The Importance of End-to-End Unified Network Management
Companies are rapidly deploying modern, highly distributed application environments to increase their agility and ability to better serve their customers. This shift is driven by digital transformation initiatives that affect human processes and technology. In fact, ESG’s “2022 Technology Spending Intentions Survey” indicates that more than nine in 10 (91%) organizations are starting, in progress, or have mature digital transformation initiatives.
Organizations are creating distributed cloud environments by deploying modern applications in private data centers, multiple public cloud services (IaaS and SaaS), and edge locations. As a result, the public Internet is rapidly becoming the corporate network, with organizations using software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and broadband connections to these distributed environments.
At the same time, network teams must contend with hybrid work models that require secure connectivity from home or other remote locations. Not only must these connections be secure, they must also perform well and ensure a consistent positive experience, regardless of where employees choose to work any given day.
This highly distributed and dynamic environment creates several challenges for the network.
Complexity affects ability to deliver positive experiences
Although these highly distributed environments are more agile and responsive, they are also more complex. According to research by the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), more than half of respondents (54%) said they believe the network environment has become more or much more complex than it was two years ago.
It is not only the distributed nature that causes network complexity. Networking products have also been segmented by their role in the organization and even by technology. These include the following segments.
Network teams and technology have been segmented based on their function. Data center networks and teams are often siled from campus, branch, cloud and WAN teams. Traditionally, these segments may have disparate management tools, even from the same vendor.
Often an organization does not want to be locked into a specific technology vendor, instead favoring the best approach for each network domain. However, this requires network operations teams to learn additional management tools and manually correlate information when troubleshooting. It’s also difficult to find network operations teams with skills from several different vendors.
Modern and dynamic application environments
Change is inevitable for a network environment, and the trend started by virtualization is only growing with microservices-based applications. Network services should now be turned on and off in seconds, not hours, days, or weeks.
Support home workers
At the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, network teams were responsible for managing the connectivity of tens or hundreds, even thousands for large organizations, of remote sites. However, with the spread of hybrid working models, these network teams must now provide secure connectivity to hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of teleworkers. They often used legacy VPN services that required rerouting all traffic through the data center, which affected performance.
Managing multiple different management tools affects operational efficiency, as it requires operators to use swivel chair management – turning to view multiple screens – and manually correlating events. This results in limited visibility across the entire end-to-end network.
Previously, network management technology was deployed on-premises, which may still be a requirement for some industries. On-premises network management could affect the ability to use AI and machine learning (ML) tools and limit the amount of data stored for historical analysis.
As organizations move to the cloud, additional complexity is added as they must acquire expertise and learn how to manage cloud network management services for each cloud provider.
Taken together, these factors pose significant challenges for network operations teams working to not only keep existing network environments running, but also seamlessly scale the network to accommodate new corporate sites, public cloud services or remote employees, while ensuring positive experiences and secure connectivity.
Unified networking is gaining ground
Despite the challenges resulting from traditional or legacy designs, the future looks bright. Network technology vendors have clearly witnessed these same challenges with their customers and are working to overcome them. Many strive to provide unified networking offerings. This concept is resonating with organizations, as ESG research highlighted that virtually all organizations (99%) said they believed end-to-end unified network management was either essential, very important, or somewhat important. . More than four-fifths (84%) of respondents said it was essential or very important.
Providers are responding by unifying parts of the network, with the most common areas being unified wired and wireless for campuses. ESG research validates this trend, with 40% of respondents citing that they currently have a unified wired and wireless network, and 48% plan to unify. For the branch office, vendors that have SD-WAN technology take it a step further and unify wired, wireless, and WAN for even greater operational efficiency. Some vendors are building packages to extend to home-based workers and keep them under the same network management system as well.
Cloud networking – or, more specifically, multi-cloud networking – is also seeing an increase in activity, with several new companies emerging offering the ability to abstract away the complexity of managing multiple public clouds with a single unified management console.
Another important step towards achieving unified end-to-end management is the increased use of cloud-based network management services. Not to be confused with cloud or multi-cloud network management above, cloud-based network management is the concept of deploying the management of on-premises – or even cloud – network management services in an environment. public or private cloud. By centralizing network management in the public cloud, providers can provide several benefits, including:
- easier access for remote employees;
- ability to consolidate anonymized data and create a repository for AI and ML technologies;
- virtually unlimited data storage for historical analysis;
- one-stop shop for end-to-end visibility;
- single place to integrate security or share network information; and
- using AI and ML to improve operational efficiency and drive automation.
Steps to move forward
Organizations with distributed environments now rely more on the network to deliver positive experiences and business agility. Network teams must be able to enable new network connections and ensure that they are secure and performing well.
These requirements drive the need for unified end-to-end management that enables network teams to have complete visibility into the environment and the ability to manage it more effectively. End-to-end unification will also result in faster troubleshooting times, increased uptime, agility, and improved experiences.
Now is the time to have a conversation with your internal network team and preferred network vendor or MSP to learn more about the technologies they have already unified and their timeline for delivering end-to-end unified network management for your environment. Understanding their roadmap and how you can migrate will allow your organization to continue building highly distributed environments with increased visibility, control, and agility.
ESG is a division of TechTarget.