Analyst White Paper Abstract: The Future of Network Operations

Steve Lamont
By Steve Lamont August 24, 2018 6 minute read
Steve Lamont is a senior marketing manager at NetBrain Technologies. He has been an in-house content editor writing about operational and information technologies for over 10 years.

The following is an excerpt from the industry analyst Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) white paper The Future of Network Operations: Dynamic Visualization and Automation.

Network managers often build their careers on their ability to fix problems. Whether that comes from proactive problem prevention or reactive troubleshooting, it’s all about uptime for them. However, today’s enterprise expects more from the network and the network team. The modern network manager needs to be a partner, not a firefighter. They need to optimize their tools and processes to move on from the troubleshooting mindset. This will require advanced network visualization solutions and increased network automation.

The average network management team spends three-quarters of its time fixing problems.

 

New Technologies and New Expectations Require Network Mangers to Break Out of Firefighter Mindset

Troubleshooting is the singular focus of most enterprise network managers today, and it’s a serious problem. The average network management team spends three-quarters of its time fixing problems, according to Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) research. More specifically, they devote 35 percent of their day to firefighting or reactive troubleshooting, and they devote 40 percent of their day on proactive problem prevention.¹

That leaves them with only a couple of hours per day dedicated to strategic projects that deliver value to the business.

Percentage of total work time your network team devotes to troubleshooting and strategic tasks in a given week.

Now more than ever, network managers need to devote more time to strategic projects. EMA research found that several technology trends became mainstream drivers of network management teams this year, including software-defined data centers, public clouds, and private clouds. Enterprises are asking their network teams to support major shifts in technology strategy and architecture. Network managers need to liberate themselves from the endless cycle of troubleshooting, but where do they start?

There are two top challenges to enterprise network operations success:

  • A shortage of skilled personnel
  • A lack of end-to-end network visibility.

EMA recommends that network teams close the skills gap by optimizing their network management toolsets. Modern network management tools, especially those that can pull data from other management systems via API integration, can streamline workflows, because network managers no longer have to correlate data and insights across multiple, discrete tools. This integration also addresses tool fragmentation, the fourth-leading challenge to network operations success. Network managers can also address the skills gap by adopting tools that can capture expertise and transfer knowledge to lower-skilled personnel via documentation and runbooks.

Network managers should look for mapping and visualization tools that reveal the entire network, not just static maps that go out of date as soon as networks make a configuration change.

 

Obviously, an optimized toolset will also address the lack of end-to-end network visibility. Network managers should look for mapping and visualization tools that reveal the entire network, not just static maps that go out of date as soon as networks make a configuration change. Through research and interactions with network managers, EMA analysts determined that enterprises need dynamic network maps infused with metrics and data about the configuration and design of the network as well as its health and performance.

The Network Isn’t Always the Problem, But It Can Be the Solution

Network managers historically measured success by uptime. As long as the network was available, they were doing their jobs. In a software-defined world, that’s no longer tenable. Network managers say three concepts have become much more important to how they measure success: security risk reduction, overall service quality, and improved network visibility. These concepts require shifts in mindset and tool strategy.

Many network managers talk about the concept of “mean time to innocence.” Users generally blame the network when things go wrong, so network managers spend much of their time trying to prove that the network is not the problem. In fact, the average enterprise experiences around 34 significant IT service outages or degradations per year. Only about one-third are network-related. But when EMA research looked at the root cause of complex issues that require cross-domain collaboration, the network was the most common root cause of these challenging problems. Other aspects of the IT ecosystem are also frequent sources of complex problems, too, which reinforces the need for a more cross-domain strategy. EMA recommends that network managers take a more collaborative approach when trouble happens. Instead of exonerating the network, look for ways the network management tools can help other groups within IT troubleshoot their own issues.

Identifying the actual problem is the most laborious step of a troubleshooting event.

 

EMA research examined the network troubleshooting process in depth to understand how creators can improve tools to support a collaborative, operational approach. EMA asked network managers which stages of troubleshooting were the most time-consuming. They revealed that identifying the actual problem is the most laborious step of a troubleshooting event. Therefore, network managers need tools that can surface network problems quickly, streamlining tasks like information gathering and symptom analysis. Even when the network isn’t the problem, network tools can often provide valuable information to other groups involved in investigating an incident.

Aspects of network diagnostics and troubleshooting that are typically the most time-consuming.

Network managers are dealing with multiple technology initiatives that are stretching their ability to serve the organization, which is a major problem since they spend only 25 percent of their time on strategic projects. According to EMA research, hybrid cloud architecture, private cloud architecture, data center software-defined networking, data center network virtualization, and public cloud services are the technologies most challenging to them today. Thus, as network teams modernize their management tools, they should also have visibility into these new technologies.

Automation Can Help IT Organizations Transform Network Management

Automation is an essential component of any transformation or optimization of the network management toolset. EMA research found that 92 percent of network managers are looking for opportunities to expand their use of network automation, and 70 percent made this automation a high priority. Many enterprises think of device provisioning and configuration as an important target for this automation.

Homegrown, one-off scripts are one of the least popular tools for automation, but still relatively common. However, scripts are notoriously problematic for a comprehensive network automation strategy. They can automate select tasks, but they don’t automate true workflows. They are also brittle and difficult to maintain. A network refresh or software update can render them obsolete.

Scripts are notoriously problematic for a comprehensive network automation strategy. They can automate select tasks, but they don’t automate true workflows.

 

Network managers should keep in mind that 75 percent of their time is focused on problem-fixing. Network automation should address operational tasks like diagnostics and troubleshooting, too. In fact, the task network automation most commonly targets today is network optimization. Optimization is an important way to prevent problems. For instance, network managers can automate certain tasks that will prevent congestion-related incidents. Furthermore, fault and
performance troubleshooting and remediation is only the fourth most popular target of network automation. EMA advises that network managers look for more opportunities to automate reactive troubleshooting.

Aspects of network management that enterprises are automating or targeting for automation

 

¹All research cited in this paper is from EMA’s research, “Network Management Megatrends 2018: Exploring NetSecOps Convergence, Network Automation, and Cloud Networking,” April 2018.

Download the full white paper here to read EMA’s evaluation of NetBrain’s dynamic mapping and automation technology.