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Addressing the Labyrinthian Enterprise Network Problem

Businesses today are rapidly adopting new IT models to keep up with evolving customer needs: virtualization, cloud applications, IoT deployments, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and more. This constant digital transformation has made enterprise data operations and networks incredibly complex – a problem that is only intensifying as time goes on.

Enterprise Strategy Group recently found that 66% of organizations view their IT environments as more or significantly more complex than they were two years ago. And since 46% of the respondents also noted that planned to continue upgrading and expanding their network infrastructure, that network complexity is only expected to increase.

Despite this, IT teams are somehow expected to take on the herculean task of overseeing networks spanning thousands of devices—all with their own proprietary operating systems (OS) and different configuration rules, across various geographic locations, and numerous corporate environments – while ensuring ubiquitous connectivity, cloud and mobile integration, internal and external collaboration and conferencing, and high levels of data integrity and security.

The Visualization Problem: The Blind Leading the Blind

It’s a tall task, and IT teams are struggling to keep up with such business demands in a way that doesn't inhibit growth, increase risk, or rely on regressing back to on-premises, centralized systems. An oft-referenced study from Gartner noted that 80 percent of network outages are caused by people and process issues, with more than 50 percent of those outages caused by change configuration issues.

There is a drastic need for new network management solutions that empower network engineers to oversee these complexities effectively. The major problem historically is that it has been difficult for IT teams to fully understand and visualize the network. Without a clear and comprehensive picture of network devices, their connections, the enacted policies, the geographical layout, etc., it’s challenging to manage and simplify network processes.

In prior decades, network engineers have relied on a few disparate methods to partially solve this problem, including outdated network topology diagrams, device inventories and management systems, CLI commands, and “ping” and “traceroute” utilities. But even using all of these tools in tandem doesn’t provide a reliable or holistic view of network behavior – much less an efficient one – for modern and heterogeneous enterprise environments. This leads to a situation reminiscent of the idiom “the blind leading the blind,” where network engineers often don’t fully understand the root causes of network issues they’re trying to fix.

Thankfully, this frustratingly obtuse state of network management has driven a new boom for network verification and analytics software platforms.

Intent-Based Networking: A Picture Worth 1,000 Words

Recent years have shown the rise of novel forms of network analysis solutions, dubbed “intent-based” networking systems by Gartner, that assist IT teams in mapping out network infrastructure.

These new technologies operate as intelligent network monitoring systems, allowing IT teams to better visualize and monitor the network. Through smart and customizable triggering mechanisms, many of these solutions can capture snapshots of key events and anomalies across a network in real time – empowering IT to filter out irrelevant items and focus on the important data points. This capacity is by itself invaluable in how it allows enterprises to drastically simplify network management and operation.

Many of these tools thus become advanced central platforms enterprises can utilize to visualize and analyze their network, proactively monitor device performance without requiring resources spent developing an internal monitoring network system. But the added value doesn’t stop there – as intent-based networking software continues to evolve, new network verification, querying, and automation solutions are appearing on the market.

These systems further provide enterprises with the topology of the entire network and its devices, configuration validation and behavior accuracy on an end-to-end basis, and more. The ability to compile and standardize data for all devices across a network is particularly appealing. With normalized data for the network, businesses can quickly perform network checks, simplifying troubleshooting and problem solving. The benefit of being able to see the full picture of what is happening on the network is invaluable, especially for larger enterprises exploring complicated IoT deployments.

The Best of Both Worlds for IT

This problem of intricate networks is only going to worsen as enterprise 5G applications begin to take off and our lives become even more connected. But thankfully these new, smarter solutions that are revolutionizing network management allow companies – and specifically the IT teams tasked with managing them – to not get overwhelmed by this complexity.

In fact, new intent-based systems are eliminating many of the manual network configurations and inputs that teams normally rely on, freeing up time for IT to instead focus on product development or service optimization. These flexible and scalable tools help engineers reduce risks and ensure outcomes for SRE teams, DevOps and CI/CD functions, improving the overall business process and evolving IT’s role in today’s businesses.