The last few years have seen enterprise networks grow in scale and complexity, continually raising the bar for IT teams who are expected to provide seamless and secure network availability. Organizations have enthusiastically shifted to the cloud, and the increasing cloudification of the enterprise — the shift to cloud services, hybrid cloud and even multi-cloud environments — makes it even more complex to manage, operate and maintain business networks where legacy networks are often active alongside cloud services.
As networks become larger and usage becomes heavier, network management becomes more challenging. The advent of COVID-19 exacerbated the situation even further.
More consumers switched to digital account management or used digital customer portals, increasing usage rates for enterprise networks and demanding that enterprises ramp up infrastructure capacity. Employees moved to work from home, increasing the burden on IT teams that need to maintain high security levels while supporting heavy cloud network usage with minimal packet loss so that crucial apps like latency-sensitive video conferencing, or telehealth portals that have seen usage triple in a few weeks, can operate without a hitch.
For IT teams in large enterprises and MSPs handling hundreds of networks, reactive network management is too labor-intensive, time-consuming, and slow. Networks are too extensive to keep on top of all the issues, all the time. It’s time to switch to proactive network management that can monitor your networks continually, identify and analyze issues swiftly, and automate network fixes.
Proactive network management is the new approach to cloud-based network management. There are two main elements to proactive management:
1. Continual monitoring for your entire network infrastructure identifies issues in real time, so you’ll never be caught napping by a sudden network failure or slowdown;
2. Ongoing behind-the-scenes analysis of network issues to arrive at their root cause and suggest the correct action to fix the issue, even automatically. At NetOp.cloud, we call this proactive automation.
The first element of proactive network management involves continual and connected visibility into your entire organization of enterprise networks. Large enterprises and MSPs manage networks across different venues, network sites, or logical networks. Issues drop through the cracks if you’re running a patchwork of different oversight and scanning tools that each have responsibility for different pieces of the system. It’s especially challenging for teams managing multi-vendor or multi-domain networks that won’t tie together into a single set of configurations or monitoring systems.
Instead, you need a global view of all your managed networks in the same place, with user-friendly visualizations that direct you to issues at a glance, before the user notices that there’s a problem. Proactive network management involves a dashboard with excellent UX design so that you can see if the network is operating as normal or the top issues currently affecting it.
Being alerted to a problem quickly is only half the challenge; you also need to fix it equally fast. That’s why the second pillar of proactive network management goes much deeper, involving advanced analysis of the issue to uncover the root cause. For example, if there’s a drop in bandwidth, that could be caused by a configuration change, or a sudden jump in users who have to share the same bandwidth, or a security change that only permits certain users access to low bandwidth.
The most proactive systems, like NetOp.cloud, harness AI and ML for continuous analytics, checks, and comparisons within the system, to detect anomalies and connect network issues with external events, such as a change in app or cloud service usage or device configuration. They collect data from across the organization and mine it to recommend the appropriate action to ameliorate or fix the issue.
Taking this a step further, proactive network management prepares predefined, predeveloped fixes, recommends them for human approval, and automates the application of the fix. Later on, network managers can give permission for the management system to skip the step of requiring approval for a specific fix, and carry it out automatically whenever the same situation arises.
Proactive management thus involves real-time knowledge about what is wrong with the network and where the issue lies, and understanding their cause to develop and apply a fix. Certain solutions like NetOp include a third step which validates the impact of the fix and verifies that it worked correctly, i.e. closed-loop control.
As you can see, proactive network management offers a great deal of benefits for both large enterprises and MSPs.
Your enterprise networks support multiple apps and services, both customer-facing and for internal business purposes. Your primary need in terms of network management is to ensure that all of these apps and cloud services can be accessed and used in the way that you intended.
For example, your apps need to be able to pull data from your databases to produce insurance quotes. Or you need to support video conferencing between employees who are working from home, and their conversations keep getting dropped or suffering from too much latency to enable smooth discussion. Speed is another KPI for business apps, and if your network isn’t operating correctly, users risk experiencing crippling bottlenecks that prevent them from getting the full value from the service, like if a cloud-connected medical scanning app takes too long to complete a scan.
Proactive network management helps ensure that your apps and services are always operating in peak condition. You know as soon as there’s an issue with your network and can locate the problem swiftly. Faster troubleshooting means more uptime, fewer network bottlenecks, and faster user speeds for your apps and services.
As the name implies, proactive network management goes beyond the fast resolution of network issues and includes steps to prevent them from arising in the first place. For example, automated workflows can ensure that all your network security policies remain constant every time there’s a change to user configurations or site connectivity.
With NetOp proactive network management, for example, AI and ML are applied to predict issues before they disrupt service, so that you can provide smooth and uninterrupted performance for users. Proactive network management policies improve uptime, saves time for both users and IT teams, and reduces service desk time.
MSPs in particular, as well as IT teams in large enterprises, frequently find themselves struggling to coordinate configuration and management across multi-vendor networks, inherited or otherwise. Every vendor-specific network or domain comes with its own device management tool, monitoring programs, and configuration interfaces. Different vendors give different instructions for configuring their domains or software, which operate in silos, but the configurations won’t necessarily sync together to create a smooth organization. Network issues can also hide between vendors, making it far harder to spot and resolve them.
The same problems can dog single-vendor networks too. Sometimes products sold by the same vendor need to be configured and connected separately. If the logical links aren’t set properly, users won’t be able to use your apps and services as desired. Your goal is to reach the golden configuration, or network best practices that deliver the most uptime and smoothest operating conditions.
Without a single unified dashboard to view and handle them together, IT teams are stretched thin across demanding devices and domains. That’s the beauty of advanced proactive network management. It unites all these disparate entities into a single place. Every vendor network and each WiFi, router, or switching LAN domain is not just visible, but is also configurable in the same place, saving effort and time for IT teams.
When you apply proactive network management to your enterprise cloud networks, you improve efficiency in your business overall. Your IT teams are able to achieve more in the same amount of time, cutting down on worker hours and labor. As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine. When you’re able to prevent network issues or address them in the earliest manifestation, it takes far less time and money than when you’re attempting to fix a full-scale hack or network outage.
Whenever your network is down, your employees can’t complete their tasks and your customers grow frustrated because they can’t use your apps. Additionally, the more you can automate within your organization, the lower your risk of human error creeping in and giving you even more work to do.
On top of that, if your networks aren’t operating smoothly you’ll risk missing out on business opportunities. You may not spot them because your apps aren’t delivering the data you need in time, or you might not be able to capitalize on the potential you see because your organization simply isn’t able to respond fast enough.
When you are able to rely on proactive, automated network management, you gain the freedom to scale up your organization at will. Your IT team can cope with expanded networks without needing to add more employees. The simple use case of duplicating network definitions for multiple networks or venues can be done with the click of a button. You’ll gain the freedom to innovate more apps and digital services, both within the business and customer-facing. Proactive network management makes ongoing monitoring so straightforward that you can improve end-to-end performance of apps or cloud services in the background, giving you the headspace to focus on your organization’s growth.
Proactive network management places you one step ahead when it comes to customer service. You’ll be able to see and respond to network issues before they become serious and before your customers are even aware of the disruption. Automated workflows that spot, diagnose, and correct network issues create a self-healing network that pleases your customers, bringing in more revenue.
Faster trouble-shooting means more uptime and better app performance, so your customers won’t experience frustration when they can’t access their digital bank portal or use your telehealth services. With fewer hiccups, your end users will appreciate better service and improved customer support, raising your reputation as a business.
Today’s networks are complex, usage is high, and network availability is non-negotiable. IT teams and MSPs need to up their network management game with proactive network management that gives them real-time information about the top issues affecting networks, deep analysis of root causes, and automated fixes that speed up network trouble-shooting to increase uptime, improve user experience, and increase efficiency across the business.