Managing Your Way Through Network Complexity

Think what you will about the major trends affecting networking infrastructure in the coming year, the fact is that all developments are leading to one overarching change: networks are becoming more complex, and the demands on their performance are becoming more extreme.

For the enterprise faced with transforming its IT footprint, improvements to management capabilities should carry the same sense of urgency as improvements to throughput and network flexibility.

According to cPacket Networks CEO Brendan O’Flaherty, trends like an increasingly mobile workforce, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the prevalence of cloud-based applications and services are making it difficult for network managers to know what is going on within their internal data center networks, let alone wide area infrastructure. As he explained recently to CXO Today, even a relatively straightforward upgrade to, say, 10G infrastructure means that you can see into even less of the traffic you were supporting at 1G. Once the move to 100G gets underway, reliance on traditional sample analysis becomes dramatically less effective because you can only view a fraction of the load the network is now carrying.

Clearly, then, a better means of network analysis is in order. Companies like Viavi Solutions are looking to leverage this opportunity with real-time intelligence capabilities that support seamless planning, provisioning and optimization of highly dynamic network environments. The company’s Nitro platform integrates test and activation data to provide a fully software-based management ecosystem for mobile, fiber, cloud and enterprise networks. The initial launch of the platform centers on the vNet Fusion, which oversees virtual Ethernet lifecycle management through a mix of multi-layer test, service activation, performance monitoring and troubleshooting tools, all of which can be applied to newly deployed and mixed legacy environments. Meanwhile, Barefoot Networks is out with the Deep Insight monitoring system that offers deep visibility into all packets in a given network. The solution utilizes an intelligent, programmable triggering mechanism to filter out irrelevant data while capturing and reporting anomalies in real-time, down to the nanosecond. It also has the advantage of residing on the network edge, where it can gather data directly from existing switches. This allows it to monitor networks effectively without generating additional traffic or requiring the enterprise to create a distinct monitoring network.

Advances in network monitoring are also crucial to combat the growing threat to data security. If 2017 proved anything, it’s that enterprise networks are becoming increasingly vulnerable to compromise, due in large part to the added complexity of both physical and virtual infrastructure. But if you look closely at most attacks, says Value Walk’s Vikas Agrawal, they typically involve a series of complex steps, ranging from the initial penetration to the establishment of multiple entry points and the eventual exfiltration of data. with predictive analytics and intelligent forensics, however, organizations stand a better chance of thwarting these invasions before they cause real damage.

The catch-all phrase for this level of management is automated, or even intelligent, networking. The deeper truth is that it incorporates a broad range of capabilities working in tandem to ensure that any deficiencies in performance, regardless of cause, are addressed quickly and unobtrusively. At the same time, network management gains the ability to make adjustments to ensure that both existing and potential problems are corrected in architecture to produce a steadily more responsive and resilient network environment.

But none of this will happen by itself. To achieve this level of functionality, enterprise executives will need to shed the mindset that has guided network development in the past by putting management and security on an equal footing with performance — not simply tack them on as afterthoughts.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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