In keeping with my nascent tradition of not predicting trends, I’ll instead propose a number of focal points that network engineering and operations professionals should keep in mind in the coming New Year of 2012.  2011 resolutions were around application-awareness, connecting with the network security team, assessing the impact of videoconferencing, embracing automation, and improving service orientation.  None of these have gone away, but some have evolved and there are a few more issues that have begun to crop to change the shape of our list for this year.  So without further ado, here’s the list of Network Management Resolutions for 2012:

1. Don’t wait for the Cloud to come to you. Cloud services are big emerging topics and goals in the minds of IT execs and IT departments, more broadly, but the networking team is often not involved in these conversations. And yet, experience tells us that when it comes time to put cloud services into production, whether that means entering into service agreements with external cloud providers or remaking IT to be an internal cloud, that networking will absolutely be an important aspect of production operations. What’s the best way to put yourself into position to help? A good start would be making sure you have application-aware monitoring tools, such as packet inspection or NetFlow, ready to go so that you can see how these services are being used and how well the network is playing its role as cloud services ramp up.

2. Use Converged Infrastructure projects as an opportunity to consolidate.  There are number of definitions of converged infrastructure out there, ranging from latest-generation networking fabrics to multi-domain pre-integrated “data center in a box” solutions such as FlexPod and Vblock, which deliver compute, hypervisors, network, storage, and sometimes even pre-installed applications, all in one pre-built unit and arriving on a single skid. If your organization is moving towards that latter category, the opportunity exists to ride that wave and bring truly integrated, cross-domain management tools and practices to bear. Take a look at EMC‘s Unified Infrastructure Manager (UIM) which was developed initially to consolidate provisioning functions for VCE Vblocks but was recently extended for integrated monitoring. This could very well herald things to come–a new approach for tightly integrated management tools and practices.

3.  Beware the virtual desktop. Last year, EMA spent some time researching/analyzing emerging requirements for network managers to accommodate VoIP and live videoconferencing, such as Telepresence. While these two technologies continue to grow in use, and hence impact to the lives of network managers, the next great network-dependent technology is hosted desktop, otherwise known as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, or VDI. Like the other two, this is not a new technology, however it appears that other macro-level trends such as mobility and BYOD are driving interest in VDI to a level that is unprecedented. The big challenge, of course, is that if you introduce a network link between a thin virtual client and the server that is supplying all of its data and actions, there is a potential for networks to be a barrier to success. There are other barriers to VDI success, by the way, but it makes sense to look into how ready your network is to handle this new type of application service, by reviewing capacity plans and QoS policies.

4.  Look at the world through Application-colored lenses. This is mentioned above (resolution #1), but in case you have not gotten around to it yet, there is no better time than 2012 to put in place network-facing monitoring technologies that can reveal precisely who is using the network and for what purposes. This does not necessarily mean security awareness, although it can, but more specifically which applications and services are traveling across the network and consuming common resources. Look to NetFlow/xFlow and packet probes as the best technologies here, though log file analysis can also be useful.  This viewpoint puts network operators in a position to contribute valuable operational insights when troubleshooting a problem or analyzing trends that need to be accommodated via policy changes or capacity planning. In the eyes of many, the traditional BSM disciplines are all shifting more directly into APM (application performance management) and the result is yet another affirmation that “The Application is King.” To this I say “Long live the King!” Its reign is irrelevant if there is no network to deliver it.

5.  Seek the proactive path. Rarely do I speak to a networking practitioner who does not express some interest in moving out of reactive mode and into position to be more proactive in supporting their organization. Unfortunately, priorities as they are, this has been much more a dream than a reality for the majority. This is a quest, however, that must be continued. In the coming year, take a look at what your management tools offer in terms of proactive or preventative alerts. Try setting them up around a few high-priority, high-visibility resources or applications. If you can catch and prevent a degradation or outage from affecting a mission-critical application (and you tell someone about it), you will be every bit as much of a hero as when you come in to fight the fire after the house is already burning.

What else are you resolving to do this year?  Please comment and let me know – I’d like to keep track of them all so we can see how we did next New Years….

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