How To Integrate Network Management Tools

How To Integrate Network Management Tools
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A survey report entitled “Network Management 2020 Megatrends” recently released by the research organization EMA shows that nearly two-thirds of enterprises (64%) use 4 to 10 network management tools, and the other 17% use There are more than 10 network management tools.

IDC’s network analysis research director Mark Leary said that many employees obtain and use their own applications, including their own development tools, without the permission of the corporate IT department. If you include the high-level scripts written by internal staff, the number of network management tools used by large enterprises may reach three digits.

According to EMA, the problem is that piecing together multiple function-independent network management tools can be costly and lead to workload dispersion, inefficient data collection and sharing, and difficulty in upgrading.

According to a survey by EMA, between 2018 and 2020, the number of companies using 16–20 tools for network monitoring and troubleshooting has dropped from 8% to 5%, while those using 11–15 tools have dropped from 12% to 9. %. The best choice for enterprises is to use 4 to 5 tools. 41% of respondents said that this is the number of tools they use, which is a significant increase from 25% in 2018.

When asked about their buying strategy, 35% of respondents stated that their goal is a fully integrated multifunctional platform, while only 27% mentioned the best products from multiple vendors. However, the EMA survey report also pointed out: “For many companies, a unified tool strategy is a desire, not a reality.”

A major obstacle faced by network managers is that they are required to maintain uptime and performance as the network becomes increasingly complex. Today’s networks must now accommodate IoT devices, 5G devices, cloud computing traffic, SDN, SD-WAN, and more people working from home. All these requirements have inspired people to buy other tools.

Companies must find the root cause before they can solve the problem. In the case of better network management, the problem is that there are many tools that can do one or two things well, but there is no universal tool that can do everything well.

For example, some tools can discover and map networks, some tools can monitor network traffic, and some tools can perform troubleshooting. It also includes tools for performing root cause analysis and event correlation, tools that focus on configuration management and change management, application performance management tools, and tools for capacity planning.

EMA analyst Shamus McGillicuddy said: “Some network management tools can accomplish multiple tasks, but still can’t accomplish all tasks. Not only that, each tool has its own advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps the configured tools can perform basic traffic analysis. , But there is no change control. If you want to perform configuration management in a more complex way, or if the tool cannot be extended, you also need to purchase other tools with more scalable traffic monitors.”

In addition, because dozens of open source tools are free, they are easy to download. McGillicuddy said: “They didn’t get everything they needed from what they had, so they just downloaded open source tools.” The disadvantage of these tools is not only the lack of integration, but also the time and effort required to patch and update open source tools. .

Leary added that one of the main trends in networking is that network administrators are becoming programmers, who build their own tools to automate specific network management functions. In the long run, the proliferation of custom tools will only exacerbate this problem.

What can be done

The following best practices and guidelines can help companies integrate and optimize their network management toolset:

• Inventory of vendors, open source and internal tools. Identify the tools with overlapping functions. This may be a tool used by a resigned network administrator, or a different tool used by some network engineers to achieve the same function, or a redundant tool used only as a backup.

• Consider timing. Once the candidates for integration are identified, the best time is when the license expires or when the vendor releases a new version that may have additional features, companies can clear more tools.

• Look for platforms, not products. Companies can identify vendors that combine a wide range of integrated tools.

•Identify suppliers who are building a cross-supplier ecosystem. Before starting business with suppliers, let them guide companies to gradually understand how to obtain data from their tools and integrate it with other suppliers’ data on a management platform.

• Establish formal best practices and processes for management toolsets.

• Automate as many processes as possible.

• Consider data sharing and correlation functions. Look for vendor partnerships that can use their log data for AIOps tools, which use machine learning to perform event correlation and other network management functions.

Integration and optimization is an ongoing work that requires a lot of time, training and planning. For example, Guardian Life Insurance took more than a year to replace six network management tools with the SaaS-based Zenoss platform.

Guardian cuts costs and improves integration across IT tools

When Avronil Chatterjee joined Guardian as an enterprise monitoring technology manager five years ago, he encountered problems such as multipoint solutions, decentralized monitoring of network teams, and lack of association between network, server, security, and application development teams.

He started to develop agentless systems for this purpose, which can help the company monitor and troubleshoot the network of more than 1,000 network devices and more than 4,000 servers in the on-premises and cloud computing environments.

Chatterjee decided to use the Zenoss platform. He said: “We are looking for a platform that can accomplish all tasks.” His team is using Zenoss for network monitoring, application performance management and event correlation.

This move allows Guardian to immediately reduce its annual licensing expenditure of $1 million for network management tools by 70%. Chatterjee said: “From a cost point of view, this is a big victory.”

And this integration also brings benefits in other areas. For example, it improves operational efficiency, does not need to manage the relationship with many suppliers as before, and does not require so many employees to manage tools, so the team can be cross-trained to perform other tasks.

Of course, no company can solve any problems with just one network tool. When Chatterjee adopted the Zenoss platform to enable Chatterjee to replace some traditional network tools and other additional products, it transferred security and application log data to Splunk’s tools for advanced performance and capacity planning.

He also uses AppDynamics for application performance management, especially in optimizing the response time and overall performance of Guardian’s e-commerce website. It also uses Resolve’s AIOps tool to improve IT automation and orchestration.

Chatterjee said: “Completing this transition requires a lot of work, one of which is to train people. But making some changes is usually difficult, and users still need to spend time to adapt to the new tools, but it works well.”

His plan is to roll out the new system in stages through a soft-start combination, and run the new and old systems in parallel for a period of time. He said that the goal in the future is to increase the level of automation and introduce natural language processing so that senior managers can answer through smart robots instead of having to navigate dashboards, menus and command lines.

Integration becomes imperative

Although the most ideal method is to use a universal tool to solve all problems, in fact, in the foreseeable future, enterprises will continue to use multiple network management tools. McGillicuddy said companies shouldn’t care too much about the number of tools. Instead, they should focus more on getting the best features from each tool, and ensure that the tools are integrated into the network team, if possible, across security, servers, DevOps, and other groups.

McGillicuddy said: “Although EMA recommends a unified approach to network management, it believes that companies with large tool sets can find opportunities to integrate these tool sets to achieve a unified workflow and better integration.”

Leary pointed out that one of the lessons learned from the ongoing coronavirus epidemic is that network teams need to be prepared for things that may significantly change network traffic patterns. To achieve this goal, network managers should use some automated products, these products are part of the network platform, and can provide common data points in order to be able to analyze these data.

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