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What are the key considerations for NetOps with the evolution of next-gen IT?

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

Organisations are having to change how they do business because of digital transformation. Companies with digital portfolios are getting the majority of investor rewards, while those lacking in these areas are quickly planning initiatives to help capitalise on digital trends and increase company value. Because of this business leaders are now, more than ever, acutely concerned with the role of information technology (IT). As a result, more decisions are being made by business leaders instead of IT management. Simply put, IT is no more a cost-center, and is now considered as an aggressive business-enabler.

This pressure to become more competitive through new digital transformation initiatives is being mandated by company boards and CXOs to the application and infrastructure teams. In order to address these new challenges, IT departments are scrambling to not only develop and acquire new skillsets, but also to enable successful collaboration and communication between IT and other teams across the broader organisation. As CIOs scale their businesses to be more digital, they’re struggling to find the right talent. Most agree that the expertise required for this next generation of IT relies on employees with a broad, versatile skillset, rather than specialists. As a result, we could see reduced demand for narrow IT disciplines, as CIOs now expect existing team members to be capable across a vast range of IT skills. So, IT professionals today essentially have two choices: evolve or become inapt.

This applies to the NetOps teams too. So, what role does NetOps play in the evolution of next-gen IT? Cloud adoption and DevOps are pushing the infrastructure teams and NetOps to evolve rapidly. It is increasingly expected that team members abandon old command-line interfaces (CLI), manual tools and slower processes, and instead develop more programmer and system-integrator-like skills to support agile DevOps models, which use private and public infrastructure as an abstract entity. Network teams are expected to turn network assets into a network-as-a-service, which is then available to the application, cloud and security teams. As a result, the newer network architectures need to be software-defined, application-aware, adaptive and automated, so they can better serve different parts of the business to ensure application performance and ensure positive end-user experiences. Furthermore, more business intelligence and predictive automation is expected out of the network through policy orchestration and hooks into machine-learning and data lakes.

NetOps teams are also expected to break down traditional silos between the network, compute and storage teams, and work across those boundaries to enable network-based services. And, as more and more IT workloads move into the cloud, the network team is expected to work with those teams too. Therefore, NetOps needs to support network connectivity in hybrid environments, which can feel somewhat like being stuck between a business group, cloud strategist, and cloud provider.

However, application performance and end-user-experience are not the only requirements for NetOps. Another shift in modern IT models is around the increasingly important role of data security. As more businesses go digital, the privacy and security of private company, customer and partner information is becoming a top concern. New regulations for data security are demanding compliance at all levels. A decade ago, CIOs had a lot of responsibility within the IT organisation and the CISO (or the head of security) used to report to the CIO. However, security is no longer buried under IT and often falls under the umbrella of CISO. Next-gen IT organisation may very well embed security requirements into every IT function.  The “network of tomorrow” is expected to be security-context-aware. Because of this transition, NetOps is increasingly being asked by SecOps to preserve and analyse key networking data. And, incident management teams are asking for the data to help with investigations and proactive management for incident response.

Key considerations

As discussed, IT organisations as a whole are evolving, and the responsibilities IT infrastructure teams manage and control are also changing. What are some of the key considerations for NetOps as we continue to see the evolution of next-gen IT?

  • Teams should consider building a visibility overlay network of sensors and analysis tools that can deliver the dynamic visibility needed to track notable traffic throughout the network. This will help with performance and experience monitoring, as well as security actions.
  • Teams should be collecting, correlating and visualising network data at the logical level within newer software-defined architectures across on-premises and cloud technologies. This includes interactions with data lakes, machine learning, and business intelligence data sets, which are all continuing to see increases in usage. 
  • Policy-based and context-based orchestration will increasingly be an important part of the network, which will translate into parameter and traffic controls based on business intents.
  • Integrations with key software-defined architecture components in the industry – including open-source systems through open APIs – will increase programmability and automation. This means working with VMware NSX or other SDx, open-source or white-box based architectures.
  • Teams should be treating the cloud as an extension of their network infrastructure and not as the ‘other side. This means being comfortable with public cloud environments like AWS, Azure, Google and other, and managing the network performance and SLA for cloud connectivity, as well as managing application performance within the cloud.    
  • Automation will continue to play a more significant role in monitoring for and investigating network issues, with NetOps intervening at escalation points.  Teams will need to identify additional high value areas where they can contribute, such as how to leverage machine-learning and data to improve the network’s strategic role while reducing costs. 

The role of NetOps is changing from one driven by the expectations to own and monitor hardware and software assets, to one focused on building a multi-component network eco-system that can support a variety of business objectives. The future of IT will be enabled by service- and consumption-oriented models. Software-defined and intent-based Infrastructure-as-a-service will ultimately prevail. The next-gen role of IT, including NetOps, will involve managing this ‘distributed digital infrastructure’ comprised of owned and leased assets. Are you ready?

Nadeem Zahid, Sr. Director Strategy & Cloud Products, Savvius (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible

Nadeem Zahid, Savvius Senior Director Strategy, Alliances, and Business Development, with 20 years of leadership experience in the networking industry at leading companies including Cisco, Juniper, Brocade, and Extreme Networks.