It\u2019s barely fall of 2023, but it\u2019s already clear that CIOs aren\u2019t particularly positive about their network plans for 2024. Of 83 I have input from, in fact, 59 say they expect \u201csignificant issues\u201d in their network planning for next year, and 71 say that they\u2019ll be \u201cunder more pressure\u201d in 2024 than they were this year. Sure, CIOs have a high-pressure job, but their expectations for 2024 are worse than for any year in the past 20 years, other than during Covid. Nobody is saying it\u2019s a \u201cthe sky is falling\u201d crisis like the proverbial Chicken Little, but some might be hunching their shoulders just a little.\nIt seems that in 2023, all the certainties CIOs had identified in their network planning up to now are being called into question. That isn\u2019t limited to networking, either. In fact, 82 of 83 said their cloud spending is under review, and 78 said that their data center and software plans are also in flux. In fact, CIOs said their network pressures are due more to new issues relating to the cloud, the data center, and software overall than to any network-specific challenges. Given all of this, it\u2019s probably not surprising that CIOs say they spend less time on pure networking topics than at any time in the last 20 years.\nThe combination of the Internet and the cloud has changed computing, and the top mission for enterprise networking is connecting customers, prospects, partners, and workers to applications. Virtual networking has taken over the WAN (MPLS VPNs) and the data center (Kubernetes container orchestration includes virtual-network plugins), and obviously it\u2019s a fixture in the cloud. These virtual networks are what users and applications see, and network engineers really don\u2019t have much to do with their technology at all. These same changes have magnified security risks, which is what created the notion of a separate security group.\nI\u2019d argue that all of this is tied to a single trend: virtualization. The goal of virtualization is to create something that looks like a traditional resource but is really a service. Virtualization is a form of abstraction; you represent all those routers and trunks with a service that looks like routers and trunks but is managed by the provider. You represent a data center network as a real LAN, but it\u2019s actually an overlay on a LAN \u2013 an overlay you can change and move without impacting gear. It disconnects users and applications from reality, in a sense, and gives more control to the things and people who use the network than to the technology of the network. That\u2019s pulling the traditional network apart as each mission pulls virtualization in its own direction.\nNetwork vendors are responding. Cisco, which has a line of servers and data center software, just bought security vendor Splunk to beef up its security, software, and AI credentials and support those separate missions directly. Juniper\u2019s Apstra product virtualizes the data center network to support configuring it based on goals or \u201cintents,\u201d and it now supports Terraform-linked network changes and added measures for data center and application security. Other network vendors are also doing more for security and AI, and so are suppliers of software and software development tools. There\u2019s no shortage of strategies here.\nAnd that pulls networks apart even more. Every network operator and vendor will stand up and pledge standards support, but every vendor will at the same time design their products and strategies to pull through their whole portfolio. Add different strokes for all those vendor folks to different mission drivers, and you understand why 79 of those 83 CIOs say they don\u2019t really have a \u201csingle network architecture model\u201d in place, and 48 say they\u2019re actually moving away from a standard approach. Virtualization can make the unreal look real, so why not allow multiple personalized \u201cunreals\u201d? Look into the virtual-network mirror and you see...yourself.\nNowhere is this more visible than in the management space. A couple decades ago, companies had a \u201cnetwork operations center\u201d and a \u201csingle pane of glass\u201d to show network status was the goal. Only 14 of 83 enterprises said they really had a NOC today, and when asked about a single pane of glass, one CIO quipped \u201cI have five single panes of glass!\u201d CIOs say that the current craze in \u201cobservability\u201d is a response to the fact that it\u2019s become very difficult to determine what the cause of an outage is. Calls to customer support almost never report the actual problem; the caller will say \u201cI can\u2019t use my network\u201d when in fact they\u2019re conversing with customer care over it! The actual problem could be a configuration problem in the network, but it could also be a security policy error, a failed server in the data center, a cloud outage, a VPN BGP configuration...you get the picture.\nOK, you may be thinking, but none of this is new. Why is 2024 shaping up to be so troublesome? The answer is the combination of vendor initiatives to try to increase sales and changes in the drivers and missions that impact network requirements. That starts with the cloud.\n\u201cThree years ago, I was supposed to be planning to move everything to the cloud,\u201d one CIO said. \u201cThis month the executive committee said that cloud costs were too high and we had to think about \u2018repatriating\u201d some applications, meaning bringing them back into the data center. Everything old is new again.\u201d The company had been planning a SASE deployment, and now some of the applications won\u2019t be in the SASE cloud domain. They must either pull them back to the MPLS VPN or use SD-WAN. But at the same time, the executive committee said they needed to make \u201cproduct search easier and improve purchase rates,\u201d and in some cases this targeted applications that were also being considered for repatriation.\nHow do CIOs think they\u2019ll address these converging pressures and diverging strategies (other than duck pieces of falling sky)? The answer CIOs gave most often (from 39 of 83 CIOs) was \u201ca unified virtual network strategy.\u201d First, this would address the fact that virtual networks make up the cloud, the data center, and their own VPNs. Second, it would let them change infrastructure and even computing and user distribution with little more than addressing and parameterization changes, reducing opex and capex. It could even let them hold on to current gear a bit longer.\nThe downside? Only 7 of the 39 CIOs who liked this approach have a specific plan to move on it, or a vendor or vendors identified. This is despite the fact that the majority vendor in 70 of the 83 enterprises has a specific virtual-network strategy, and at least one of the incumbent data center software platform vendors does too. Worse, the remainder of the 83 \u2013 those who didn\u2019t mention virtual networking \u2013 couldn\u2019t muster any more than 11 backers of any other strategy. In short, there is no consensus on how CIOs should face 2024 network challenges.\nGosh, maybe Chicken Little was right.