Network Management and the Cloud R/evolution

by Jim Frey of EMA

So what is it: An evolution or a revolution? That’s one of the questions we need to ask ourselves about the growing interest in cloud-based IT and computing services. If it is a revolution, that means all bets are off and everything starts anew.

It also means deposing of all of the old ways of thinking, all of the old ways of doing things, and all the comfortable, manageable approaches to delivering IT services that seem so safe, tried, and true.

In order to wedge open the maximum possible disruptive opportunities for cloud providers and cloud management tools, many pundits would have us believe that cloud represents such a revolution. But most of us see this as much more of an evolution whose primary manifestation will be a shift away from silo-oriented approaches and towards converged, cross-domain planning and operations.

Either way, cloud adoption is leaving an unmistakable mark on operations, and, although subtle, could herald the long-awaited future of service-oriented IT management.

Networking is usually one of the last to the party when a new technology, service, or application is introduced. Forward-thinking organizations do a bit better than others and bring the networking team into the conversation earlier in the lifecycle — at least more than a few days before production launch, anyway. But that is changing.

Organizations embracing cloud services, whether external or as part of an internal transformation to a private cloud model, are realizing two things. First, the promise of cloud cannot be reasonably achieved nor sustained without fully assuring that delivery of cloud services, which necessarily inclnetwork thingyudes the network, can meet expectations. Second, that the network viewpoint into operations represents the most central and, arguably, the most valuable angle of visibility for monitoring and troubleshooting application and service performance quality issues. As a result, the networking team is gaining a new level of prominence and assuming a new strategic status within IT.

My firm, Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) recently conducted a major research study, titled Network Management 2012: Megatrends in Technology, Organization, and Process that looked at a number of long-term shifts, most dating back many years, to determine how far we had come and in which direction(s) it seems we are headed. One “megatrend” that was investigated was whether and how existing or increasing use of cloud services was affecting network management tools, technologies, and practices. Some of the key findings were:

  • Networking pros within cloud adopter organizations are nearly 50 percent more likely to lead cross-domain triage teams set up to troubleshoot performance issues.
  • Cloud adopters are 42 percent more likely to deem WAN optimization to be strategic initiative rather than tactical project.
  • Those adopting cloud are more than twice as likely to be outsourcing some aspect of network monitoring and management, particularly in the areas of 24 x7 network health monitoring, Level I support, and network security monitoring.
  • Those seeing cloud impacts were far more likely to be gathering quality of experience (QoE) metrics as part of regular monitoring.  Among specific types of metrics called out, cloud adopters were four times more likely to be collecting MOS scores for VoIP; 3.6 times more likely to be using synthetic transactions at the end-user device; and nearly 50 percent more likely to be harvesting application availability metrics.
  • In terms of preferred network management tools architectures, cloud adopters were 46 percent more likely to prefer “Fully integrated, multi-function platform” products, and nearly four times less likely to prefer “Loosely integrated best-of-breed products from multiple vendors” than those not being affected by cloud.

Far from being a random set of data points, these responses indicate a systemic preference for more integrated, more shared, more end-user and service-oriented approaches to network management.  Further, they are consistent with broader findings that EMA has discovered in other recent research, which documents a growing use of cross-domain operational models and related improvements in collaboration and proactive/preventative management success, particularly among cloud adopters.

Do these findings rise to the level of revolution? Perhaps, if by revolution we mean pulling networking out of the closet and setting it down in the front row, leading the efforts to coordinate operational support for a newly agile and business-aware IT organization. This certainly meets the test of evolution, however, forcing networking pros to pick their heads up and realize the role that they can and should play.

Revolution is certainly more sexy, and far more dramatic, but evolution is much more likely to have a positive long-term effect.

Jim Frey is a research director at Enterprise Management Associates. Jim has over 24 years of experience in the computing industry developing, deploying, managing, and marketing software and hardware products, with the last 18 of those years spent in network management, straddling both enterprise and service provider sectors. At Enterprise Management Associates, Jim is responsible for the Network Management practice area. Prior to joining EMA, Jim spent six years with NetScout Systems as vice president of Marketing.

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