There’s nothing like a global pandemic to underscore just how connected we really are. Network usage is spiking around the globe, driving WFH initiatives and video chats. And it’s supporting critical infrastructure, from hospitals to global supply chains.
As an IT pro, you already know the critical importance of networks. Network monitoring and management may not be a #trending topic on social media (and probably never will), but it’s the backbone of our global ‘connectedness.’ And it’s more critical than ever right now.
New network monitoring demands
Despite this, network teams still spend a good chunk of their time putting out (figurative) fires—and often feel that troubleshooting tasks are poorly supported by network management tools.
“They spend most of the time on reactive troubleshooting, so they’re still firefighters … and then a little less time spent on proactive problem prevention,” says Shamus McGillicuddy, VP of network management research at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), in a webinar.
“The bottom line is more than half of their day is spent fixing things or looking for things to fix, and a little over a quarter of their day is spent on strategic projects.”
The webinar addressed findings from EMA’s newly released Network Management Megatrends 2020 report, based on a survey of 350 IT professionals.
Among the findings: Enterprises are trying to end decades of network management tool sprawl. At the same time, SDN in the data centre is putting new demands on the network management toolset and the Internet of Things (IoT) is impacting the network manager’s job.
Consolidating network monitoring tools
“[Network teams] are reducing the amount of point tools, discrete independent siloed tools, freeware [and] open source unsupported tools,” says McGillicuddy, “and are consolidating onto a smaller number of tools that are more multi-function, more integrated.”
And that’s a good thing, he adds. “I think that’s one of the reasons why you’ve seen some improvement in areas like proactive problem detection and not relying on the end user complaint to tip you off to an emergency.”
While consolidation is happening—most enterprises are now using just four or five tools—there are still some using anywhere from 15 to 25 tools. McGillicuddy points to one (unnamed) enterprise using 75 different tools for monitoring and troubleshooting. “Just logging into each of those can take up your whole day,” he says.
Trends in data centre SDN
One “megatrend” we’re seeing, according to EMA, is software-defined networking (SDN) in the data centre. “First-generation SDN did not win over the networking world for a variety of reasons,” says McGillicuddy. For one thing, there was no separation between the data plane and control plane.
“What we saw emerge in its place were second-generation solutions that used the SDN terminology but are really not SDN as it was originally promulgated to the networking world,” he says.
Instead, it’s a combination of technologies like network virtualization, policy-based controllers, automation tools and analytics “that allow enterprises to build networks that are easier to manage.”
Twenty-five per cent of survey respondents say they’ve widely deployed some sort of SDN technology in their data centre, while 30 per cent are in the pilot stage and 34 per cent have no plans to adopt it.
So how is this impacting network management tools requirements?
More than half (51 per cent) say they need new data collection techniques and protocols, such as API integration between their management tool and SDN fabric.
And nearly half (49 per cent) say they need new visualizations and dashboard views for SDN abstractions, as well as advanced analytics and AIOps for anomaly detection and traffic optimization.
Those who’ve been most successful “told us that new AIOps features and automated SDN config changes were their biggest tool requirements for their SDN implementation,” says McGillicuddy.
Trends in IoT device management
Another “megatrend” defined by EMA is IoT driving partnerships with operational technology groups. The survey found that 74 per cent of enterprises are connecting IoT devices to corporate networks. Of those, 53 per cent of IoT initiatives have led to close partnerships between the network team and operational technology team.
But 39 per cent of network teams are at least partially responsible for IoT device administration, such as “updating and patching OSs on something like an MRI machine,” says McGillicuddy, so “NetOps teams are being pulled and stretched by IoT.”
IoT, justifiably, is driving networking investments, such as security. “These devices are often unmanaged,” he says. “If the network team is being asked to patch the OS on an MRI machine—yeah, I would like to invest in more network security.”
Network access control and authentication, as well as network availability and performance monitoring, are also becoming more important investments, while Wi-Fi infrastructure and network segmentation are being driven as tertiary requirements.
Network teams want to move away from reactive troubleshooting toward more strategic business initiatives, like network transformation. The right network monitoring tools—and fewer of them—could go a long way in making this happen.