The proliferation of vendor-specific management software is quickly draining corporate IT budgets and productivity with no end in sight.
In its new research report entitled “Network Performance Management for Today’s Enterprise,” Enterprise Management Associates found that nearly 25 percent of large enterprises have eight or more network performance monitoring (NPM) tools currently installed, with some supporting as many as 25. In turn, enterprises are demanding new ways to squeeze additional information out of existing infrastructure data that can provide richer visibility while eliminating existing tools or the need for new tools as access networks evolve.
See also: Network Automation Requires a Network Source of Truth
Consolidating disparate vendor monitoring tools helps eliminate operational silos, enable better end-to-end visibility, improve mean time to resolution, and dramatically reduce costs. But that's still not enough.
A long-standing problem
A long-standing industry problem, this tool glut is being exacerbated by an influx of new mobile users, single-purpose IoT devices, and cloud applications hitting the enterprise access network.
Consequently, IT operations teams are now struggling to assemble an effective network performance management strategy with the aim to lower costs, increase productivity and improve the context of visibility into the network – all from the perspective of the client. This is something traditional network monitoring tools don’t do.
To reach these goals, teams are bucking convention and turning to more sophisticated approaches to NPM that siphon and analyze volumes of network data. The analysis of every network device transaction is effectively correlated across every layer of the network.
This allows much faster and more accurate detection of the root cause of network-related client problems. And with it comes the ability to more efficiently remediate issues impacting end-user performance and security wherever problems rear their ugly head across the network.
By leveraging AI and big data analytics, network managers gain much richer insights into the actual behavior and relationship between clients, servers, network services, and applications. But still, it's another software platform that must be purchased, deployed, and learned.
What enterprise IT really wants is something that combines the old with the new with no vendor lock-in attached.
In other words, the industry is moving toward the convergence of conventional network monitoring and AI-based network analytics within a single system. Easier said than done. Such consolidation requires a new approach to network performance management that embraces the concept of AIOps.
Originally coined by Gartner in 2017, The term “AIOps” stands for “artificial intelligence for IT operations” and refers to the way data and information traversing networks are managed by an IT team.
“AIOps platforms use big data, modern machine learning, and other advanced analytics technologies to enhance IT operations functions such as network operations, engineering, cybersecurity, and service desk with proactive, personal, and dynamic insights.
AIOps platforms enable the concurrent use of multiple data sources, data collection methods, analytical (real-time and deep) technologies, and presentation technologies.
What’s wrong with what we have?
Nearly every network element (e.g., a switch, WLAN controller, router, or server) comes with some sort of network monitoring software that allows network managers to monitor behavior. This software comes at a steep cost. Depending on the size of the company, annual license fees for a single vendor monitoring software suite, such as Aruba's AirWave or Cisco Prime, can hit tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year per site.
What more, it’s yet another software system on which staff must be trained.
When it comes to the ever-present IT tool glut, enterprises cite limited visibility, little or no context across systems, rising costs, and prohibitive training time as some of their biggest gripes. Feature overlap and lack of a single point of ubiquitous monitoring round up their growing concerns.
Less is more
“Companies simply have too many network management tools in use today,” said Zeus Kerravala, Founder and Principal Analyst at ZK Research. “The related costs of these tools and their impact on IT productivity has become material to enterprises.”
According to Kerravala, this predicament has spawned a major move in the industry to reduce the number of incumbent vendor management and monitoring tools in lieu of more modern data analytics systems.
“The proverbial holy grail is a single, vendor-agnostic platform that can provide a comprehensive and contextual understanding of device performance and security across the entire network stack,” he said.
To achieve this, integrating the most used functions within existing vendor monitoring systems is key. While the list can be a mile long, some of the more essential functions include:
- Real-time infrastructure health monitoring
- Automated element discovery
- Wired interface up/down status
- Wired interface traffic statistics
- Switch port utilization and associated clients
- AP reboots and failures
- Fan, temperature, and other operational metrics
- Wired and wireless rogue AP detection
- Client roaming behavior
- Wi-Fi traffic, channel utilization
- Visualization of co-channel interference
Using standard protocols such as SNMP, SYSLOG, and APIs, element data used for some of these basic infrastructure monitoring functions can now be combined with advanced analytics to deliver the much-needed context about how clients are interacting with different parts of the network and where any blame should lie.
While enterprises will never be able to eliminate every monitoring system from their operations completely, they can begin to radically reduce IT tool glut that for years has hampered IT operations.
By subsuming basic infrastructure management functionality into a vendor-agnostic analytics platform, companies can begin shedding significant cost and complexity from today's network operations while adding much-needed visibility into critical network blind spots that litter today's corporate access networks.