move forward into 2024 – an election year no less – without further ado, I’d like to share our Federal team’s insights into trends to watch in the coming year.

We hope you enjoy the blog and, if you are either a customer or partner of HPE Aruba Networking, continue to engage with the HPE Aruba Networking team on your most pressing networking challenges. We truly appreciate all of our stakeholder’s continued partnership and support!

1. The death of the standalone firewall

Cloud, mobile, and IoT have been punching holes in traditional perimeter protection strategies for years now, and the pivot to hybrid work only enlarged those holes. It’s abundantly clear that a ring of firewalls is no longer enough to protect a good “inside” from a bad “outside.” Past efforts to address persistent security gaps have exponentially increased complexity and frustrated staff trying to do their jobs, while and have not sufficiently mitigated risk. Increasingly, security must be delivered from the cloud or built into the network infrastructure itself.

This year, we expect to see more agencies look to the concept of a secure service edge (SSE) to replace standalone firewalls. This allows security functions, such as zero trust network access, secure web gateway, and cloud access security broker, to be delivered from the cloud and consistently enforced everywhere. A secure service edge allows for a better user experience for agency staff and contractors as they access their essential applications, while simplifying and strengthening security.

Many agencies have harnessed the power of IoT, including for patient care, smart bases, sustainable buildings, and citizen self-service. Securing IoT devices requires segmentation on-premises, right at the edge of the network and closest to the device. That means firewall services need to be built directly into wireless access points, switches, and SD-WAN gateways. In the data center, top-of-rack switches with integrated L4-7 security functionality can provide more effective and cost-efficient segmentation than traditional firewalls.

2. Zero Trust Principles accelerate alignment of security and networking objectives

Agencies will continue to make solid progress on Zero Trust, whether they are well on their way with the updated Zero Trust 2.0 framework or earlier in their maturity efforts. The White House’s National Cybersecurity Strategy reinforced the nation’s commitment to Zero Trust, laying out specific goals to be met this year. That’s backed by a substantial increase in cybersecurity funding in the proposed FY24 budget.

Zero Trust also requires networking and security teams to work together more closely as they strengthen their agencies’ security posture. A Zero Trust architecture fundamentally changes the job of the network from connecting anything to anything to becoming an active enforcement layer for security policy, whether that is in the cloud or through on-premises network infrastructure.

3. Increased adoption of FedRAMP Authorized, cloud-native networks

Network modernization is a top priority across the government, and 45% of government CIOs are increasing funding to improve the digital workplace, according to Gartner. As hybrid work continues and applications are shifted to the cloud, the quality of the network has never been more important.

Cloud-native networks can deliver a better user experience, greater organizational agility, and improved IT efficiency, and FedRAMP Authorization is a must. A cloud-native network opens the door to AI-driven automation of everyday tasks, proactive problem resolution, and faster troubleshooting. IT teams spend less time on maintenance and are freed up to work on strategic initiatives or develop new skill sets. The move can alleviate technical debt, with regular network feature updates delivered from the cloud and eliminating manual updates of on-prem wireless LAN controller software.

4. 6GHz Wi-Fi adoption skyrockets with strong uptake of Wi-Fi 6E

The U.S. was the first country to open the 6GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi, and we expect to Wi-Fi 6E deployments move full steam ahead this year. Wi-Fi 6E offers significantly greater speed and capacity to deliver better user experiences for mission-critical applications, voice, high-def video, and virtual reality training. We’re seeing the trend to Wi-Fi 6E across our enterprise customers too, with the industry analyst group Dell’Oro Group validating that HPE Aruba Networking has shipped 1.5 times more Wi-Fi 6E APs than any other vendor in the industry.

5. AIOps will liberate it admins to work smarter, not harder

 Generative AI burst onto the scene last year, and captured people’s imaginations (and fears) almost like no other technology, prompting the White House to call for the development of safe and secure AI. AI can improve health outcomes, predict natural disasters, monitor the environment, and much more.

AI will be similarly transformative to IT operations, with AIOps tools increasingly critical for federal IT teams who are tasked with doing more with less – a challenge compounded as experienced staffers retire and attracting talent continues to be competitive. In fact, 72% of government CIOs consider AI to be a “game changing” technology, according to Gartner.

AI-driven insights and automation can shift an IT staffer’s job from discretely managing and configuring individual devices to holistically defining and applying policies. AI models can forge through mindbogglingly massive data sets to derive insights to deliver better network outcomes and experiences. GenAI can help admins rapidly find the information they need.

Gartner agrees: “By 2026, generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) technology will account for 20% of initial network configuration, which is an increase from near zero in 2023.

6. Private 5G makes serious inroads across the government

Barriers to deploying private 5G networks are falling fast across the public and private sectors with the availability of end-to-end private 5G solutions. Organizations that wanted to build private 5G networks have had to overcome the barriers of integrating their own solutions, with a mix of radio access, core, and metro network equipment, plus the need to license the spectrum from carriers. The result has been lengthy implementation cycles, a need for deep cellular domain expertise, and ongoing management complexity.

We expect to see more private 5G deployments this year, with greater availability of fully integrated private 5G solutions that provide a cohesive approach to provision, deploy, orchestrate, and manage network services. The ability to deploy private 5G in a similar manner to switches and access points vastly reduces the need for cellular expertise and puts private 5G into the hands of more agencies and enterprises alike. In fact, Analysys Mason forecasts that private LTE/5G networks will grow at a 65% CAGR between 2021 and 2027.

7. Measuring end users’ digital experience is essential to drive operational excellence

Agencies are working toward delivering a digital-first public experience, as mandated by the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience policy. Federal staffers and contractors also have high expectations for their own digital interactions. Improving staff and contractors’ digital experiences can increase job satisfaction, retention, and of course, their productivity. In a Gartner survey, 79% of government CIOs said that excelling in customer and citizen experience was a critical outcome for their digital technology investments in 2024, and 59% named human capital effectiveness as a critical outcome.

To deliver on today’s expectations for digital experiences, IT organizations must shift to measuring the actual user experience. Users just want their applications to work. They get frustrated when they are the first to find problems, and even more frustrated when IT tells them that the network is working just fine.

To address this, we anticipate that more agencies will deploy digital experience monitoring (DEM) tools to measure end users’ actual experiences as well as to proactively test to ensure infrastructure readiness when users aren’t present. This real-world telemetry data is fed into AIOps models for even faster problem identification and resolution, fostering continuous improvement. In the private sector, 60% of infrastructure and operations leaders expect to use DEM to measure application, services, and endpoint performance from the user’s viewpoint, up from less than 20% in 2021, according to Gartner.