Wayne Mason, Sales Director, Advanced Networking, EMEA at Nuvias, explores the networking challenges that keep IT managers awake at night and how to avoid them.
Network managers – top tips for a good night’s sleep
Challenge: Many businesses migrating critical applications and data to the cloud don’t take responsibility for compliance and security.
Top tip: Take advantage of products that provide ‘red flags’ around cloud security vulnerability and compliance shortfalls, before it’s too late.
Challenge: Not enough visibility into application, network and infrastructure performance to understand what’s going on and respond adequately.
Top tip: Look at integrated performance management and visibility platforms and consider visibility-as-a-service solutions.
Challenge: Navigating through the hype and misinformation makes it difficult to make informed choices.
Top tip: Work with trusted partners and draw on the experience and knowledge of peers to come to the right decision for your business.
Challenge: DevOps promises much but poses many questions around open source, security and compliance.
Top Tip: Work with a supplier who can deliver a strong, end-to-end DevOps tool chain with technical support.
It’s not easy being a networking manager these days. Any connectivity problems that stop people doing their jobs and all hell breaks loose, from the CEO downwards. But as well as the smooth day-to-day running of the network, the IT team must continually strive to improve performance, facilitate more flexibility, secure the data, ensure compliance and reduce costs. Quite a tall order, so it’s no wonder that network managers are prone to sleepless nights. Here are just some of the challenges that they have to face, along with some tips for a good night’s sleep.
The cloud compliance conundrum
According to a report from the Cloud Security Alliance, nearly 70% of enterprise organisations are migrating data for enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications to the cloud, and almost 90% considered them business critical. This number is only expected to rise, and Gartner predicts the worldwide public cloud service market will grow to $331.2B by 2022.
While this unstoppable migration brings benefits for businesses such as scalability and cost, the Cloud Security Alliance also reports that, at the same time, more than half of respondents in its survey expected security incidents to increase. There is also a great deal of confusion about who is responsible and accountable for security, compliance and any breaches, particularly when companies move data to the public cloud such as AWS or Azure. The issue is particularly crucial for the finance industry and other verticals, the legal and healthcare sectors for example, that hold a lot of sensitive data, but it is just as relevant for SMEs that may find they are insecure. The problem is that organisations have been growing their networks organically and, at the same time, migrating workloads to the cloud, so security has not been built into the network from the beginning.
The bottom line is, when you hand over data to a cloud provider, you don’t at the same time hand over the responsibility for the protection of that data or the legal and regulatory compliance. It’s the organisation that owns the data which is ultimately responsible and it’s the job of the network manager to make sure it is secure. Organisations need to know what types of data they have, where it is stored and where it is processed, as different laws will apply including data protection, localisation and sovereignty. As we are all aware, breaches of GDPR can result in fines up to 4% of turnover. The nightmare is compounded when it comes to hybrid and multi-cloud environments, with data in private clouds and across multiple public clouds such as Microsoft* Azure and Amazon* Web Services (AWS), for example.
IT managers, CIOs and CSOs certainly need to get a firm grip on their cloud migration to avoid waking up to news of a real breach, but help is available. Products such as Dome 9 from Checkpoint*, for example, provide ‘red flags’ around cloud security and compliance shortfalls and risks before they become real.
With increasingly complex networks running business-critical functions, knowing exactly what’s going on is another nightmare for network managers, who always get the blame if applications are slow or unreliable. If you can’t spot the problems, how can you fix them? Managing visibility – or the lack of it – is a growing problem, particularly with the rise in remote working, the number of multi-cloud environments and the volume of applications putting strain on the network.
The network manager first and foremost is concerned with application performance and the quality or experience delivered to end users. But the performance of applications is dependent on both the performance of the edge network and the underlying network infrastructure. So, the challenge is getting full visibility and reporting of application, network and infrastructure performance together, in as close to real-time as possible.
Traditionally, this has been done by trawling through network logs from multiple sources, but this is an intense and long-winded activity. The good news is that there are more tools available. The bad news is that most of them simply look at one aspect of application or network performance. That’s why at Nuvias we are working to integrate different performance management and visibility tools into a single platform to give network managers a single view and point of truth. And taking this one step further, the trend is towards delivering visibility-as-a-service solutions that will help remove the burden of knowing what’s going on in the network and helping to resolve problems. One less thing to worry about.
Go to any exhibition or conference and it’s easy to get completely confused with the plethora of vendors offering the best solutions. The challenge for network managers is navigating the market and dealing with too much choice. This problem is highlighted by the fast-growing software defined market, particularly SD-WAN. Where do you start and what is right for your business? The amount of information and options in the SD-WAN market can be overwhelming and making the wrong decision can be disastrous.
While adopting an SD-WAN solution makes good sense in terms of improving network agility, performance and cost-efficiency, not all SD-WANs are equal or suited to every environment. SD-WANs also need to be ‘application aware’, to support everything from real-time streaming and collaboration, to mission critical transaction processes. Then there is the option of an on-premise solution or as-a-service approach. No one can be expected to have the time, knowledge and expertise to get every decision right. That’s why it’s important to have trusted partners, resellers and systems integrators who can guide network managers through the software defined minefield.
DevOps has been transforming the world of software development by delivering more efficient processes that radically reduce the time to market for new multi-platform applications and cut the software update processes from days to minutes. Few companies have embraced DevOps for networking. Network managers, faced with looking after multiple hardware appliances from routers and switches to SD-WAN controllers, still rely heavily on manual processes. Yet another headache to deal with.
DevOps-for-the network – so called NetDevOps – supports the automation of routine or repetitive tasks within network management. This not only improves speed of change but reduces errors, enables scale and provides the ability to easily replicate successful processes. Automation tools are being adopted to manage networking devices – from provisioning and configuration to policy-based change management.
But any DevOps process requires a toolchain and many of the links in the chain are open-source. While there is no licence fee for open source software, there are issues around security, compliance and intellectual property as well as trust and support. Network managers don’t have the time to identify and solve errors in the software. That’s why it’s important to grow DevOps ecosystems that can be commercially monetised and fully supported.
Managing networks was never easy, but with today’s complexity and distributed architecture it’s certainly a growing challenge. Network managers are judged on how well their networks perform and the drive for constant improvements and value for money. And of course, an outage is the network manager’s worst nightmare. But everyone is facing the same challenges so with the help of vendors, partners and peers, there is no reason for a network manager to lose too much sleep.
*All third-party names and brands are the property of their respective owners
1.Cloud Security Alliance: https://cloudsecurityalliance.org/press-releases/2019/01/14/new-cloud-security-alliance-study-find-cybersecurity-incidents-and-misconceptions-both-increase-as-critical-erp-systems-migrate-to-the-cloud/  Gartner: https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2019-04-02-gartner-forecasts-worldwide-public-cloud-revenue-to-g