Category : geek-speak

Network Management doesn’t have to be overly complex, but a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished is important. In a previous blog series I had talked about the need for a tools team to help in this process, a cross functional team may be critical in defining these criteria.
  1. Determine What is Important—What is most important to your organization is likely different than that of your peers at other organizations, albeit somewhat similar in certain regards. Monitoring everything isn’t realistic and may not even be valuable if nothing is done with the data that is being collected. Zero in on the key metrics that define success and determine how to best monitor those.
  2. Break it Down into Manageable Pieces—Once you’ve determined what is important to the business, break that down into more manageable portions. For example if blazing fast website performance is needed for an eCommerce site, consider dividing this into network, server, services, and application monitoring components.
  3. Maintain an Open System—There is nothing worse than being locked into a solution that is inflexible. Leveraging APIs that can tie disparate systems together is critical in today’s IT environments. Strive for a single source of truth for each of your components and exchange that information via vendor integrations or APIs to make the system better as a whole.
  4. Invest in Understanding the Reporting—Make the tools work for you, a dashboard is simply not enough. Most of the enterprise tools out there today offer robust reporting capabilities, however these often go unimplemented.
  5. Review, Revise, Repeat—Monitoring is rarely a “set and forget” item, it should be in a constant state of improvement, integration, and evaluation to enable better visibility into the environment and the ability to deliver on key business values.

As network engineers, administrators, architects, and enthusiasts we are seeing a trend of relatively complicated devices that all strive to provide unparalleled visibility into the inner workings of applications or security. Inherent in these solutions is a level of complexity that challenges network monitoring tools, it seems that in many cases vendors are pitching proprietary tools that are capable of extracting the maximum amount of data out of a specific box. Just this afternoon I sat on a vendor call in which we were doing a technical deep dive of a next-generation firewall with a very robust feature set with a customer. Inevitably the pitch was made to consider a manager of managers that could consolidate all of this data into one location. While valuable in its own right for visibility, this perpetuates the problem of many “single panes of glass”.
I couldn’t help but think, what we really need is the ability to follow certain threads of information across many boxes, regardless of manufacturer—these threads could be things like application performance or flows, security policies, etc. Standards-based protocols and vendors that are open to working with others are ideal as it fosters the creation of ecosystems. Automation and orchestration tools offer this promise, but add on additional layers of intricacy in the requirements of knowing scripting languages, a willingness to work with open source platforms, etc.
Additionally, any time we seem to abstract a layer or simplify it, we lose something in the process—this is known as generation loss. Generation loss is the result of compounding this across many devices or layers of management tends to result in data that is incomplete or worse inaccurate, yet this is the data that we are intending to use to make our decisions.
Is it really too much to ask for simple and accurate? I believe this is where the art of simplicity comes into play. The challenge of creating an environment in which the simple is useful and obtainable requires creativity, attention to detail, and an understanding that no two environments are identical. In creating this environment, it is important to address what exactly will be made simple and by what means. With a clear understanding of the goals in mind, I believe it is possible to achieve these goals, but the decisions on equipment, management systems, vendors, partners, etc. need to be well thought through and the right amount of time and effort must be dedicated to it.