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How can network analytics tools benefit IT staff?

Network analytics tools can help IT managers proactively pinpoint network performance issues and trends -- even before the underlying problem is revealed.

The availability of sophisticated analytics products and, increasingly, cloud-based analytics engines is one of the most important advances in networking in recent years.

Analytics is a set of techniques that can be applied, to put it colloquially, when you don't know what you're looking for. Sure, crunching network activity logs can reveal -- if often a bit cryptically -- what events occurred within the network. Alerts, alarms and reports from network management systems clearly can have great value. But it's often difficult to determine the source of a problem and nearly impossible to understand if subtle trends indicate an upcoming challenge that could reach epic proportions.

Network analytics tools usher in new capabilities

IT staff will spend their time determining how they want their networks to perform, rather than handling day-to-day operational issues.

Analytics goes beyond simple analysis and examines the relationships within monitored and logged network behaviors. Network analytics tools can help IT managers identify -- proactively, in many cases -- events and trends that could affect overall network performance, even before the underlying problem itself is revealed.

Additionally, network analytics tools can help administrators zero in on the root cause of a problem quickly and perhaps even help in recommending a fix. Consider network analytics software as an intelligent agent within the network that can find relationships between events and behaviors in ways that manual investigations couldn't.

The continuing evolution of AI is ushering in a new era of analytics. IBM's Watson technology, for example, can crunch vast amounts of uncorrelated data with efficiency and innovation that humans simply cannot.

Analytics and network management coalesce

What's really interesting, though, is how the output of network analytics systems might be further applied. Traditionally, operations staff used this information on an ad hoc basis to adjust management console settings to address issues affecting network performance. Increasingly, however, newer network analytics tools enable enterprises to create an immediate connection between the analytics engine and the management console, bypassing the human operator in many cases.

I've spent much of my career working on control systems -- the network management console being just one incarnation of this much larger field. Many control systems are based on feedback loops, taking the results of control decisions and using these to refine overall system settings in the interest of efficiency and optimization. Such approaches minimize and can even eliminate the requirement for manual intervention.

Future network analytics tools will yield even greater integration with management consoles. IT staff will spend their time defining policies and determining how they want their networks to perform, rather than handling day-to-day operational issues.

And that is nothing but a good thing for network operations.

This was last published in July 2018

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