For the third year in a row, I will resist the temptation to predict the future of network management, and instead will recommend key focus points that network engineering, management, and operations professionals should keep in mind looking ahead. Last year’s resolutions dealt with cloud, converged infrastructure, VDI, application awareness, and making the shift from reactive to proactive. These are all still good, and most networking pros I talk to have yet to fully address them, so a few of them will be carried forward but others will be replaced for this year:

  1. Find your place in the clouds. The use of cloud services continues to grow, and it’s still not clear what role network managers have in this fundamental shift for IT sourcing strategies, beyond reliable connectivity and (sometimes) optimized performance. Most important to understand is that internal IT organizations are also shifting, slowly but surely, towards an internal private cloud service provider model. This has significant implications for network managers in two ways. First, cross-domain operations teams, which are focused on application performance and end-user quality of experience, are becoming increasingly common, and to be successful must include the network manager’s voice and participation. Second, all network management tools, technologies, and practices must be reevaluated and aligned with application/service objectives.
  2. Take a SysAdmin to lunch. Whether you have realized it or not, new network elements are popping up in your environment whenever virtual server hosts are deployed. Add to that the ongoing “conspiracy” that virtualization vendors are fomenting via virtual overlay networks to do an end run around real or perceived network configuration and change barriers. Those vendors have one goal – to give virtual systems administrators all the tools they need to spin up and move VMs at their every whim. We all know that the old-fashioned network plays an essential role here, so it’s best to find out what the system administrators are thinking and how seriously they are planning on new network virtualization solutions from non-network vendors.  So take a chance and ask a SysAdmin to lunch, and find out what they are working on –it’s a neighborly thing to do and it might be an eye-opener to boot.
  3. Integrated management is back. The pendulum is swinging away from best-of-breed, multi-product management strategies towards fewer, more tightly integrated management platforms, both at the network management layer and elsewhere in the management stack. This is driven in part by the organizational shifts mentioned above but also by real potential savings in total cost of ownership and operations, as well as real improvements in operations awareness and responsiveness. Further, such integrated approaches are proving effective for those who want to be more proactive. Take a look at your network management tools and asked the question, “Will they allow me to reach a more integrated, cross-functional, proactive level of operations?”
  4. Do your homework on SDN. For most enterprises, Software Defined Networks (SDN) are still a curiosity, but the technologies are finding rapid purchase in the service provider and web-scale commercial sectors. It’s too early to say when, exactly, SDN will be ready for mainstream enterprise networks, but 2013 is a great time to start researching and understanding them. EMA has been tracking this trend (see blog posts here and here) and is planning to conduct direct research into this area early in 2013. Specifically, we will focusing on manageability – including network monitoring, troubleshooting, and security – and what is needed for them to be ready for the broader enterprise community.
  5. It’s all about the Applications. Like it or not, the network is only top-of-mind with IT end-users when there is a problem. The touch point between human and network is facilitated most directly by the applications and services that they use for their work and daily lives. The network’s essential role is to deliver those applications and services reliably and with maximum performance. So everything that a network manager does should always be informed by or influenced by the way in which the network fulfills that prime objective. If your current network management tools are not providing you with application awareness, this is the year to change that. Start by looking at NetFlow or IPFIX records, or by adding selective packet inspection instrumentation to get such visibility.

What are you planning to do this year? How will you make your day-to-day work more effective and how will you plan for the future? Please comment with your own resolutions!


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