How to Tame — and Redefine — Your Network Now

The network as we know it is being redefined.

As more endpoints, applications, and devices are added to the mix, the network is transforming. For IT, the challenge is two-fold: stay on top of the network today, and prepare for what it could look like tomorrow.

In an environment where workers expect to be online wherever they are and whenever they like, regardless of time zones or whether IT support is available, the network has become a utility, not that dissimilar to water, or electricity.  The new normal is to expect that if you’re in a public area, Wi-Fi will be available, and if you’re in an office, the Ethernet plug in the wall is live, working, and fast. It’s like turning on a tap or plugging into an electrical socket.

While these user attitudes could be construed as positive, an indication, perhaps, that more operators are reaching the Five 9’s holy grail of higher availability than ever before, they could also come at a cost, with only 23 percent of enterprises planning to increase spending on network performance management in 2015 according to research firm 451[1].

Unfortunately, commodity attitudes toward networking are causing it to slip from the CXO radar. Does this mean that CXOs are so comfortable with the maturity of the network that they are focusing their strategic efforts and investment elsewhere? This may be the case, and market revenue data appears to support that assertion; for example, both IDC and Gartner see enterprise switch spend tracking at around 1 percent growth. But while that’s hardly an advertisement for networking’s sway in the IT budget or strategy, these numbers might not be the best way to gauge the CXO mindset when it comes to the network.

In January 2015, research conducted by asset management firm Piper Jaffray[2] highlighted that chief information officers (CIOs) cite networking as the area of the data center most in need of a refresh. In fact, 35 percent of respondents reported that they are looking to update their network this year compared to 26 percent last year. This is due to the transition from traditional “dumb” networks to those that have application aware intelligence, software-defined networking (SDN) and the blending of software and application visibility into the core network infrastructure.

That may not yet be reflected in the investment numbers tracked by industry analysts, but it does confirm that CIOs as a group still recognize that the network has business value to offer beyond day-to-day uptime and as a conduit for bits and bytes. Business value will become more apparent to the entire C-Suite as the network underpins the realisation of several infrastructure evolutions.

One such evolution is the ongoing rise in complexity of the network as the number of endpoints and applications explode and network boundaries expand. The network is growing at a much faster rate than the number of people inside the company dedicated to manage and monitor it. Hence, CXOs that are embracing a hybrid on/off-premises or majority cloud-based operating model will already be familiar with this increased complexity and the importance of the underlying network in achieving that vision.

There is also pressure for networks to keep up with emerging ways of working, such as the push to apply agile methodologies to the IT operations domain, a push that is occurring primarily through the adoption of DevOps – a cultural movement to bring developers and operations closer, encouraging greater interactions between engineers and system administrators. Gartner predicts that 25 percent of Global 2000 organizations will take up DevOps by 2016[3], an encouraging step toward a new set of constituents that are more focused on application performance management.

Here, the value of the network is in its ability to support rapid, iterative changes to the applications that run on top of it. Like all agile methodologies, the business value is in being able to move fast and adapt to changing requirements. One side effect of DevOps is it drives CXOs to gain a deeper understanding and exposure into the network and applications stack, since both must work in sync to benefit the business.

There is a strong need to make changes to existing network management tools to make them more relevant to the new breed of IT operations people. Monitoring tools need to stay relevant to their audience and evolve as technology changes and matures. If the audience is seeing the world in a different way, then we need to modify our tooling to reflect that change in perspective and move the business at the speed of IT.

[1] 451 Research, 2014

[2] PiperJaffray, 2015

[3] Gartner, 2015