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Is your network lying to you?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flex)

In the realm of the IT professional, logic is king and any hint of subjectivity will soon be quashed in the face of data, inductive reasoning, and a single, binary truth: bad input results in bad output.

If this sounds uncomplicated (and a little unromantic), that's because it must be—life is complex enough for an IT professional without the fear that your network is withholding vital information.

Think of an IT professional as a seasoned detective on a bad cop show, determined to squeeze the truth out of the network to figure out why something went wrong. In the past, the IT professional could grill the network and know that it would give up its entire story, allowing them to solve the case. However, while the network could once be relied upon to readily give up its secrets, things have changed.

As hybrid IT becomes ubiquitous and more of the IT environment is outsourced, the network and its truths are harder to pin down. What was once an open and shut case for our IT professional detective is now shrouded in mystery thanks to the increasing complexity of networks, making any issues that occur more difficult to decipher and address. 

Other influences add to this complexity. Unscrupulous vendors, for example, spread untruths while some employees are too focused on their social media feeds to realise the security and performance issues this may cause.

If the life of an IT professional once resembled a standard cop show with easy-to-solve cases, it now feels like a particularly dense season of "The Wire"—complex, ambiguous, and at times, hard to understand.

So what can IT professionals do to unearth the truth and, more importantly, stop ambiguity from impacting the network and infrastructure?

Obscuring the truth

To address these challenges, and once more crack open the case of the network, we need comprehensive, easy-to-use monitoring platforms.

Hybrid IT can offer businesses significant benefits. Return on investment and cost efficiency was the number one reason for businesses opting for cloud migration, according to SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2017: Portrait of a Hybrid Organisation (opens in new tab). With this in mind, it's no surprise that 95 per cent of organisations reported that they have moved infrastructure to the cloud in the past year.

Outsourcing your IT infrastructure isn’t all sunshine, however. The more an environment is outsourced, the less IT teams know about its operation, which makes it increasingly difficult to identify any performance issues and assess potential risks.

The increased complexity of hybrid IT also intensifies the headache for IT professionals who simply want to get to the bottom of what's affecting their network. IT professionals now need to be armed with the skills to address issues across both on-premises and in the cloud. Upskilling to cover both is no easy feat, and according to the SolarWinds report, the IT skills gap created by the hybrid IT revolution is one of the top three challenges of embracing cloud migration.

Hybrid IT isn't the only thing that's making IT professionals' jobs more complex. The proliferation of smart, mobile devices has led to an explosion in potentially vulnerable endpoints. So, if an employee is watching videos on their mobile device on your network, or using an outside USB on their workstation, it's almost impossible to know about it. If your latency is spikier than a small woodland creature, but your service provider insists the problem is at your end, how do you get to the bottom of this?

Now, you may be asking why we don't just rely on data to shed light on these elusive problems. Unfortunately, it isn't as easy as that. We receive a gargantuan amount of data on our networks, and it is often displayed in a way that makes any potential insight about as clear as mud.

If this feels like a long list of complaints, that's because it is—there's a lot we IT professionals need to get off our chests. It also serves to highlight the challenges we face, and how difficult it can be to fix network issues, especially with over-zealous managers nipping at our heels, and stubborn service providers proving to be obdurate obstacles.

Get the whole truth

It's time for IT professionals to once again be the ruthless detectives they once were. By using a monitoring tool to shine a bright light on the network, the truth will eventually out and the case can slam shut, leaving a happy, healthy organisation, and an IT professional who is equipped to take on whatever comes next.

A comprehensive monitoring tool must encompass every aspect of the network that IT professionals are responsible for. A holistic monitoring solution—one that offers insight into everything, be it node or CPU—is vital to ensure that IT professionals can get to the truth at the heart of their network.

A monitoring tool that offers this single-pane-of-glass view can also empower IT professionals to scale and adapt the tool, depending on an enterprise's specific needs and priorities.

The tool should also allow IT professionals to drill down into the network, enabling them to closely investigate element performance and decipher the root cause of any problems within the environment.

While a monitoring tool that offers depth and breadth of vision can help IT professionals solve the mystery of their increasingly disingenuous network, it can also be very ineffective if it isn't easy to use. IT professionals should therefore ensure the monitoring tool has intuitive user interfaces and, most importantly, that the software has the same priorities as the IT team.

A monitoring tool that's focused on internal usage would be of no use to you if, say, you know your IaaS provider is the one at fault. Instead, you should align and adapt your tool so that it targets the traffic you're concerned about, and provides the relevant data for you to fix the issue.

Perhaps more importantly, it gives you a position of power—letting people know that you have tools in place to get to the truth of the matter, even if the same people are trying to obscure it.

Leon Adato, Head Geek™, SolarWinds (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Flex

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.