February 22, 2023

Making Operations More Agile and Efficient with a Digital Twin

by Craig Johnson

TLDRwatch our presentation on the Tech Field Day YouTube Channel.

On January 25, Forward Networks was honored to host Cloud Field Day 16. We especially enjoy working with the delegates because of their industry experience and objective viewpoints; in fact, we launched our product at a Networking Field Day in 2017. This blog is the first in a series covering our Cloud Field Day 16 presentations.

This Cloud Field day was exciting for us because we were able to discuss new features that helped us secure $50 million in Series D funding led by MSD Partners. Because there are always new delegates, we start our presentation by addressing some of the most frequently asked questions about our platform.

What is a digital twin?

We like to think about on-prem and cloud networks as being similar to roadways. Of course, there’s always more than one way to reach a destination – but what’s the best way?

Before digital maps, we consulted paper maps which showed potential routes but had zero information on the quality of the road, traffic conditions, businesses along the way, and, dare we say, speed traps (which I like to think of as vulnerabilities). The data helped you find a workable route but lacked valuable insight.

Today, we have Google maps and other live GPS services that adjust our route based on traffic, construction, accidents, etc. The data is rich, intuitive, and actionable. For example, if you ask Google Maps for the best route to a restaurant and it calculates that you’ll arrive past their closing time, the app will alert you and prevent wasting time. In addition, Google Maps includes public transit and other peripheral data, making it easy to choose the most efficient route that will provide the best experience based on our expectations.

Now that we have the power of Google Maps (a digital twin of our transportation network) available to help us plan routes and make decisions, why would we ever use a paper map again?

Our network digital twin functions on the same premise. Using read-only access, we collect configuration and state data from all traditional networking devices like switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers, SD-WAN, and software-defined elements like NSX and HCI.

How does a digital twin work in the cloud?

Today all enterprises are operating hybrid, multi-cloud environments with workloads spread between on-premises and multiple clouds. While the cloud offers elasticity, it lacks visibility, so we’ve expanded our platform to support AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. Using publicly available APIs, Forward Enterprise collects information about all the cloud components and constructs that affect how traffic is being delivered to subnets and security groups, transit gateways, and VPN Gateway, or VPC endpoints. This data allows us to construct a detailed network model that can trace all possible traffic paths through the network.

To make the data more useful, we’ve added SNMP counters and other traffic measurements that monitor performance and integrated security data to ensure traffic flows through desired choke points.

Can a digital twin improve security?

Most of our customers know they have blind spots in their network, and how can you secure what you cannot see? Our ability to compute all possible paths a packet could take in the network, combined with the configuration and state data collected from network devices, enables us to identify vulnerabilities, non-compliant configurations, and host exposure. This level of detail means that engineers receive actionable and timely alerts with a clear path to remediation.

Can a digital twin help with CVE management?

A CISO we recently spoke to admitted that the volume of CVEs his team receives is overwhelming. Each one is specific not just to a manufacturer or device but to the particular configuration and feature set in use. They can’t keep up, so he “assumes” they are ok and reports being in compliance. If it’s happening to one CISO, it’s happening to many CISOs. A digital twin collects config and state data on all the devices, providing an accurate inventory of precisely what you have in your network and compares it to the NIST database, providing you a prioritized remediation plan of relevant CVE issues within your network.

In the next blog, we’ll cover how a digital twin helps NetOps teams be more efficient by making the network searchable and providing intuitive, actionable data.

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