Enterprise networks are expected to support a variety of activities, ranging from email to teleconferencing to supporting various business services. A well-managed network minimizes downtime and ensures that everything works like clockwork.
Monitoring software plays a major role in network management, but there are also other, not-as-obvious approaches, that network managers can take to improve operations. Here are six tips you can use today to make your network more manageable.
1. Monitor and document everything: Creating documentation isn't the most exciting work, but every minute spent doing it can save precious hours later on. Monitoring and tracking trends create data that can be used to make informed decisions instead of guessing and hoping things work out, observed Chris Haun, lead network engineer at ServerCentral Turing Group, a managed cloud and data center services provider.
To save time and effort, Haun recommended developing a naming schema for all network devices, including servers, patch panels, ports, cables, and locations. "Label everything according to the schema and then keep records of where everything goes," Haun said. It's also important to keep records on all VLANs, routes, and firewall rules, including when they were deployed. "Make it a rule to update the docs as each change is made," Haun added. "Have quarterly audits to check that things match up."
2. Ensure redundancy: While most enterprises have tools that allow them to manage and monitor the health of their network while it is up and running, many network managers overlook the need for technologies that can provide access when the network is down. "Whether it’s due to a fiber cut or [other] issue, a significant portion of today’s enterprises have no access to their network when something goes awry," explained Todd Rychecky, vice president Americas at network technology firm Opengear. Downtime can be incredibly costly. "Enterprises must invest in infrastructure that provides them with a physical connection to their networking devices, and the best way to do this is via a 4G LTE connection," he said. "By investing in 4G LTE, enterprises are able to go around their traditional network and securely access hardware, troubleshoot issues and find solutions, even when other points of access have failed."
3. Label everything: Every enterprise network experiences occasional operational issues. Resolving problems becomes much easier when network components are easily locatable and identifiable. "Create network diagrams to help you identify where devices are located, what they are doing, and what they are connected to," advised Joshua Hodges, a sales engineer at TRENDnet, a manufacturer of computer network products. "Don’t forget to do the basics, such as saving IP addresses and/or login information in one place for quick access, and labeling cables to make it easier for troubleshooting in the future rather than wasting time identifying cables before finally troubleshooting," he added.
4. Use hardware-based management tools: Hardware management tools are a powerful complement to monitoring software. "Utilize network probes and cable testers to identify faulty cabling," Hodges suggested. "Controllers help manage the access points on your network, with some controllers managing up to 128 access points simultaneously." Business routers integrated with Web content and productivity software can help enterprises control and filter Internet traffic. "With the use of managed switches, IT administrators have control over traffic on the local network," Hodges explained.
5. Embrace automation: Another way to make an enterprise network more manageable is by using automation technology to handle complex tasks, such as network testing, updating active load balancers, handling end-to-end patch management and maintaining infrastructure in segregated networks. "The best network automation empowers humans, rather than replacing them," observed Vijay Kurkal, chief operating officer of Resolve Systems, an incident response and automation technology firm.
Start by implementing human-guided automations, Kurkal advised. "Businesses can identify which steps of a process they would like to automate, and which ones require human interaction." This approach places control into the hands of human employees, allowing them to focus their attention on critical thinking tasks while committing AI to handling more repetitive chores. "For example, network automation can help audit every process, whether human-directed or automated, for a real-time, centralized audit trail, essential for troubleshooting and compliance," he said.
6. Strengthen security: An unsecured network can never be considered fully manageable. The proliferation of connected devices, coupled with a vanishing perimeter and an ever-changing threat landscape, complicates an already complex security environment, noted Craig Harber, CTO of Fidelis Cybersecurity, a threat protection and response technologies provider. "Digital transformation is potentially creating additional opportunities for adversaries, as there are more entry points to exploit and more blind spots in which to hide," he warned.
Enterprise network manageability begins by addressing the cyber security fundamentals as defined by the Center for Internet Security (CIS) and its 20 CIS Controls & Resources. "I believe the continuous real-time identification and classification of all managed and unmanaged assets—enterprise IoT, shadow IoT, legacy systems—within the network is critical and essential for business operations," Harber stated. "Without this level of visibility, attackers will exploit blind spots within network defenses, allowing them to move laterally and remove critical data from the network."
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