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A day in the life of an IT pro: How a network roadmap can stop history repeating itself

We are in the midst of a technological revolution, but this is a statement that has been true for the past 30 or so years. With the introduction of groundbreaking technology, from the Internet, to the cloud and, more recently, the Internet of Things, there is the lingering question of what the future will bring.

20 years ago no one expected a phone could double up as a map, camera and wallet, yet today we all use our smartphones for at least one of those things. In the next 20 years who knows where technology will take us. For all we know (and some of us hope), we might (finally!) be able to teleport ourselves or read people’s minds.

However, history has proven that in order for technology to develop, IT pros must always be one step ahead, to predict (if not pre-empt) trends, and spend time looking backward every so often to ensure they are learning from past mistakes. That’s as true for the “basic” layer of technology – the network – as it is in other areas of IT

Learning from the past

A case in point is when the Internet became ubiquitous in the workplace. This immediately led to a huge spike in network usage. Though network admins saw this coming, they had to find new ways to explain to the business the impact this was having on the network. This taught IT pros a vital lesson about the importance of being prepared and aware of the impact new trends can have on the workplace.

Yet years later the same mistake was made with BYOD. As smartphones gained Wi-Fi capabilities, tablets hit the market, and employees found they could purchase laptops that had more power than the office’s standard-issue, it took virtually no time at all for people to start using their devices in the workplace. Mirroring the PC revolution of the 80’s, at first these devices were under the radar, then they were present but disconnected, then specific machines were permitted onto the production network. Once that corner was turned, everyone wanted their devices connected and the internal employee guest network was born in a flurry of necessity.

The point is, yet again, this was something the IT team hadn’t been prepared for, and it created a huge surge in network utilisation which needed to be resolved before BYOD could be successfully implemented. Had IT pros learnt from previous examples like the “Internet boom” in the 90’s, this mistake could have been mitigated, if not wholly avoided.

Within the networking industry, technology is constantly moving at a very fast pace thanks to ongoing advancements like IPv6 and the evolution of hybrid IT. It’s therefore important we don’t let history repeat itself again so it’s up to network admins to not be caught off guard. One way to do this is to create a sensible and realistic network roadmap. This can act as a timeline and highlight what network admins should be focusing on today, while still preparing for tomorrow.

The network roadmap

Today’s most pressing issues are security, stabilisation and IPv6. Network admins are constantly trying to overcome the persistent challenges all three create. Interestingly, at a high level all these involve taking inventory of the network and having an efficient system in place whereby that inventory can remain current with minimal effort. An inventory will help avoid potential security issues occurring by alerting the network admin to vulnerabilities which need to be repaired. Subsequently this will improve stabilisation without having to invest more money, staff and time to the network.

Finally, as businesses undergo the inevitable switch to IPv6, having this inventory will allow IT pros to know which devices are IPv6-enabled and which need to be upgraded, resulting in the least amount of negative impact on the network and the end users who rely on it.

Evolution of Hybrid IT

An annual IT trends report (opens in new tab) from SolarWinds highlighted that a vast majority of businesses have shifted away from on-premises-only infrastructure to hybrid IT environments. In six months to a year it is expected that many more businesses IT infrastructure will move to a hybrid IT environment.

The research found, despite its popularity, cloud adoption isn’t suitable for all workloads and, even if it were, 65 per cent of organisations state it’s unlikely that all of their infrastructure will ever be migrated to the cloud. This has subsequently created hybrid IT – an environment where businesses migrate some infrastructure to the cloud, while continuing to maintain some critical services onsite.

Hybrid IT benefits businesses by reducing the cost, while increasing the flexibility and agility of infrastructure and relieving internal IT personnel of some day-to-day management. It’s important IT pros are investing time to ensure they have the right capabilities to transition to a hybrid IT environment so they are not left behind as this new trends sweeps the industry.

There is no fool-proof way to address all of the network issues on the roadmap. However, here are a few overarching tools and best practices to consider:

  • Automation: Networking is already complex and, as discussed, it’s only going to get more so. Tools that help by automating various network management routines such as configuration backup and analysis can free up time to focus on tasks that absolutely can’t be automated.
  • Monitoring: Monitoring is a key function that can help the entire roadmap, but especially stabilisation and hybrid IT. Constant monitoring of the network will provide a complete view of device status, network utilisation, routing errors, application performance and the like, making stabilisation achievable amidst growing complexity. For hybrid cloud, monitoring tools can provide vital information about what parts of the infrastructure it makes sense to migrate, from both a cost and workflow standpoint.
  • Don’t be shy: New trends always bring new costs and hybrid IT is no exception. Don’t be afraid to start these discussions early on. Find people within your organisation who are invested in the results and have a desire for hybrid IT, and then recruit them as your pilot testers. They will be willing to suffer a few bumps along the road as you sort things out, and will provide honest feedback on whether (or more likely when) the solution is production-ready.
  • Configuration management: A tool that is often overlooked for stabilisation is configuration management. If you have a tool to back-up your configurations on a regular basis, you can compare recent with past backups to identify changes in the network, pinpoint anything that is unwarranted and better understand your environment. This way, you’re also optimising the network, keeping an eye out for security concerns and meeting compliance standards.
  • Be disciplined: When it comes to security, there isn’t one tool that will fix all of your problems - there are a host of them. Instead, practice discipline and maintain it across all network functions. Secure the network, be diligent and ensure that attackers don’t have the opportunity to cause additional problems.

Addressing these challenges now will set network admins up for success. One can never predict the future of the network, but having automation and monitoring tools in place and implementing best practices will help achieve a flexible network.

Creating a realistic position to tackle network issues today, tomorrow and beyond.

Leon Adato, Head Geek, SolarWinds (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens

Leon Adato is Head Geek at SolarWinds, an IT management software provider. His expert experience includes systems management, monitoring and automation solutions for servers, networks and the Web.