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​Network technologies are changing faster than we can manage them

Kentik's Cisco Live survey shows networks are changing faster than they have in decades, and companies are stumbling trying to keep up with the changes.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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Software-defined networking (SDN), Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), and 5G: It's been one thing after another in networking in the last few years. Avi Freedman, co-founder and CEO of Kentik, a network analytics company, commented, "Between multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and SDN, there were about 15 years where the networking world was pretty static. Right now, we're in a world moving as fast as the ISP world did back in the 90s. Every few weeks there's something new."

That's both a good and a bad thing.

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And that's not just his opinion. In the Kentik 2018 State of Network Management report, based on a survey of network professionals at Cisco Live 2018, it found that companies need "a better understanding their infrastructure in order for their businesses and revenue to benefit from all of the new developments."

For example, while network automation via DevOps is seen as the most important trend with a plurality of 35 percent, only 15 percent of respondents said their organization is prepared for it. The problem is, while networking infrastructure keeps expanding, organizations lack the resources to scale, so they look to automation -- not as a way to replace jobs, but as a way to manage their ever growing networks. At the same time, legacy networking hardware doesn't lend itself to automation.

As Freedman observed, "Unless an organization's technology stack was created to be ready for it, achieving full automation still requires a lot of heavy lifting. There are so many parts to integrate with other parts, and in many cases, legacy technologies that exist in many organizations' environments are not ready for or able to support automation."

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Simultaneously, according to the survey, data breach and user experience are the two biggest network worries. About 33 percent of network professionals said a data breach worries them the most about their network. Given the almost daily data breaches, who can blame them?

In an ideal world, network managers would like to see tools that combine network and security management. However, only about 40 percent of respondents said their organization was using the same stack of tools to manage both network performance and security.

But network pros are also being overwhelmed by the huge proliferation of cloud and network management tools. Many organizations are trying combinations of tools to manage the challenge. Network traffic analytics appears to be the most commonly used, with just over 28 percent of network professionals using it to manage their network challenge.

The result? When asked about how well organizations monitor the performance and security of their cloud and internet dependencies (e.g., IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, web APIs, DNS, web services), the vast majority of respondents (95.8 percent) reported they aren't where they'd like to be. A mere 13.9 percent of organizations rated their monitoring as "excellent."

And, in the "same as it ever was" department, the age-old problem with incident response is still with us. About 30 percent of respondents said the hardest part of managing and resolving a network incident is that users or customers know about incidents before they do. In other words, network problems escalate to the point where they're affecting production before network administrators can spot -- never mind fix -- problems.

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Another 26 percent reported their biggest challenge with incident response is that data exists, but they can't access or analyze it easily. Without the ability to analyze network data in real time, network professionals cannot mitigate issues before they hit users and customers.

"With increased business reliance on internet connectivity, the network world has and will continue to get increasingly complex. We're just in the early stages of how our industry will need to transform," added Freedman. "But there's good news: There's progress being made. Many teams, including ours here at Kentik, are focused on rapidly solving these problems."

That said, network management tool improvements can't come soon enough. With the rise of cloud and containers, networking is more important than ever to business. Our tools must evolve to deal with this new reality or our businesses will end up in a world of trouble.

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