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Smart network management products, automation on tap in 2018

The next 12 months will usher in a new crop of smarter network management products enterprises will use to make their networks more proactive, a leading analyst predicts.

Smarter network management software, more automation and less clutter in branch offices will be among the key developments...

shaping networking as the new year unfolds.

The integration of analytics within network management products to make them more intuitive and proactive is a bellwether development for enterprise networking, said Shamus McGillicuddy, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo., who shared his 2018 networking predictions with SearchNetworking.

"You are going to see a lot of network monitoring and network performance vendors investing in analytics technologies to make their products smarter and to empower network managers to do more with less," McGillicuddy said.

"I see a lot of vendors talking about investing in things like machine learning and big data analytics. They are reacting to the need to make their products smarter and do more than just send alerts about network performance."

Machine learning anchoring network management products

Machine learning and artificial intelligence, while still nascent, will underpin many of those development efforts, but McGillicuddy said the technologies still have a way to go before they are considered bedrock.

I see a lot of vendors talking about investing in things like machine learning and big data analytics.
Shamus McGillicuddyanalyst at Enterprise Management Associates

"For now, they're still hype. But I do believe enterprises now have the opportunities in place to try some of these capabilities," he said. Companies like ExtraHop Networks and Nyansa, for example, already employ some degree of machine learning capabilities as part of their respective network monitoring products. As more vendors follow suit -- and as the capabilities of machine learning begin to circulate throughout a network's components and infrastructure -- enterprises will have a chance to get more familiar with the technology, McGillicuddy said.

"It's the initial value phase where vendors are identifying opportunities to deliver value," he said, adding that the industry still has to wrestle with how to apply machine learning to data that ranges from applications to switch performance metrics. "The algorithms need to be tweaked. Machine learning will be slowly introduced into products [companies already have], making those products more effective."

Network automation -- as well as intent-based networking -- will get a boost in the next year, thanks in part to the evolution of machine learning. "This will give automation more capabilities than the concept suggests," McGillicuddy said. "You need tools that are smart and understand the network and can make informed decisions about the network to drive automation -- and analytics is the foundation for that."

Data centers will likely be the largest beneficiaries of more enhanced network management products. They will be able to use software in place of manual procedures -- especially in areas such as security, where response and remediation times are critical. Managers are also "really interested in using automation to make them smarter in terms of network fault performance detection," McGillicuddy said, as well as for service orchestration. The latter will enable the network to automatically respond to move, add and change tickets, thus freeing engineers from having to oversee these operations manually.

SD-WAN's impact on branch-office connectivity

The growth of SD-WAN will continue to reshape how enterprises view their WAN strategies. In 2018, broadband will increasingly become the primary medium of choice for branch-office connectivity for many companies, McGillicuddy said.

"The cost per megabyte for an MPLS link is still prohibitively high in North America. So, if you want to get a lot of bandwidth to your offices, broadband is the way to do it," he said. "SD-WAN adoption is probably the one software-defined category we're seeing a huge uptake."

In the meantime, branch-office infrastructure could undergo some significant changes in the next year. Enterprises want to reduce the number of devices they have to oversee in their branch locations. "You don't want to have a router, a firewall, a WAN optimization appliance [in branch locations] when you don't even have an IT person there," McGillicuddy said.

In 2018, more of these functions will be enabled from software running on a generic box. The seeds of that shift have already been planted by vendors. VMware, for example, clearly stated its intention to deliver WAN services via software through its planned purchase of VeloCloud.

"I see the whole WAN market becoming highly virtualized," McGillicuddy said, with SD-WAN becoming just another virtual service, along with routing and security. Enterprises will also likely have fewer SD-WAN vendors to choose from as consolidation pressures increase.

Beefing up security with networking management products

Finally, McGillicuddy said enterprises will have to do much more to shore up their security strategies in 2018. "They might be paying a lot of lip service to security, but the fact is they're not doing a good job." One trend to watch is how networking teams can be more fully integrated with a company's security response framework through the use of network management software.

"A lot of vendors, especially the packet-based performance management providers, have recognized they can support security use cases and are modifying their products to make them consumable by a security team," McGillicuddy said.

"We'll be doing some research to look at the concept of NetSecOps, where security will be an issue the networking team will be focused on. That's going to be more important in 2018."

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