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The Network Plays Catch-Up

Software and services have been evolving over the last decade at breakneck speed; now it's the network's turn.

· DevOps Zone

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A company’s network is its transportation system, essential to daily work getting done.  It’s gotten more complex through the years, but the underlying technology used to move packets of data from place to place hasn’t evolved much. In that time, though, applications have moved from on-premises data centers to hosting via the web, or delivered as a service—and the network has had to keep up the best it can.

As servers and storage have advanced, they’ve become more efficient, intelligent and way more flexible. They serve today’s distributed environments well. IT users can provision a new server instance in seconds on site or at a remote environment, thanks to virtualization. And storage advances mean that drives are smaller and denser than ever, with interesting growth in memory and types of storage. Of course, there’s also the public cloud, which, a decade on, is still helping companies grow faster without having to invest in building a data center.

While those data center components leap ahead, networking at its core remains largely the same. It’s IT and the users who suffer from a stagnant network landscape. IT teams have to tinker with configuration settings to meet the needs of the business and users, which change almost constantly. Users also need network access with phones, laptops and tablets, extending the network’s work day exponentially. There are tools and products to layer on top of the network to improve pain points, such as WAN accelerators.

IT teams are often managing the office LAN, the WAN to connect to remote offices and WiFi for employees and guest users. They’re juggling those networks with the same type of infrastructure as in the days when businesses just had to maintain one static network. Now, though, networks are distributed across organizations, offices and users, and they need to catch up.

Recent research from Aberdeen Group reflects some of the common worries around the network and improving the network. More than half of their survey respondents say that increasing network capacity is their biggest improvement challenge. One-third say that a lack of network performance is an overall network challenge. And 38% say that automating network monitoring is a challenge they face in trying to improve the network.

35% of respondents say lack of network performance data is their biggest enterprise network challenge. Source: Aberdeen Group

The Next Big Networking Thing

Depending on who you ask, the next big thing that will truly transform networking is SDN or NFV, or some combination of the two. Halting progress has been made on actual enterprise adoption of SDN. Plenty in the networking industry still don’t agree on what SDN actually is. The idea behind network functions virtualization (NFV) is to bring virtualization to the hardware-bound network infrastructure to relieve IT admins of managing purpose-built hardware and add agility.

Software-defined dreams notwithstanding, IT continues to be pretty siloed. We hear from our customers that networks are a black hole for them. They don’t see what’s happening across the WAN or on WiFi networks that they are maintaining. That’s rather a large black hole, considering how much data is zipping (or crawling) across networking pipes every second of the workday and beyond. One customer found that the WAN accelerator was skewing performance data.

Whatever the technology used, or combination of technologies, IT teams need to see into their networks more than ever. It’s too easy to get bogged down trying to find the cause of network issues when there are so many possible causes. There’s a lot of work going into improving enterprise networking. In the short-term, though, gaining better visibility into what’s happening on the network is one concrete step IT can take. As the evolution of SaaS and web applications brought about modern application performance monitoring, the current evolution of the network is driving the need for new, comprehensive network performance monitoring tools. 

Download “The DevOps Journey - From Waterfall to Continuous Delivery” to learn learn about the importance of integrating automated testing into the DevOps workflow, brought to you in partnership with Sauce Labs.


Published at DZone with permission of Christine Cignoli, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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