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Five needed product features to fix network management issues

A new survey by Enterprise Management Associates attempts to shed light on the most important tools needed to combat network management issues.

Networks are evolving rapidly, as enterprises adopt myriad technologies, including software-defined designs, virtualization,...

automation, mobility and the internet of things. Consequently, network managers need a robust and modern set of management tools. Such options are essential to successful engineering and operations.

Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) recently asked network managers to identify the network management product features that need the most improvement to meet their most critical network management issues. The results were based on a survey of 250 North American and European enterprise network managers, titled Network Management Megatrends 2018: Exploring NetSecOps Convergence, Network Automation and Cloud Networking.

Here are the top five problem areas:

1. Advanced network analytics

Network managers identified advanced analytics as the feature most in need of improvement in their network tools today. Such analytics can include pattern recognition and anomaly detection, predictive analysis for capacity planning, and machine learning features that recommend remedial action.

Past research has found advanced analytics technology is essential to network automation. It's worth noting that 93% of the network managers in this survey are looking for opportunities to expand network automation. Analytically driven automation is essential, given the shortage of skilled personnel is the biggest challenge to network operations success today.

2. Monitoring and management of public cloud

Although this is No. 2, it's more like 1b for network managers, as public cloud monitoring and management actually tied advanced network analytics as being among the biggest network management issues facing network managers. EMA's Megatrends research determined, in the average enterprise, 45% of all network traffic is attributable to the public cloud. Network managers need monitoring tools that can support public cloud service assurance. They need to manage and monitor all the paths user traffic may take to the cloud.

Furthermore, network managers need to understand the performance of cloud resources in the context of the overall service delivery network. Almost 90% of network managers said they are managing and monitoring external cloud services today, and more than half of them said this new level of oversight has forced them to acquire a new network management tool.

The biggest issues in  network operations

3. Monitoring and management of virtualized network devices

Networks traditionally comprise dozens, hundreds or thousands of individual hardware devices. Consequently, network management tools evolved to monitor hardware. They excel at discovering hardware, identifying the different logical objects to monitor on those devices -- CPU, interfaces, power supplies, etc. -- and monitoring and managing that hardware.

Network virtualization adds complexity to network management issues. Many network components are now pure software, and they run on servers, multifunction appliances or in the cloud. Network components can be instantiated rapidly, migrate across infrastructure and disappear just as quickly as they appeared. Network management tools must account for all of these changes. They must understand how to model these new virtual components, validate service chains across multiple virtual devices and account for more dynamic software licensing.

4. Integrated security insights

EMA has observed increased collaboration between network management and security teams in recent years. In fact, the majority of network managers told EMA they have shared tools and processes or an integrated tool set to facilitate cooperation with security. The network team is also increasingly responsible for addressing security risk, especially at the design and implementation phase of a network.

Moreover, the data that network management tools collect from networks can be a valuable source of information for the security group. Many network management tool vendors have added security capabilities to their products in recent years. Others are creating separate security products based upon their core platforms. Such innovations will be essential to network managers who are tasked with supporting and collaborating with the security group.

5. Monitoring and management of IoT devices

Finally, network managers said network management tools need to improve their ability to manage and monitor the IoT. Every enterprise will have different needs here, from healthcare to manufacturing. There are countless proprietary technologies now connecting to enterprise networks, especially over Wi-Fi. Network managers will need to extend their management tools to monitor connectivity to these devices and the applications they support.

Past EMA research has also found some network managers become responsible for managing these devices, including software maintenance, device troubleshooting and security. Thus, their tools will need to evolve to support these tasks.

By no means is this a complete list of requirements for network managers. There are plenty of other network management issues. For instance, I've rarely spoken to a network engineer who was completely satisfied with the customizable reports generated by his or her tools. And many often complain about the complexity of integration tools with other systems, like IT service management and configuration management databases. That said, the concerns expressed by managers in the EMA survey are compelling, because they highlight some of the profound changes happening in the IT industry today.

This was last published in June 2018

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How can network management applications be improved?