Consolidating network management tools for greater productivity

Network engineers use a plethora of network management tools to monitor and troubleshoot their networks. However, over the years, many network teams acquire too many tools with overlapping features that often diminish in value over time. These tools overburden businesses both financially and operationally, and create more work for IT professionals. As a network engineer, what can you do when you have too many tools in your toolbox? 

This inefficient way of managing your network has become outdated. Network engineers are realizing the importance of implementing a consistent and reliable platform that meets all their needs while decreasing their workload. While many organizations opt to use several tools across all facets of their network documentation and troubleshooting, they will soon see a trend toward prioritizing tool consolidation: an increasingly important aspect of network management.   

As most organizations use network tools that overlap and misdirect engineers, consolidation is critical to making network teams more efficient, effective and collaborative. Take a second and think about the tools that your organization has for network management – I’m willing to bet that there are a least one or two that are rarely used, or duplicate another process. 

Organizations, however, should note that there are a few guiding principles they can use while facing the existing issues with their network tools. Here are the main issues you might face and what you can do to mitigate them:  

1. Problem: Existing tools provide overlapping information and benefits 

Network teams are tasked with solving networking issues across a spectrum of IT dilemmas and don’t always have the proper tools to help them navigate the murky networking waters. Though a multitude of existing standalone tools should help engineers, they often inject chaos and confusion into an already complex process. Even more confusing is the fact that existing tools provide overlapping information and benefits. While it’s clear IT professionals need network visibility to properly diagnose issues in their networks, data and analytics from multiple tools exist in an excess of places. In an ideal world, engineers would use a single pane of glass for network data where they can easily examine everything they need in one snapshot. More data isn’t always better; what network teams is actionable insights gained from contextualized data. 

Solution: Prioritize tools that integrate with a broader ecosystem 

When faced with the host of issues that can arise while using too many network management tools, IT professionals are forced to look for solutions: the first of which is to integrate those tools with a broader ecosystem. 

With a better sense of the state of the network, network teams are more equipped to troubleshoot any challenges that occur within their infrastructure. Teams will be able to see the data that they care most about without the burden of Network visibility is crucial to this position: engineers need quick access to data from ticketing systems, monitoring tools and security and event management systems. Viewing them on a single map makes the process inherently easier.   

Though network teams may not be completely prepared to defend their network against an attack or troubleshoot at a moment’s notice, they do have the tools which can help. However, these tools do not provide insight into the cause of the problem – this is still a tedious manual process. Again, the ability to have complete visibility into the network is key to preventing or stopping a security event or troubleshooting key issues.    

2. Problem: Network tools only help to an extent 

Even with this abundance of tools, the bulk of an engineer’s work is still manual. Network teams still document their networks with tools like Microsoft Visio and troubleshoot primarily with the Command-Line Interface (CLI). These manual workflows dramatically limit the ability of network teams to be productive and resolve network outages. Instead of using one of the many tools at their disposal, engineers rely on manual processes to diagnose issues after an event is detected.   

Solution: Prioritize tools that fill critical capability gaps 

It is important to find opportunities to fill capability gaps in the existing toolset. Network teams know how difficult it can be to proactively safeguard against misconfigurations in the network, even when there are controlled changes. However, teams can use Executable Runbooks to ensure compliance and network accuracy, ensuring every configuration meets a gold standard.  

3. Problem: Not all tools adapt to existing workflows

Engineers also face a challenge when their tools do not adapt to existing engineering workflows. To successfully use most tools, teams must adapt their workflow to integrate with the tool’s functionality. Network teams know they have an effective tool when it seamlessly integrates with their existing workflows and network management ecosystem.   

Solution: Prioritize tools that integrate seamlessly with existing IT workflows 

A network tool should adapt to the workflow, not the other way around. Network automation enables teams to collaborate in an efficient manner, alleviating major roadblocks along the way. The same can be said for security collaboration: network visibility and shared knowledge can ease the burden on both teams, allowing engineers to act more decisively when faced with an attack.    

Though network consolidation tools may be helpful in terms of optimizing your team’s performance, there is a tipping point at which too many tools create a hindrance on teams. As many tools have overlapping features and data, they become cumbersome and confusing to use. More tools generally require more training and expertise. To overcome this issue, companies should apply network automation to their manual processes and aim for complete network visibility. 

Jason Baudreau, Product Strategist, Network Innovations, NetBrain Technologies 

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