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Network management and monitoring: The evolution of network control

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Networking outlook for 2013: Virtual overlay network management arrives

Enterprise Management Associates analyst Jim Frey says network management vendors will improve cloud, VDI and virtual overlay network monitoring in 2013.

Emerging virtual overlay network technology will force network management vendors to develop tools to monitor these new environments in 2013. Meanwhile, enterprises will demand better visibility into their public cloud resources and VDI deployments.

Enterprise Management Associates Research Director Jim Frey shares these and other predictions for how the network management market will evolve this year.

Visibility into the virtual overlay network

Enterprises and service providers will expand their use of virtual overlay networks built with vSwitches and tunneling protocols like VXLAN and Network Virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation (NVGRE), and these new virtual networks will present a network management problem to operators, Frey said.

Network managers will struggle to "recognize where [overlay networks] are, how they're changing, what they are connecting and how the virtual overlays relate to the physical foundational network that actually does the final delivery of the electrons," he said. "The challenge is you relate the new virtual overlays back to that physical infrastructure. If something goes wrong, you now have a new set of things that can be broken, and you need to know whether the breakage is occurring in the virtual layer or the traditional physical layer."

Network management vendors will need to offer tools that can discover, model and monitor these overlay networks. But these tools pose new questions.

"What do we monitor now? Do we have a whole new set of metrics to monitor? The traditional technologies need to be adapted for these overlay networks. That's where we'll see the most change," Frey said.

Most of the existing management vendors will adapt to this new environment, but some will do a better job than others, he said. A lot of organizations that are dealing with virtual environments are looking for more tightly integrated management technologies that bring together the operations and monitoring of the entire IT infrastructure, not just networks. With networks becoming as virtualized as storage and servers, some vendors might push further into consolidating IT management while adapting to these software overlays, Frey said.

Network management vendor stress: Cloud and VDI

Network management vendors will have to step up their game in two key areas in 2013: network management and monitoring in the public cloud and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

Enterprises are struggling with how "to manage performance of workloads that are put into the cloud," Frey said. "There are still some real challenges with how we actually monitor, let alone troubleshoot, cloud-based workloads."

Enterprises are telling Frey, "I have very little direct visibility into the infrastructure of cloud providers, and yet, I'm trusting that remote, hosted platform to do everything I expect of it." Many of these cloud services are interconnected with resources and applications that are still hosted on internal infrastructure, which makes management and monitoring of the cloud-based segment all the more important, he said.

Emerging virtual versions of application delivery controllers and routers could offer a solution to this problem, Frey said. These products could become instrumentation points within public cloud infrastructure for enterprises network management platforms.

Virtual desktop infrastructure is also becoming a source of pain for network managers, Frey said.

"VDI is incredibly latency- and loss-sensitive, far more so than just about any other load you'll see on the network," Frey said. "So if you are ever trying to have VDI served across the Internet or a WAN link, performance sensitivity goes up very high. Better understanding and planning and better monitoring of quality of experience and response times [are] going to become very important."

Frey said VDI infrastructure will have to evolve to achieve the performance enterprises are looking for.

"Traditional VDI designs have been very centralized, but there will have to be some techniques where server-based VDI is actually distributed a little bit. This means putting the [front-end] VDI server out at a remote site if you can.

Growth of non-traditional network monitoring

Network managers will increase their use of non-traditional monitoring data like syslog in 2013, Frey said. "Enterprises are taking a look at the things that Splunk and other log analysis tools are doing for gathering syslog-type entries from network infrastructure, and any number of connected systems, and trying to pull that together and make it relevant from an operations perspective."

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"It has always been something that sys admins had and that security guys would look at. But now it's becoming increasingly relevant as an adjunct source of information for network operations monitoring. We're still at the stage where most folks aren't using it, but a lot of infrastructure management tools have started adding it in as a data source they can integrate.

Frey will also watch the shifting balance in packet-based monitoring and NetFlow-based monitoring in 2013.

"There is a lot of data that you can put into IPFIX or flexible NetFlow that brings it almost up to par with the level of granularity that you get through deep packet inspection [DPI]," he said. "It's not quite everything, but it's getting much closer."

The wider user of flexible NetFlow and IPFIX will face a few hurdles before it starts taking over for DPI-based network monitoring, Frey said. The first step is installing new switches and routers that support the latest versions NetFlow and related technology.

"If you have upgraded your network equipment to a sufficient level where it can support the new NetFlow record formats and if you have gone in and taken the time to define the templates that gather the data to transfer it, and if you have the management tool that's ready to receive it at other end, then the technology is capable," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.

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Network management and monitoring: The evolution of network control

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