Management in a Diverse Network Environment: More than an Afterthought

You can't monitor what you can't see, and more and more of the network infrastructure is beyond your direct control.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Mar 24, 2013
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Despite all the wonders breaking upon the enterprise landscape — from the cloud to social networking to mobility — the uncomfortable truth is that network architectures are becoming more diverse by the day.

From a management perspective, this new reality poses a significant challenge. On top of the fact that you can't manage what you can't see, the very idea of network visibility is becoming muddled. Responsibility for infrastructure, application performance and data management is dispersed among enterprise IT, cloud providers and even users.

New challenges often beget innovative solutions, however, and the very data environments advanced networking helps create might just be used to manage and monitor those networks. That's the thinking behind RedSeal Networks' new 6.5 visibility platform.

The company hopes to employ Big Data techniques to reveal the "dark space" that hides in most network infrastructure. The company estimates that perhaps 18 percent of the typical network is hidden to traditional management stacks because it is not listed in the configuration data repository used to keep track of things like firewalls, routers, endpoints and other elements. The company says that through Big Data analytics, it can shine a light into the dark corners of the infrastructure, offering IT a more accurate view of what is happening to enterprise data — plus the means to secure that data and optimize network performance.

Other developers are taking a harder look at the network edge to provide greater and more unified visibility across internal and external infrastructure. Lancope, for example, has added support for network address translation (NAT) to its StealthWatch platform, allowing the platform to properly define source IP addresses as they hit edge devices like the Cisco ASA and ASR switches. In this way, network administrators will be better equipped to pinpoint the sources of performance issues or security breaches. It's the difference between limiting your view of the network infrastructure to your own edge and tracking it all the way to the external host.

Regardless of where the infrastructure lies, when it comes to monitoring overall network health, packet inspection will remain a top priority. NetScout is keying in on this need with the nGenius 3900 packet flow switch, a chassis-based monitoring device built from technology acquired from OnPath. The unit provides intelligent traffic conditioning on every port in 10 and 40 GbE configurations, with an upgrade path available for 100 GbE systems. The device runs on the nGenius PFS Management software, which enables unified management and automation of multi-site deployments. It is available in 1-, 3- and 12-slot chassis. It also features a common interface for local switching and packet processing with 720 Gbps full-duplex, as well as support for up to 576 10 GbE and 48 40 GbE ports.

Of course, enterprise infrastructure no longer resides entirely in the wired world. Wireless networks pose an even greater management challenge than traditional ones, and many enterprises are already balking at the prospect of devising an entirely new management infrastructure to oversee it.

This is where converged approaches, like Cisco's Unified Access initiative, come in. Using the new Unified Access Data Plane (UADP) ASIC, the company can provide wired/wireless integration that brings all network traffic under the purview of existing management and security platforms. At the same time, Cisco is upping its own management prowess through systems like Prime Infrastructure 2.0, which offers broad visibility into applications, services and user settings, as well as automated workflow management that can be used to streamline physical infrastructure.

It would be comforting to think that advanced management stacks like these will ultimately make dispersed network management a no-brainer. But it won't be that simple. As the enterprise continues to embrace diversity of infrastructure, access devices, data environments and other elements, networks are only going to become more complex.

If past is prologue, most organizations will first continue to stress deployment of new infrastructure and then back-fill the management side later. It's a time-honored tradition, but in today's dynamic environment, enterprises that view management as an afterthought do so at their own risk.

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