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How to handle new network monitoring complexities

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Network visibility challenges in modern networks

To tackle current visibility issues, you must first understand the nature and sources of the problem. Learn why visibility is essential but so tough to achieve now.

As networks grow increasingly complex, gaining end-to-end network visibility becomes essential. While some traditional network monitoring and visibility tools remain useful, you may struggle to gain sufficient visibility when newer and more advanced network technologies are involved.

For example, network virtualization, dynamic per-flow routing and multi-cloud environments introduce added complexities. Each technology makes it more difficult to collect relevant metrics that help monitor the network.

To better understand these complexities, let's first cover why visibility is crucial in your enterprise network. Then we will explore how various network technologies are clouding your ability to gain end-to-end network visibility.

Why network visibility is important

Organizations should strive for an end-to-end view of the health and operational status of their networks for several reasons. For one, visibility can enhance your ability to troubleshoot problems as they arise. Everything from a downed network and interfaces to operational, yet degraded links can be more quickly identified when monitoring and baselining data flows as they pass through the local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN) and even out to the internet edge.

Another reason for network visibility is to validate performance-based configurations. Visibility can help network managers better understand how network issues affect data on a per-application basis. If specific applications are business-critical, a manager can use configuration techniques, such as quality of service and traffic policing and shaping, to optimize these important data flows. Visibility can then validate that the performance modifications are working or identify when further configuration adjustments are needed.

Lastly, visibility can improve auditing and security of the overall network. Because everyone uses the network, it makes for the ideal location to place various security and data loss prevention tools. Knowing exactly where data came from -- and where it ended up -- can help secure business intellectual property that exists in a digital format.

Newer technologies present visibility challenges

Modern networking technologies can create tremendous efficiencies on an enterprise network. The drawback, of course, is added complexity. This complexity transfers to your ability to monitor and measure performance from one end of a network to another.

One great example of this is when the network becomes virtualized. Instead of running routing and switching operating systems on bare-metal hardware, virtualization moves this intelligence onto a virtual machine using shared hardware resources.

As networks grow increasingly complex, gaining end-to-end network visibility becomes essential.

While virtualizing network appliances may not seem like a big deal, many traditional monitoring tools don't play nicely with some hypervisors. What happens, usually, is one tool monitors appliance-based networking components while another monitors virtual routers, switches and firewalls. This complicates end-to-end visibility and can create blind spots.

Overlay networks are another popular technology that creates benefits as well as drawbacks. From a monitoring and visibility perspective, underlying hardware and software is hidden from some monitoring tools. Thus, problems below the virtualized overlay may cause performance problems, yet they'd go unnoticed thanks to a lack of visibility.

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools, such as those found in software-defined networking (SDN), can also complicate network visibility. SDN uses network policy combined with AI analytics processing to determine the optimal path for each data flow that traverses a LAN or WAN. Much of this decision-making depends on monitoring the real-time health of network links. Thus, monitoring and visibility tools must be intelligent enough to understand dynamic per-flow routing technologies. This is commonly accomplished using more sophisticated monitoring tools, such as NetFlow.

Lastly, hybrid and multi-cloud network architectures are causing serious gaps in end-to-end visibility. Because clouds are likely to be built on vastly different hardware and software, finding the right set of monitoring tools that can run in different environments is a challenge in itself.

Then, getting the tools to perform consistently from one network -- or one cloud -- to the next is yet another challenge. Consequently, partnering with the right cloud service providers, along with the appropriate monitoring tools, is a decision that you should not take lightly.

This was last published in March 2019

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Which newer technologies are most affecting visibility into your own network?