Network Intelligence



Dwayne Emerson, Chief Technology Officer and Head of Engineering at BT Global Services

Photo by Jon Keeling

 

If your organization is constantly upgrading bandwidth, spending money on hardware and software upgrades that are not in the budget and no matter how hard you try or how much you spend, users still complain about their wireless connection, application performance or how slow their browser is, it is possible your network is out of control. To make matters worse, securing the network to ensure the bad guys do not cause problems is a daily task which very few companies have enough time, money or staff to manage effectively.

 

Most IT executives believe that their top priorities include ensuring their network is operating at peak performance, and that it is secure and is operationally stable. Many IT teams have projects underway to simplify their network to improve performance and reduce cost. Regardless of the approach, most organizations still believe the network is a barrier to their business growth initiatives.

For organizations that have a systems stack for visibility, capacity, performance, monitoring threats and addressing risk, the challenge is the rapid technology advancement in IT and the increased use of the public internet, especially for areas such as cloud and the ever increasing sophistication of cyber-attacks. Expanding the systems and keeping them relevant can be extremely challenging for a CIO and the IT staff. Many companies want to approach this problem with software-based solutions, machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation. One could argue that if you have inefficient processes or legacy systems, you cannot apply these capabilities without the risk of teaching machines bad practices and automating bad processes. The good news is that with creative thinking and deep capability and capacity for problem solving, there are several innovative ways to reduce the complexity and improve your environment.

 

Considerations

Evaluate improving efficiency and usability, and invest in capability you don’t currently have (including new skills). For example: don’t invest in a new knowledge management system until after you collect, cleanse and aggregate your data into a single environment (data lake). This alone makes life for an operations leader much easier when troubleshooting an outage that has halted production at a key site or responding to a cyber-attack.

Allocate personnel to regularly evaluate and update your policies and procedures. The easiest process to automate is change. But if the process is weak, the new approach will not be any more reliable or prevent incidents caused by change. A DevOps approach (mini releases) to implementing automation will help ensure you are moving in the right direction.

User experience is very important. Many tools can tell you the network is optimal, but if key users continue to complain about their experience, an IT leader can spend a lot of time and money to prove it otherwise or remediate the issue. A user experience benchmark scoring system is very useful when confronting users about their expectations.

Weekly hygiene and end-to-end network performance monitoring (including cloud) can produce early warning signs, which can lead to preventing a problem and goes a long way in ensuring the network is secure. If you have not conducted a security posture/threat assessment, it is highly recommended that you consider it right away.

Investing in replacement of legacy hardware and keeping it patched should be prioritized over new capability. New capability will make your users happy, but neglecting old hardware increases your exposure to security attacks and it will start to fail unexpectedly.

 

As your network evolves, play close attention to:

What devices and systems are reporting and what is not?

What data is being collected?

Where is the data being stored and for how long?

Who is on your network and why?

Who has access to your network and why?

 

Summary

Most companies have plans or have implemented new technologies and services. All research suggests that this approach will speed up IT projects and give the company the agility, whereas in the past, the network was considered a barrier. Connected everything, anytime, anywhere, virtual networking, cloud adoption, replacing MPLS with public internet connections and mobility will, without doubt, continue to be a thrust for the digital age. Bandwidth is growing an average of 40 percent YoY. Keep in mind that analytics and autonomics will not happen as a result of just implementing new technology – it too has to be planned, organized and managed. To move away from reactive response and move towards predictive and preventative stance and having the ability to collect and analyze actionable intelligence is key to how and where you invest.

Looking ahead, IT leaders must have a good blend of current and new skills, processes and tools to complement the technology in order to rapidly respond to demand, threats, incidents and opportunity while convincing the CIO that the network is under control. People and processes play a major role in understanding, managing, remediating and preventing network instability. Knowledge of data analytics, scripting, visualization tools, broad understanding of advanced cyber security and cloud services are required to support the network of the future.

 

For more information, email dwayne.emerson@bt.com  or visit www.bt.com/globalservices.