Networks today are different from what they were ten years ago, and one could argue that depending on the organization you work for, these networks are different from those just a few years ago. The rise of hybrid networks has made troubleshooting these networks that much more complex. Before, it could have been a hub and spoke design from your end users to the resources they need to access in one of the data centers. Applications that needed to access data center services or other applications either went over a few racks to the services or perhaps just had to go to another data center.

Today, not only do you have to worry about your on-premises infrastructure, which could be comprised of dozens of vendors, several versions of code, and multiple ways to show output, but you can also have a software-defined data center solution and a multi-cloud presence that relies on the underlying infrastructure. This makes troubleshooting extremely difficult, as teams need proficiency across several vendors, and individuals must keep up to date on the nuances in code versions and know how to extract the necessary information from the platform in order to troubleshoot.

Most organizations don’t have a current network diagram because it’s constantly changing, and any created map is out of date almost before it’s published.

Back in the day, when I used to troubleshoot these complex networks to figure out what was going on, we had to involve several teams (e.g., the infrastructure team for the software-defined data center, the network team, the firewall team, and the cloud team). On a troubleshooting bridge, you will inevitably hear, “My side looks good,” at least once from every team on the call. Obviously, this does not help resolve the issue. Because everyone was running their own tools, they were working from individual data sets that didn’t tell the entire story–they believed their side was good, but perhaps they were missing crucial information.

The next problem that could arise is the assigned person from one of the groups not knowing the part of the environment being looked at or not having the proper knowledge of the technology in the path of the troubleshooting session. This, unfortunately, will affect the Mean Time to Identify (MTTI), drastically affecting the Mean Time to Resolve (MTTR), which can be costly to the organization, depending on the industry.

Troubleshooting is one aspect, but any day-to-day activity can make your teams less efficient because they are manually trying to prove that all the firewall devices adhere to their golden configuration, as the organization is being audited. Not only is this tedious, but without the proper data collection and storage, it’s impossible to prove a device was compliant at a date in the past.

All hope is not lost; these complex networks can be tamed! On June 22nd at 11:00 AM PST, join me and Steve Allie, our VP of Technical Services, to discuss how a digital twin can increase efficiency in complex hybrid networks. Click here to register for this webinar.

TLDR: Join our BrightTALK Webinar on March 16, 2023, 10:30 a.m. PST.

Headlines have been dominated by news of tech layoffs with the technology sector hit the hardest. There is a consensus that an economic contraction is on the horizon. An astute leader prepares for this possibility, no matter how well their company is doing.  

For those who have been through this before, we know that while resources will be flat or reduced, service expectations will remain the same or intensify. IT is the lifeline of the business. Leaders are already losing sleep over preventing outages and keeping the network secure, and now they are facing the daunting possibility of having to do more with less.  

In most instances, there isn’t a single solution. People need retraining, priorities must be shifted, and some projects may need to be abandoned. However, this potential contraction is different for IT shops because a game-changing technology is now available that will help NetOps, SecOps, and Cloud Teams save immense amounts of time and money. 

Digital Twin technology creates a single source of truth for the network. The Forward Networks digital twin is the only platform on the market based on a mathematical model capable of scaling to support global enterprises with tens of thousands of devices.  

By creating a digital index of the network and parsing and analyzing the data, Forward Enterprise makes asking questions of your network as easy as making a search engine query. The data is presented in a vendor-agnostic manner, empowering early career engineers to quickly diagnose issues and route them to the appropriate team for resolution with detailed information. As a result, customers report outage reductions of 90% and a reduction of MTTR from a mean of 4 days to <5 minutes. 

This vital topic deserves thoughtful discussion, so we invited Andre Kindness, principal analyst at Forrester, to join us for a live discussion on BrightTALK. We are looking forward to your questions. Andre will give his perspective on the top three things IT shops should be doing to prepare and how to use digital twin technology for the most impact. 

When: March 16, 2023, 10:30 a.m. PST 

Where: BrightTALK 

REGISTER HERE 

By Nikhil Handigol, RTInsights

Most IT professionals lack visibility into their hybrid and multi-cloud environments. And they have problems identifying all the cloud services in use in their organizations.

The cloud promised three important things – simplicity, security, and flexibility. As the variety and the sheer number of cloud platforms increases with unprecedented velocity, the corresponding challenges of effectively managing, securing, and paying for these cloud services inevitably rise, too. An Omdia report suggested that by 2023 most companies will spend 40% of their IT budget managing their infrastructure across multiple cloud service providers.

[READ MORE ON RTINSIGHTS]

Today’s networks are too complex for manual network management and updates.  With most enterprises composed of tens of thousands of devices spanning multiple geographical locations, on-premises hardware, Virtual environment, and multiple clouds – it’s virtually impossible to push updates manually.   Also – the sheer volume of vendors and coding languages can be overwhelming for a network operations engineer.  In most cases learning a new language or new platform takes eight weeks to achieve basic proficiency; its not realistic to expect human skills to scale at the pace of network innovation (aka network complexity)

Fig 1. Itential Automation Example

Which is why we decided to integrate the Forward Networks platform with the industry-leading network assurance platform, Itential.  Their low-code automation platform makes it easy for network operations teams to deploy and manage multi-domain infrastructures.  Itential’s cloud-native software as a service offering provides a low-code interface that seamlessly connects to any IT system, cloud, or network technology for end-to-end closed-loop network automation and orchestration. Forward Enterprise enables network operators to deploy automated changes with the assurance that they are in compliance with network policies and won’t have any unintended side effects.

Fig 2. Closing the Loop: Automation + Verification

Forward Enterprise helps network operations engineers avoid outages through its unique mathematical model. The platform creates a digital twin of the network (across on-premises devices, private and public cloud) enabling network operators to map all possible traffic flows, instantly troubleshoot, verify intent, predict network behavior, and reduce MTTR (mean time to resolution). Itential simplifies and accelerates the deployment and management of multi-domain network infrastructure. Both platforms support major network equipment vendors and AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud platforms.

Fig 3. Automate Service Provisioning with Forward Networks and Itential

The Closed Loop Automation process enabled by the integration of Forward Networks Platform and Itential Automation Platform (IAP) acts as a safeguard to prevent any issues from becoming pervasive following a change window.  Using the pre-built automations, templates, form builder, automation builder within Automation Studio makes it easy for network operations engineers to build an automation catalog that enables changes at scale.  By using the API integration with Forward Networks, they can verify routing, add intent checks, verify new service connectivity, check for side effects and send notifications and verifications via Slack, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEX, and email.  Integration with change management systems including ServiceNow and Jira ensure everyone is working from a single source of truth and expedites collaboration. In the event of an issue, the diff check functionality within the Forward Networks platform makes it easy to pinpoint which changes are causing any unplanned behavior.

For more detail on how the integration works, please view our ONUG Spring 2021 session.

Network operations teams rely on highly specialized tools developed by individual vendors designed to address particular problems. The result? Most enterprises have 10+ Network Operations applications in place and they don’t talk to each other—which means that network operations engineers spend an exhaustive and unnecessary amount of time toggling between applications and sifting through information as they work to resolve tickets. Multiple tools providing state information introduces inconsistencies in the data accuracy and level of detail.

Because information is not portable between applications or is vendor-specific, inaccessible because it’s siloed due to security boundaries across the network, or current, the teams charged with network and security operations are at a disadvantage. When people working to solve a problem have incorrect, incomplete, or out-of-date information they cannot efficiently solve problems.

We don’t think it should be that hard

Forward Networks was created to make the hard parts of network operations easier.  For us, that means giving instant access to the information you need to troubleshoot and resolve network issues. 

The Forward Networks platform is based on a mathematical model that creates a digital twin of the network.  This software-based twin provides a comprehensive visualization of all possible network paths, a searchable index of configurations presented in a vendor-neutral manner easily understandable for even tier-one support specialists, the ability to verify network behavior, and predict how NAT or ACL changes will impact the network.  Network state information is updated at regular intervals determined by the operations team.

To ease the burden on network operations teams, we’ve developed an integration between Forward Networks and ServiceNow that provides a single source of truth for the network and enables more efficient use of both platforms. The integration between the applications allows engineers to automatically share relevant details about network state, configuration, and behavior with everyone working on resolving this issue. This information automatically updates within both platforms creating a detailed and current single source of truth.  The integration between the two applications takes only seconds to enable and configure. 

Reduce Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR)

A typical incident response involves several teams, the network operations engineer who got the call, maybe the apps team or security team, more senior engineers if the case needs to be escalated. The difficulty of resolving issues is compounded when everyone is working from their own assumptions and data. One of the most effective ways to reduce mean time to resolution is by creating an accurate single source of truth and ensuring everyone involved has access to it.  

Because Forward Networks regularly verifies that the network is behaving as intended, it can (at the discretion of the network operation team) proactively open, update ServiceNow incidents based on these verification checks. Whether incidents are created automatically or manually, a link to the relevant data becomes part of the incident and is updated as the system collects network state information, this ensures everyone is working from the same information.  For existing ServiceNow incidents, the Forward Networks integration allows network engineers to capture relevant information and add it to the incident, again saving the resolution team time they would have spent researching the issue.

This integration also allows networks operations to verify that the changes they’ve made have resolved the issue by running a query.  The platform will show if the issue is resolved or allow the engineer solving the issue to see how their change impacted the network and what else may be causing the issue, this way tickets can be followed through to resolution.  Incident history can be viewed from within Forward Networks or ServiceNow allowing the engineering team to see all actions and status from their platform of choice. 

The real benefit of this integration is immediate access to information that reduces the mean time to resolution from hours to minutes for most problems. 

See the Forward Networks ServiceNow integration in action

Have 5 minutes? Watch the Forward Networks and ServiceNow integration in action on our Forward Fix – engineering content by engineers, for engineers. 

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