We live in an exciting era for IT. Countless new technologies are changing how networks are built, how access is provided, how data is transmitted and stored, and much more. Cloud, IoT, edge computing and machine learning all offer unique opportunities for organizations to digitally transform the way they conduct business. Different as these technologies are, they are unified by their dependence on a properly functioning network, on what might be called “network continuity.” The key component for achieving network continuity is visibility.
It’s no secret that new and emerging technologies have always driven networking best practices. With such a wide range of business objectives and activities relying on IT, network performance really is a life or death issue for most companies. So, it’s critical that we maintain a firm grasp on the latest industry trends in order to make informed, strategic network management decisions.
To help explore these trends, Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) recently released the 2018 edition of its bi-annual network management study. From the broad impacts of cloud services and networking toolset challenges, to the convergence between operations (NetOps) and IT security, the report reveals several fascinating themes that are changing network management processes, and their business impact for the enterprise.
Here are six key network management trends and why organizations should care:
1. New types of IT initiatives are influencing network management priorities
In previous years, server virtualization reigned as the number one driver behind network decision-making by a wide margin. In fact, nearly half (49 percent) of IT pros reported it as their top initiative in 2016. This is simply no longer the case in the 2018 study, just two years later.
According to EMA, software defined data centers (SDDCs), public cloud or infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and private cloud initiatives are now the most influential drivers behind network management decision-making. This shift makes sense. As these technologies add a host of new efficiencies and complexities to the network management processes, enterprises will require solutions that can provide a holistic, deep view into network performance.
As network complexity grows, so does the complexity of understanding and resolving performance issues. A single transaction can take a round trip through wireless, wired and virtual networks, ending up back at the origin. Only with visibility into every segment of network transactions as they traverse physical networks, virtualized environments, and the cloud can we effectively identify, troubleshoot and resolve network issues, regardless of their origin.
2. Cloud services are flooding enterprise networks, presenting monitoring challenges
As cloud adoption grows, its impact on the network continues to be a significant focus area for IT decision-makers. When asked which types of workloads are most present on their networks, 60 percent of EMA survey participants identified external public cloud traffic as most prevalent, estimating that nearly half (45 percent) of their total network traffic volume can be traced back to the external cloud.
Network performance monitoring and management can be a challenge in the midst of cloud saturation, especially without the necessary visibility. As a matter of fact, just 15 percent of network managers reported that they are able to oversee cloud networking with existing solutions alone. Why? Most network management solutions aren’t built to do it at all. Nearly 60 percent say that they need to attain some new monitoring and troubleshooting tools for cloud services, while 14 percent are currently still on the hunt for the right solution.
The appropriate kind of cloud visibility solution depends in large part on what the cloud is being used for. A Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) functions may require monitoring service levels from the outside looking in, whereas Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platforms such as AWS and Azure may be best monitored alongside the applications they are running for you. One thing’s for sure – the advent of cloud services has stirred up an undeniable need for better insight into performance across hybrid environments.
3. Patchwork management solutions plague NetOps
One of the top NetOps challenges in 2018 is fragmented management solutions. Nearly one-third of IT teams are using 11 or more active tools to monitor and troubleshoot their networks. Eleven!
Nearly half (49 percent) are using between four and 10 tools. Naturally, those network teams that rely on a crowded roster of solutions are less likely to detect network issues and far more likely to suffer higher volumes of network service outages on an annual basis. Visibility is a major obstacle when it comes to network operations using larger toolsets. The interoperability just isn’t where it needs to be. This means that network teams using many specialized management solutions often miss out on the in-depth network insights available to those that use fewer, more feature-rich solutions.
No matter how large your budget is or what kind of limitless resources you have, keeping your enterprise network operations teams trained and effective on large numbers of tools is just not practical. Instead, users tend to focus on their favorites, often times unaware of their loss of visibility and functionality. Addressing “tool sprawl” by consolidating piecemeal network solutions is both more effective and more economical.
4. NetOps and IT security functions are converging
We’ve come a long way from the days when NetOps and IT security teams were isolated from one another. Collaboration between these two groups is far more common today than it was just several years ago.
Indicative of this trend, 40 percent of EMA survey respondents stated that they’re fully converged with IT security, while 35 percent of enterprises have even begun using security risk reduction as a yardstick for measuring network management success. And most network supervisors identified their network performance monitoring and advanced network analytics as the top operations items requiring integration with security processes.
What’s driving this growing cooperation between NetOps and IT security? Enterprises have realized that these functions are more effective working together than in separate siloes. It’s about time, I might add. Case in point: the second and third most common cause root cause of complex IT service issues, respectively, are security incidents like breaches and security systems (i.e. firewalls blocking legitimate traffic).
Moving forward, we know that the level of teamwork across NetOps and IT security will continue to increase, with the shared goal of building security into the network. After all, there is no reason not to consider secure operation as one of the most important network performance measures.
5. Data sources for network management continue to change
Remember years ago, when there were network performance management camps based on data source? NetFlow adherents squared off against the packet partisans. Debates raged over whether active or passive was better. Device logs were pitted against network element APIs. It seems so long ago. Or was it just last week? In reality, the debates about which are the best data sources for network management are increasingly irrelevant.
According to EMA, the most prevalent data sources in use for sustained network availability and performance monitoring today include network test traffic, management system APIs and packet inspection. And, the most popular data sources in use for network troubleshooting tasks include management system APIs and packet inspection.
In reality, it is in the synthesis of insights from multiple data sources that the future of network management can be found. The first step is to coordinate across data sources, rather like comparing images from an MRI and an X-ray machine. But higher levels of coordination yield a great deal more insight. Imagine the power when the broadest, most efficient view triggers greater attention to a specific area, and that greater attention yields specific insights that are examined in detail. In practical terms, NetFlow can indicate where a likely problem is occurring, deeper flow analytics can pinpoint a problem area, and network packets can uncover the true root cause.
6. Businesses are outsourcing network management
According to EMA, 58 percent of enterprises are outsourcing at least some aspects of the network management, which is an increase of more than 20 percent since 2014. This shift is representative of where a large portion of the IT market is heading – support from managed service providers (MSPs). Today, enterprises are outsourcing everything from WLAN networking and support, 24×7 network health monitoring, and data center monitoring, all the way to direct infrastructure management and configuration.
Confronted by the choice of whether to outsource, the further question of what to outsource, and most critically, how to ensure the transition and subsequent operation are successful, it has never been more critical for internal network managers – as well as external MSP partners – to have access to in-depth data on all network performance trends and anomalies.
So, what’s the common thread between these major network management themes in 2018? What unites them all? The answer is actionable visibility. In other words, amid all these constantly-changing trends, network continuity is dependent not only on your ability to gain insight into what’s taking place on your network, but how rapidly and efficiently you can do something about it.
Next year, we’ll undoubtedly see some new and different trends. But what will be constant is the need for all us in IT to stay educated on the latest research, trends, and tools, and, of course, to achieve network continuity through actionable visibility into network performance!