Today’s network environments are far more complex than they were even a few years ago. Businesses are rapidly adopting new IT models to keep up with evolving customer needs: virtualization, cloud applications, IoT deployments, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and more. Such digital transformation evolved the data operations of businesses into fairly intricate network environments - and they’re only continuing to grow more complicated.
The key issue is that these continued investments in network infrastructure are exceeding what most IT teams can support. Enterprise Strategy Group’s recent research uncovered that 66% of organizations view their IT environments as more or significantly more complex than they were two years ago. The findings further found that network complexity is only expected to increase, as 46% of organizations anticipate upgrading and expanding their network infrastructure.
Despite this exponentially increasing complexity, IT teams are expected to ensure modern enterprise networks deliver ubiquitous connectivity, cloud and mobile integration, internal and external collaboration and conferencing, and high levels of data integrity and security. This becomes a herculean task as network engineers need to carefully organize a network spanning thousands of devices - all with their own proprietary operating systems (OS) and different configuration rules - various geographic locations, and numerous corporate environments.
IT teams are being run ragged to keep up. This is driving demand for new network management solutions that empower network engineers to oversee these complexities in a way that doesn't inhibit growth, increase risk, or rely on regressing back to on-premises, centralized systems.
The need for network transparency
The major problem historically is that it has been difficult for IT teams to know and visualize the network. Without a clear understanding of the entire network - the devices on it, their connections, the enacted policies, the geographical layout, etc. - it’s impossible to oversee a complicated network in a more simplified manner.
Without such transparency, organizations cannot verify that networks are operating as intended when reviewing network incidents or implementing new security policies. When considering a network update, determining how it may impact other applications negatively or introduce service-affecting issues becomes difficult with modern networks. An oft-cited study by Gartner notes that 80 percent of network outages are caused by people and process issues, with more than 50 percent of those outages caused by change configuration issues. It’s clear that this problem needs to be addressed, as it’s one of the major issues plaguing network engineers today.
Historically, to assess adherence to policies or the impact of any network change, businesses have relied on a few disparate solutions. Examples include outdated network topology diagrams, device inventories and management systems, CLI commands, and “ping” and “traceroute” utilities. But even using all of these tools in tandem doesn’t provide a reliable and holistic view of network behavior - much less an efficient one - for modern and heterogeneous enterprise environments. This has made it increasingly difficult for network managers to know what is going on within their internal data center networks.
Clearly, then, a better means of network analysis is vital. Today’s businesses need solutions that allow IT teams to map out their network infrastructure with the topology of the entire network quickly and efficiently, and to validate configuration and behavior accuracy on an end-to-end basis. The obtuse state of modern enterprise networks is the primary force driving a new boom for network verification and analytics software platforms.
The rise of intent-based models
Many of these new and innovative network management and operations tools are based around “intent-based” networking. This is the next stage of intelligent networking, which is quickly growing in popularity amongst the leading businesses according to Gartner. Intent-based networking leverages advanced automation tools to simplify operations, improve agility and fortify security.
Many of these new technologies serve as intelligent monitoring systems that offer deep visibility across a given network. They leverage programmable triggering mechanisms to capture and reporting key events and anomalies in real-time, while also filtering out irrelevant data. Not only does this serve as an advanced central platform IT teams can use to visualize and analyze the network, such solutions can proactively monitor the network without generating additional traffic or requiring the enterprise to create a distinct monitoring network.
The capability to create a snapshot of the entire network and the various devices spanning it is by itself invaluable. By creating such accurate network copy, teams can easily take the most basic step in managing their networks: eliminating unneeded complexity. While preserving the enterprise network’s scope and reach, the IT team can examine different parts of the network to evaluate which devices or policies are adding complications with minimal value. Even the most intelligently designed networks include elements of redundancy. Through identifying and replacing outdated equipment, software or policies, businesses can make small and straightforward adjustments to the overall infrastructure that will considerably simplify the network operations.
The immense value of these new and innovative network solutions appearing on the market goes beyond mere network visualization though. A number of them allow for advanced capabilities such as network verification, querying, and even automation. With such solutions, enterprises can quickly and easily test how their network would be affected when changes are made. If new firewalls were added to the network, the IT team could verify whether the implementation worked and how it might affect other traffic flows. They can isolate issues by searching for and analyzing all possible network paths that conform to a specific policy or intent.
The networks analytics capabilities in this space are also constantly evolving. A select few of these tools even support query engines designed for networks, that allow enterprises to query their network as they would a database. By providing access to a normalized set of data across the network, IT can quickly check certain problems and answer specific questions about their network. This allows them to simplify and accelerate troubleshooting, and instead focus on making the network more resilient, agile and robust.
Closing the IT gap
Large enterprise and service provider networks are becoming exponentially more complicated as network devices are added or upgraded to support increased scale and new applications. And this problem is only going to intensify as enterprise 5G applications begin to take off. The need to manage this growing complexity has led to new, smarter solutions that are revolutionizing network management.
Such networking solutions eliminate many of the manual network configurations and inputs that teams normally rely on, drastically freeing up time for IT to spend on other tasks. It is these new tools that are allowing enterprises to continue investing in their network infrastructure without getting overwhelmed by the growing complexity of it.
These intent-based solutions are helping to close the IT gap - empowering teams to do more in less time and prioritize improving services rather than troubleshooting problems. These flexible and scalable tools help engineers reduce risks and ensure outcomes for SRE teams, DevOps and CI/CD functions, improving the overall business process. Such technologies are contributing to an evolution in the way IT functions in the enterprise.