Single Pane: Integrating Network Management Tools
An integrated approach to network management helps organizations save money, boost efficiency and enhance security.
- by Calvin Hennick
- Business and technology journalist | October 19, 2017
The demands of managing wired networks have kept network administrators busy for decades. In recent years, they’ve added more chores, including wireless networks, cloud environments, more nuanced access policies, heightened application performance requirements, and security tools that are handling more threats than ever before.
This network sprawl has given rise to “swivel-chair management” — the constant switching from one management dashboard to another to keep up with all the moving parts of an enterprise IT network – and it can cause more frustrations than just a stiff neck. When organizations don’t have integrated network management solutions that allow them to quickly view disparate network assets, security problems can go undetected, IT professionals’ time can become unnecessarily tied up in routine management tasks, and performance problems can become harder to diagnose.
“This is a pretty big time for organizations to upgrade their network infrastructure,” says Nolan Greene, a senior research analyst in the network infrastructure group at IDC. “It’s becoming more common now, as you’re upgrading, to start over with a network management system that’s natively integrated.”
To achieve this integration, some organizations are moving to a single vendor for wired and wireless networks, to provide more streamlined visibility into both. Others are adopting integrated management tools that facilitate advanced analytics and monitoring.
Although systems that integrate all aspects of network management remain elusive, Greene says there’s a clear trend toward more integration over time. “The interplay between network, servers and storage is at an all-time high, and the traditional silos around those areas are disappearing,” he says. “That’s being reflected in how IT is consumed and managed.”
Boosting Speed and Reducing Costs
One of the greatest advantages of integrated network management solutions, says Trent Fierro, director of software solutions marketing for Aruba Networks, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, is that they help IT shops to diagnose performance problems more quickly – saving time for networking staff and preventing costly outages. Aruba Central, a cloud-based network management tool, enables organizations to manage and monitor access points (APs) and switches from the vendor while also providing advanced capabilities including customizable guest access and Wi-Fi-based presence and connectivity analytics.
“If you’re trying to connect to Wi-Fi and you’re not getting a connection, IT staff may not know if the problem is the AP itself or if there’s a problem reaching an authentication server or some other service,” Fierro says. “If you have a network connectivity analytics component built in [to a network management tool], the IT team can see, for example, that a certain group of APs is having a specific problem. As people become more reliant on wireless networks, they need something that gives them a heads-up on potential issues, because you can’t be everywhere.”
The Network Operations Manager platform from SolarWinds, powered by the larger SolarWinds Orion platform, provides integrated network management for on-premises, cloud and hybrid IT, and includes features such as performance monitoring, network troubleshooting, traffic and bandwidth analysis, user and device tracking, and WAN monitoring. Destiny Bertucci, head geek for networking security at SolarWinds, says integrated network monitoring can dramatically enhance the efficiency of IT shops.
“You want your IT team to have an integrated solution, so they can see everything without switching between the tools,” Bertucci says. “That’s highly important. We need holistic troubleshooting views. Organizations are already housing all this information in databases, but it’s in different silos.”
Integrated network management tools can also cut costs, says Bertucci. “If you’re maintaining several separate systems, it’s going to be less expensive when you integrate them,” she says. “And your staff time is going to go down. You’ll no longer have several people looking at several different things. If you have an integrated system, you’re seeing that full environment.”
Integrated management helps organizations to better understand their “baseline” environment, so they’ll be able to quickly see and respond to performance problems, Bertucci adds. “When you have a view of the whole environment, your alerts and your baseline make sense,” she says. “It’s definitely quicker to troubleshoot. You’re able to find that needle in the haystack.”
Readying Networks for Digital Transformation
According to IDC, only 22 percent of organizations report that their network strategies are aligned with their digital transformation strategies. When networking and digital transformation are aligned, the research firm reports, enterprises show better revenue and profit growth, as well as improved customer retention.
To be ready for digital transformation, firms must prepare their networks to meet the following demands:
Scale: Emerging technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), will result in a 10- to 100-fold increase in the number of endpoints.
Speed: IT infrastructure must keep up with constantly changing applications, services and business processes.
Cloud: The pervasiveness of hybrid clouds requires a high level of performance both from site to site and for specific applications.
Simplicity: Network teams need tools to simplify and automate network operations and lifecycle management to prevent them from being overburdened with routine management tasks.
Security: The network is the first line of defense for new vulnerabilities opened up by mobile, cloud and IoT technologies.
Digital business models: As IT becomes even more integrated with business models, network outages will mean significant lost revenue.
Providing Protection, Looking Ahead
The greater levels of visibility and control that result from integrated network management tools can also help organizations to spot security threats and prevent attacks from spreading throughout the network. Further, integrated management tools help prepare networks for digital transformation initiatives, including increased deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.
“You don’t know what you’re not monitoring,” says Bertucci. “With integrated monitoring, you can say, ‘This metric hasn’t changed in seven months, and all of a sudden, there’s a spike on this server.’” In such a situation, Bertucci says, a network admin could isolate the equipment in question to prevent it from infecting the rest of the network and then track down the source of the attack.
Integrated management tools, Fierro says, can boost security by identifying rogue access points, as well as by helping organizations to manage access privileges for users.
Fierro expects IoT and other technologies to push further integration in management tools. “As more and more people look at IoT, those technologies will get integrated into the network management solution itself,” he says. “It just makes things a lot simpler.”