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Network Management

Top Tips: How to tame your network now - and be ready to transform it

04-11-2015-how-to-tame-your-network-nowJoel Dolisy is a senior vice president and CTO and CIO at SolarWinds, a leading IT management software provider based in Austin, Texas. Dolisy leads the technical and technological strategy for the engineering group. He is also responsible for the strategy and delivery of the internal business and online systems that SolarWinds relies on for its daily operations. Dolisy has spent more than 16 years in the IT management industry.

Joel shares his top tips for CXOs on how to tame your network now and be ready to transform it.

The network as we know it is being redefined.

Australia’s reputation as an early and significant adopter of the cloud is ushering in hybrid IT operating models – and the management and monitoring challenges that come with it.

As more endpoints, applications and devices are added to the mix, the network is transforming.  For IT, the challenge is two-fold: stay on top of the network today, and prepare for what it could look like tomorrow. 

In an environment where workers expect to be online wherever they are and whenever they like, regardless of time zones or whether IT support is available, the network has become a utility - not that dissimilar to water, or electricity.  The new normal is to expect that if you’re in a public area, Wi-Fi will be available, and if you’re in an office, the Ethernet plug in the wall is live, working and fast. It’s like turning on a tap or plugging into an electrical socket.

Unfortunately, commodity attitudes towards networking are causing it to slip from the CXO radar. Does this mean that CXOs are so comfortable with the maturity of the network that they are focusing their strategic efforts and investment elsewhere?

Keep investing in your network - While users’ attitudes could be construed as positive – an indication, perhaps, that more operators are reaching the Five 9's holy grail of higher availability than ever before – they could also come at a cost, with only 23% of enterprises planning to increase spending on network performance management in 2015 according to research firm 451.

Market revenue data appears to support the slackening, for example both IDC and Gartner see enterprise switch spend tracking at around 1% growth. But while that's hardly an advertisement for networking's sway in the IT budget or strategy, these numbers might not be the best way to gauge the CXO mindset when it comes to the network.

Refresh your network - In January 2015, research conducted by asset management firm PiperJaffray highlighted that chief information officers (CIOs) cite networking as the area of the data centre most in need of a refresh. In fact, 35% of respondents reported that they are looking to update their network this year compared to 26% last year. This is due to the transition from traditional ‘dumb’ networks to those that have application aware intelligence, software-defined networking (SDN) and the blending of software and application visibility into the core network infrastructure.

Recognise your networks’ business value - That may not yet be reflected in the investment numbers tracked by industry analysts, yet CIOs as a group still recognising that the network has business value to offer beyond day-to-day uptime and as a conduit for bits and bytes. Business value will become more apparent to the entire C-Suite as the network underpins the realisation of several infrastructure evolutions.

Embrace a hybrid or cloud-based model - One such evolution is the ongoing rise in complexity of the network as the number of endpoints and applications explode and network boundaries expand. The network is growing at a much faster rate than the number of people inside the company dedicated to manage and monitor it. Hence, CXOs that are embracing a hybrid on/off-premise or majority cloud-based operating model will already be familiar with this increased complexity and the importance of the underlying network in achieving that vision.

Adopt DevOps - There is also pressure for networks to keep up with emerging ways of working – such as the push to apply agile methodologies to the IT operations domain- a push that is occurring primarily through the adoption of DevOps – a cultural movement to bring developers and operations closer, encouraging greater interactions between engineers and system administrators. Gartner predicts that 25% of Global 2000 organisations – of which there 34 in Australia – will take up DevOps by 2016, an encouraging step forward towards a new set of constituents that are more focused on application performance management.

Here, the value of the network is in its ability to support rapid, iterative changes to the applications that run atop of it. Like all agile methodologies, the business value is in being able to move fast and adapt to changing requirements. One side effect of DevOps is it drives CXOs to gain a deeper understanding and exposure into the network and applications stack – since both must work in sync to benefit the business.

Existing network management tools need to be adjusted to reflect the new breed of IT operations people. Monitoring tools need to stay relevant to their audience and need to evolve as technology evolves and matures. If the audience is seeing the world in a different way, then we need to modify our toolkit to reflect that change in perspective and move the business at the speed of IT.

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