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Network Visibility: What It Means and How to Achieve It

For years, network monitoring tools have helped managers to keep a close eye on essential network performance and security activities. Yet, despite their continued usefulness, the days of conventional network monitoring now seem to be numbered.

As networks have grown larger and increasingly complex, it's become apparent that today's enterprises need even deeper insights into network operations. This trend has led to the emergence of network visibility technologies, which use powerful artificial intelligence (AI) and machine language (ML) tools to help managers gain deep and meaningful insights into virtually all-important network functions and activities, including connectivity, traffic patterns, ports/protocols, and the source and destination of application traffic.

Network visibility provides awareness of the components and data moving through an enterprise computer network, noted Theresa Lanowitz, head of cybersecurity evangelism at AT&T Cybersecurity. "Having network visibility is the foundation for a safer and more secure network infrastructure."

With network visibility tools from NetScout Systems, Viavi Solutions, Riverbed, and several other vendors, large and small, managers can achieve deep visibility down to the packet, user, and application level.

Changing times

The ongoing pandemic is prompting many enterprises to re-prioritize their digital objectives. "In response to rapidly changing work styles, businesses have had to quickly enable and support digital efforts in the areas of remote work, employee productivity, communications and collaboration, mobility, and enterprise security," said Todd Spraggins, Oracle Communications’ strategy director. Such objectives are nothing new, but the pace and scale at which businesses are trying to deliver them are unprecedented. "Speed, reliability, and security are non-negotiable when it comes to online experiences regardless of spikes, heavy load increases, and unpredictable demand patterns," he observed.

Network visibility satisfies an enterprise's need to know what's happening in its network infrastructure. Yet monitoring alone isn't enough to ensure smooth and secure operations. Visibility must be combined with monitoring and analytics to not only address the “why” but also “what” is likely to happen in the future, Spraggins noted. "Network visibility should include monitoring and visualizing what's happening across the IT landscape, including infrastructure, applications, and end-users," he explained. "It should also leverage advanced analytics to quickly identify the root cause of application problems and take action to fix them."

With deep network visibility, enterprises can achieve a comprehensive understanding of network traffic behavior down to a granular level of detail and then use this information to improve performance, security, and efficiency. "The growing volume and variety of data can make network monitoring more difficult, resulting in more potential threats," Lanowitz said. "When organizations can navigate these busy environments, yet still maintain network visibility, they can help make sure that important and private data is properly protected and accounted for."

Aiming for maximum visibility

The best way to achieve deep network visibility is to leverage the power of analytics by turning to a network visibility offering that relies on built-in ML technology to automatically detect anomalies and enable quick remediation in near-real-time. "The need for increased network security, seamless customer experience, and overall network optimization calls for optimized ML algorithms that can identify anomalous system behavior, rapidly isolate and remediate performance problems, and prevent outages by providing accurate forecasting of impending issues," Spraggins said. He also noted that it's important to adopt a visibility framework that provides a unified view across the entire network, one that also permits easy diagnostics of cloud-native and traditional technologies that are deployed in the cloud or on-premises.

A network visibility product should be scalable enough to accommodate rising connectivity speeds and increasing packet volume while remaining sustainable and able to accommodate new network components, Lanowitz stated. "It should also be flexible and adaptable to ever-changing environments, which will result in fewer maintenance and upgrade cycles."

Proactive security

When it comes to achieving thorough visibility, one of the biggest mistakes network managers make is being reactive rather than following a proactive strategy, particularly when it comes to network security. "This can be especially challenging when monitoring endpoints for protection and detection in both on-premises and cloud environments," Lanowitz cautioned. "Instead, network managers need to take advantage of an effective network visibility architecture by proactively searching for potential threats or suspicious activity on a network to discover issues before they happen and become a larger problem."

Network customer satisfaction is frequently based on human perception. If Windows Update isn’t downloading updates, for example, virtually nobody will complain, observed Patrick MeLampy, a Juniper Fellow at Juniper Networks. Yet when a Zoom conference doesn’t work, it's a huge issue. "When IT professionals get calls from internal customers, they typically go through a long process of data collecting and manual analysis to determine possible sources of failure," he said. "Network visibility and AI/ML models can often predict problems before they become critical."