NetBrain’s New Survey Sheds Light on Key Challenges for Network Engineers

Grant Ho
By Grant Ho June 13, 2017 4 minute read
Grant Ho is SVP, Global Marketing at NetBrain Technologies and responsible for leading the company’s marketing strategy and execution. This includes corporate communications and brand, media and analyst relations, product marketing, digital and content marketing, and events. Prior to joining NetBrain, Grant held various marketing leadership roles in the healthcare IT industry and began his career as a strategy consultant to wireless and enterprise software companies. He was born and raised in Toronto and currently resides near Boston with his wife and two kids.

Today’s enterprises have reached a tipping point when it comes to network management. Networks are growing rapidly and becoming more complex, yet most engineers still use manual processes for managing key IT workflows—network documentation, troubleshooting, change management and cybersecurity.

In addition, many of today’s processes continue to depend on “tribal” knowledge to diagnose network issues, when greater collaboration and information-sharing are often the keys to success. As the landscape continues to transform, IT professionals must adapt, especially with technologies such as network automation, network security, and software-defined networking taking center stage.

In April 2017, we set out to determine the state of the network engineer by surveying more than 200 network engineers, architects, and IT managers nationwide across a wide range of industries. The study revealed key insights that point to automation as a critical need for the future:

  • Increasing size and complexity of networks is demanding new skillsets and technologies
  • Maintaining accurate network diagrams and network documentation remains elusive
  • Current troubleshooting techniques are contributing to longer network downtimes
  • “Tribal” knowledge and collaboration gaps are barriers in most organizations
  • Network security is a top priority, but continuously securing the network is difficult

Networks are increasing in size and complexity

Networks are growing rapidly, and engineers are facing challenges as a result. Consider the chart below: 83 percent of professionals surveyed said their company’s networks (e.g., switches, routers, firewalls, etc.) have increased in size over the last year. In light of this, it’s evident that network engineers’ jobs will not be getting easier anytime soon. In fact, 30 percent of respondents stated that they are looking to invest in network automation capabilities within the next 12 to 24 months, while 53 said that they are required to know programming (beyond just scripting) for their jobs.

Manual network documentation and troubleshooting processes are still plaguing network engineers

Today, documenting and troubleshooting networks are still major challenge for IT professionals. Our study found that 87 percent of enterprises rely on manual techniques to create and update network diagrams.

The downside to this process is the length of time it takes to document a network—a feat that is further complicated by increasing network size and complexity. For instance, 33 of respondents said that it would take more than one month to document their entire network given manual methods.

As networks continue to grow, the manual methods used by network engineers will only become even less effective. When it comes to troubleshooting, for instance, our survey revealed significant pain. As the following chart illustrates, 43 percent said troubleshooting takes too much time using command-line interface (CLI). Moreover, 45 percent of respondents said that the lack of collaboration and coordination across teams as the number one challenge when network troubleshooting.

Security proves to be a top priority

Many enterprises see major network security threats as imminent—whether it a DDoS attack or the recent WannaCry ransomware attack that plagued hundreds of organizations around the world. With a more secure and solid network security plan in place, it’s possible companies could have mitigated the attacks before they occurred. Network security is becoming a necessity rather than an option in the industry with 64 percent of organizations saying it’s their top area of investment within the next two years.

However, our survey data makes it clear that network engineers may not fully prepared to defend their networks against an attack. When threat strike, 57 percent of respondents cited an inability to easily isolate the area of the network where an attack is happening. Another 50 percent also said  that the inability to continuously monitor and diagnose attacks without human intervention was a key issue.

The evolving enterprise

As enterprise networks continue to change, so will the networking landscape. With the help of NetBrain’s Dynamic Maps and Executable Runbooks—linchpins of our network automation platform—network teams can better position themselves to handle these challenges. With less than four percent of respondents currently applying automation to the network diagnosis and troubleshooting process, it’s clear that the time is now for network automation.

Learn more about how network professionals are adapting to these trends by downloading NetBrain’s full report: 2017 State of the Network Engineer: Toward an Automated Future.