Network management is defined as the process of orchestrating network traffic and data flow across the enterprise ecosystem using network monitoring, network security, network automation, and other tools either hosted on-premise or on the cloud. This article explains the concept of network management in detail, discusses its key components, and shares some best practices to strengthen your network management capabilities in 2022.Â
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Network management is the process of orchestrating network traffic and data flow across the enterprise ecosystem using network monitoring, network security, network automation, and other tools hosted on-premise or on the cloud.Â
The primary purpose of network management is to deliver a secure, reliable, and high-performing network to end-users, including business users in the enterprise and end customers. Network management was always a crucial part of the IT task list, and it has become even more critical in the wake of COVID-19. Distributed companies primarily rely on network management to keep different enterprise functions and teams connected. Network management is also responsible for managing data flow in and out of different host environments such as on-premise servers, private clouds, and public cloud platforms.Â
According to the International Standards Organization (ISO), there are five types of network management to look after the entire spectrum of network-related processes. These types are fault, configuration, accounting, performance, and security management, commonly referred to as FCAPS. Let us explore what network management entails.Â
- Network fault management: You can have a designated network fault management team to anticipate, detect, and resolve network faults to minimize downtime. In addition to fault resolution, this function is responsible for logging fault information, maintaining records, conducting analysis, and aiding in regular audits.
There needs to be clear channels so that the network fault management team can report back to the network administrator to maintain transparency. It will also work closely with the end-user in case they report faults.
- Network configuration management: Network configurations are a key aspect of performance. These configurations are expected to change dynamically to keep up with data and traffic demands in a large enterprise. An example of a network configuration management task is an IT professional remotely altering the connectivity settings to boost performance.
Network configuration management relies heavily on automation so that the team does not need to manually look up configuration requirements and can provision changes automatically instead. Like network fault management, the network configuration management team must also keep detailed records of all changes, their outcomes, and issues, if any.Â
- Network accounting and utilization management: As network requirements evolve, employees will consume more network resources and add to enterprise costs. The network accounting management team monitors utilization, finds anomalies, and tracks utilization trends for different departments, business functions, office locations, online products, or even individual users.
In some businesses (especially digital service providers), network accounting management is directly linked to profitability. For example, an ecommerce company might need to track network utilization and benchmark against profitability during peak and lull periods. In large enterprises, network accounting management is a shared service organization that leases network resources to different branches and subsidiaries to maintain an internal profit margin.
- Network performance management: This is one of the most central aspects of network management. Network performance management involves various tasks that help boost network uptime, service availability, and concurrent bandwidth speeds. Here too, automation plays a major role.
A singular dashboard is connected to various network components that monitor performance KPIs and raises an alert if a threshold is breached. For example, the network performance management team might want to map network response times 24/7 to avoid impacting the end-user experience. If there is an anomaly, the network performance management team will work closely with the network fault management team to resolve the issue.
- Network security management: As most enterprise processes move online, network security is vital for resilience, risk management, and success. For example, 68% of enterprises as surveyed by Telia Carrier in 2020 faced a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack last year.
In a DDOS attack, multiple connected online devices target an enterprise website with fake traffic to block legitimate traffic. Network security management involves protecting a system against these and other issues. An enterprise network also generates a regular stream of logs analyzed by the network security management team to find any threat fingerprints.
Depending on your business’s size and nature, you may have designated teams or personnel looking after every kind of network management. A large, distributed, and multinational enterprise will typically have a team assigned to each type of activity. Specific business horizontals could set up teams for one type of network management and group the rest into a shared function.Â
The importance of network management has steadily grown in the last few years, along with its challenges. For instance, the Enterprise Management Associates’ Network Management Megatrends 2020 report found that one in three issues are detected and reported by end users before the network management team is aware of them. Fragmentation in the network management toolkit is also a concern, with 64% of enterprises using 4-10 tools to troubleshoot their networks.Â
A robust network management function can help address these challenges while keeping network costs in check and driving performance to support the business. To achieve this, network management teams rely on a set of discrete components.Â
Network management leverages multiple connected components to execute operations. These include:Â
Main Components of Network Management
1. Endpoint connectivityÂ
A primary purpose of your network infrastructure is connecting enterprise endpoints. This could be on-premise workstations, lobby kiosks, and conference room systems. It could also involve a distributed landscape that helps connect remote employees and multiple branch organizations.Â
The endpoint type also varies depending on the business need. Network management helps ensure that the necessary endpoint nodes are connected at all times, and network admins have real-time visibility into the performance of each node. IT teams may also use centralized network monitoring tools to supervise a single interface’s endpoint connectivity for distributed locations.Â
2. Logging systems
Logging systems are an essential component of network management as they help monitor network performance as per industry-standard KPIs and maintain exhaustive records. Logging systems are attached to both network hardware appliances and software components. As these hardware and software tools are used, the logging system will record all activity for future reference.Â
One of the most popular logging mechanisms of network management is the ubiquitous Syslog option â€” a protocol that lets you generate and maintain records for all network events in a data format like JSON. But this, in and of itself, is not of much use. That is why modern network management connects logging systems with network analytics so that you can visualize the data, detect trends, and receive alerts for anomalies.Â
3. Network automationÂ
Network automation reduces the manual effort involved in the five different types of network management. It can help auto-heal common issues based on a predetermined protocol for network fault management. For network configuration management, automation can aid in the automatic provisioning of new users. For network account management, it can help automatically roll out cost-reduction measures if certain thresholds are breached.Â
It could automatically adjust application policies for network performance management to support the business. Automation lets you learn about different threat types and find them with minimal manual intervention for network security management. Network automation is expected to grow from $3.4 billion in 2021 to over $8.3 billion in 2026, as per a Reportlinker report.
4. Server connectivityÂ
The server connectivity component of network management looks after the connectivity status of non-end-user-devices. For instance, if your enterprise relies on virtual machines or a series of privately-hosted servers to power application-related processes, these need to be kept online.
Network management must ensure maximum uptime for server devices, just like endpoints. This can be a challenge as server issues can be harder to detect, and the problem becomes apparent only after it has spread across the enterprise. This is why most network management teams use server-specific network monitoring tools to maintain and manage this component.Â
5. Switch management
Network switches are hardware appliances that help connect endpoint devices to the primary enterprise network while enforcing the necessary IT protocols. Companies may use multiple levels of network switches, ranging from floor switches to aggregation switches and the central switchgear.Â
Switch management gives you visibility into traffic flowing in and out of switches so you can diagnose upstream issues, ensure consistent speeds, and anticipate bottlenecks. Today, the switch management component has become highly sophisticated. It allows you to monitor and orchestrate complex landscapes using switch management software. This helps create a visual floorplan of your enterprise environment and control switches connected to your end devices.Â
6. Network assuranceÂ
The network assurance component of network management involves policy enforcement to control risk, ensure internal compliance, and keep out security threats. The purpose of network assurance is to deliver a safe and reliable experience to all users. That’s why this component requires collaboration between all five types of network management to operate smoothly. Also, network assurance utilizes analytics as a key component to monitor dynamic risk levels and alert the necessary stakeholders before a severe issue can arise.Â
Ultimately, all these components are part of a three-pronged network management architecture that includes a managing entity, a managed device, and a management protocol. The managing entity comprises the human beings and technologies responsible for governing the landscape â€“ e.g., an IT administrator or an automation script. The managed device is on the receiving end of network connectivity, such as endpoints, switches, and servers. Management protocols refer to the intermediary rules and policies that govern the relationship between the managing entity and the managed device.Â
Now that we have discussed the key network management components, let’s learn some network management best practices for this year and beyond.Â
Effective network management can provide a competitive advantage to your business. Here are ten best practices to implement in 2022.Â
Enterprise Network Management Best Practices
1. Conduct a network landscape inventory regularlyÂ
It can be difficult to achieve end-to-end network visibility in a complex enterprise environment.Â A recent survey titled Network Field Report 2021 by Auvik Networks revealed that 56% of IT professionals have incomplete knowledge of how their network is configured. This is because enterprises constantly add new components, hardware appliances, switches, endpoints, etc., to their network without always conducting an inventory in between. It is vital to maintain an up-to-date catalog of your network to guide network management principles and enforce the right policies.Â
2. Strategically leverage both hardware and software toolsÂ
Traditional network environments were primarily hardware-based. You had multiple endpoints, switches, and servers managed through complicated manual and hardware-based mechanisms. Today, advancements in software-defined networking technology allow you to minimize human effort and enable standardization. Enterprises can combine physical and software firewalls, physical access points, software-defined network management, and various other tools to optimize efforts.Â
3. Update your network topology after every organizational changeÂ
Network topology refers to the arrangement of various devices, network hardware, software, and network management components in your enterprise landscape. When your organization changes (e.g., a merger or a period of accelerated growth), it will add new elements to this map. However, the old topology may not always be the best way to manage this newly enhanced landscape. It is advisable to update the network topology after a significant change event and regularly at an interval of five years.Â
4. Maintain detailed documentation for all your network management protocolsÂ
The network is the backbone of a modern enterprise, but network management can become complicated if there are resource changes in your IT team. The original admin who envisioned the topology and its requisite protocols may no longer be available. In such scenarios, you would have to undergo a complete network management overhaul and possibly incur added costs. This can be avoided through detailed documentation. By documenting the configurations, security policies, and architectural frameworks, enterprises can ensure that ongoing network management practices remain reusable over time.Â
5. Always select OEM-agnostic softwareÂ
Enterprises should ensure that their network management software is not biased towards one or a select few original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Software designed for only one variant of network hardware could cause vendor lock-in in the long term. Enterprises would struggle to diversify their IT investments, explore alternatives, and switch if needed. You can prevent this by choosing OEM-agnostic network management tools.Â
6. Work with an MSP during a high growth stageÂ
This best network management practice is applicable for digital service providers and growing startups. In such scenarios, network demand is likely to surpass internal IT capacities, which causes frequent downtime and security risks. A managed service provider (MSP) will act as a third-party partner who can remotely manage network orchestration and provide on-site support.Â MSPs can aid in network design and implementation and routine upkeep, security checks, and configuration changes.Â
7. Consult regulatory bodies to know which compliance standards applyÂ
Data flowing across your network can be subject to industry or location-specific laws and regulatory standards. For instance, the exchange of health and financial data is regulated by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and regulations in the U.S. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) also calls for specific network requirements like segmentation and access control for enterprises to stay compliant. Speak with a regulatory expert before planning your network management practices and designing the architecture accordingly.Â
8. Integrate your network management tools to avoid fragmentationÂ
Toolkit fragmentation is among the most common challenges faced in network management. You can counter this by integrating multiple tools and data sources to feed into a singular interface. The network management technologies you select should come with application programming interfaces (APIs) or have an open architecture to enable seamless integration.Â
9. Make sure there are failover mechanisms in case of unpredictable downtimeÂ
Even as you aim for optimal performance, it is essential to prepare for worst-case scenarios. What happens when network connectivity is disrupted due to natural disasters, geopolitical events, or acts of God? Will you be able to access network monitoring and incident resolutions tools if they are hosted on the same network that is now down? That’s why enterprises need a failover mechanism that is activated when the primary network is unavailable. You may want to host your network management toolkit on a separate, independently managed private network. You may also want to invest in backup connectivity infrastructure to add redundancies.Â
10. Automate processes wherever possibleÂ
Finally, automation should be a top priority for network management in 2021. In the 2020 Net DevOps survey sponsored by Red Hat, it was revealed that enterprises choose to automate 4.19 network management tasks on average, with the maximum automation taking place in configuration management. However, there are other opportunities to be gained as well â€“ for instance, user provisioning, topology mapping, software upgrades, anomaly detection, and more. By leveraging network automation, you can tap into these opportunities and reduce both internal efforts and MSP costs.
Network management is the backbone of your IT infrastructure. It determines the uptime and performance of your key business applications, fuels remote collaboration, and supports multi-location connectivity. Robust network management practices are essential for companies to expand their business, enter new territories, and gain cost efficiencies. However, network management has room for improvement in 2022. In the Auvik Networks survey we cited earlier, it was revealed that 6% of IT professionals do not have any knowledge of how their network is configured; 25% only have some knowledge. 41% of organizations also said they do not spend any time on network planning and research.Â
In 2022, enterprises need to reimagine and reinforce their network management practices to keep pace with the digital era. The 2020-2021 period saw an accelerated digital transformation, and several new challenges and opportunities lie ahead. Network management is key to modernizing your infrastructure and supporting the business to reach new heights in this dynamic environment.Â
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