To the surprise of many not living it every day, a robust, resilient, and reliable network is one of the most important drivers behind success in today’s business world. Organizations must continuously improve their network infrastructure to better meet organizational requirements and offer the experiences their customers expect. Recent changes in the network market mean this continuous improvement needs to go beyond optimizations and extend all the way to re-architecting the network.
The forces driving network re-architecture are twofold: new demands on the network, and innovations in network technology and solutions. These new demands on the network stem from enterprise-wide digital transformation initiatives such as cloud, SD-WAN, machine learning and AI, IoT, edge computing, and more. While these new requirements offer a host of business benefits, they’re also introducing disruptive complexity to the network, driving the need to simplify and accelerate the way all IT services are delivered today.
The innovations in network technology and solutions that are driving re-architecture come from software-defined networking, moves toward generic hardware, migration into cloud computing, and complex integrations across these multi-cloud, multi-vendor, multi-platform environments. Ready or not, we’re now operating in a hybrid world. And the challenges associated with ever-evolving next-generation networks can blindside you if you’re not prepared.
That’s why it’s important to periodically step back and assess the current state of your network and determine which emerging industry trends will impact it moving forward. Gartner analysts recently offered some helpful insights in their 2018 Strategic Roadmap for Networking. Let’s explore four key industry shifts in 2018, the role NPMD plays in each and how you can prepare for them:
1. WAN architecture is imminent
For many businesses, their WAN is optimized for the data center and is largely based on inflexible, multi-year MPLS contracts. To take advantage of cloud optimization and flexible WAN architectures that seamlessly leverage all kinds of connectivity, businesses will need to shift from integrated hardware devices to virtualized, highly flexible network services.
This transition will require you to rearchitect the WAN using SD-WAN/vCPE/NFV services and adopt programmable fabrics and network automation in the data center. Additionally, those fixed service provider contracts will need to be more dynamic. For example, KPIs shouldn’t be based purely on uptime, but should also measure agility and responsiveness.
Without visibility into the network, planning, deploying, verifying and operating these new software-defined, hybrid networks will be a challenge. Gathering the critical data about the SD-WAN, including information from other parts of the network that are impacted by it, allows organizations to ensure their policies are functioning properly, and that the network infrastructure is delivering the cost, quality or operational benefits promised.
2. Network automation, visibility and management will become a top priority
Today, network automation, visibility and management considerations often take a back seat during the infrastructure purchase process. This oversight ultimately results in expensive and time consuming troubleshooting (mostly based on best guesses). Those days will soon be a distant memory as network analytics, coupled with policy-driven software-defined networking, enable dynamic network-wide optimization.
In the midst of the many immense technology innovations taking place today, it all comes down to simplifying the network. For NetOps teams, this means you need the ability to capture the right information from anywhere on the network using a variety of data sources (including flow, packet, SNMP and API), process that data effectively, and visualize the information within the proper context.
Therefore, automation and visibility will become a top priority to achieve situational awareness through these technology migrations. As digital transformation initiatives continue to add complexity to the network, NetOps teams need to be able to harness the power of visibility across the entire hybrid IT environment. A proactive approach to network analytics and diagnostics will allow you to more quickly identify and resolve issues, thus saving costs.
3. Network practitioners will need broader expertise
If you look at most network professionals’ LinkedIn profile, you’ll see a slew of vendor certifications. Although this in-depth knowledge is critical for managing multi-vendor networks, it also creates silo expertise. As network building blocks with standardized interfaces become available from more and more vendors, we’ll see network engineers abandon specialized expertise in favor of becoming fluent in software so they can deal with networks that are increasingly software-defined. While many vendors are beginning efforts to consolidate NPMD toolsets, IT professionals will need to become network generalists in order to manage fewer tools that offer more expansive capabilities and show additional value to the organization. Among general software and networking skillsets, virtual and cloud infrastructure, basic scripting, and APIs are several key areas industry analyst, Zeus Kerravala, recently pointed out as focus areas for NetOps pros.
4. IT Service Catalog requirements will expand
Lines of business (LoB) and other IT functions are increasingly seeing the network as an enabling service platform. As such, the infrastructure and operations team must maintain a list of available network services, each with their associated SLA and cost when possible. For example, a network services catalog might include network services for new locations, individuals, and cloud connectivity support.
Yet today’s service catalogs are often incomplete and inconsistent, draining network resources as NetOps teams are expected to address specific requests and issues without the necessary context around each service. As networks continue to grow in complexity, it will become critical for these catalogs to provide a standardized, in-depth menu of all available network services.
The services that are offered won’t be confined to binary classifications of “available” or “not available.” Since service and performance levels can be specified, network teams will be called on to establish and maintain them in more locations and in a more granular fashion than the past. This new capability will dramatically increase demands on NPMD tools as they are required to rapidly and efficiently cover more of the network in greater depth than ever before.
Is your network prepared?
The networks of tomorrow are being built today. Digital transformation initiatives continue to shape a new hybrid world for NetOps teams, so it’s clear that further change is the one thing we can all count on. These four networking trends will continue to unfold over the course of 2018 and beyond, and next year there will be new shifts impacting how we support our businesses with NPMD. The question is: are you taking the necessary steps to prepare yourself and your network today?
Larry Zulch, EVP and General Manager of Savvius
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