As other departments within IT embrace Agile approaches to their operational practices, network teams are grappling to keep up due to outdated philosophies and processes. This can lead to situations where the business is constantly waiting on network configuration changes in order to bring new digital services online.
Let's learn why this delay is occurring and how a shift from legacy network operations (NetOps) models toward an Agile approach can lead to efficient digital transformation.
Legacy NetOps principles were intentionally slow
Enterprise networks of old were designed to be static. Their sole purpose was to push frames and packets from one location to another. Any changes network engineers made to production networks were carefully planned, rare and typically consisted of making several major changes at once, as opposed to smaller, incremental changes.
The thought behind this slow and methodical approach was that network infrastructure served as the foundation for all other apps and services riding across it. Thus, stability and simplicity were paramount.
Modern networks are responsible for much more
In addition to switching, routing and some basic access control mechanisms found in traditional networks, modern network hardware and software are now responsible for a host of other infrastructure services. These include the following:
- network security, i.e., firewalls, data encryption, intrusion detection and intrusion prevention systems, network sandboxing, etc.;
- multipath WAN optimization;
- load balancing; and
- remote access.
The evolution of virtualization within data centers, clouds and edge compute points of presence has also led to several software-defined configuration, management, and performance and security optimization functionalities. If properly used, these tools can deliver insights into how small configuration changes to a production network can significantly benefit end-user performance on a per-service and per-application basis.
Benefits of an Agile networking approach
As the name suggests, an Agile approach to networking focuses on rapid but calculated changes to the network. In turn, these minor and frequent changes help increase application performance, enhance data security and support the rapid rollout of business applications and services.
In addition to those factors, secondary benefits of Agile networking may include the following:
- increased network operations visibility with other critical IT teams;
- customer satisfaction gains, as apps, features and services can be deployed into production faster and with better performance;
- automation practices that lower the risk of configuration change mistakes due to human error; and
- networks that are built and managed with higher levels of adaptability and scalability.
Championing an Agile NetOps culture and framework
Although networks are still the foundation of any enterprise infrastructure, the speed at which new services must be brought online, moved or adjusted for performance is much higher than it used to be. To successfully make a transition to Agile networking, NetOps teams must first learn to think differently.
For decades, NetOps teams were designed around a culture where their internal customers were application, server and desktop teams that requested network changes to accommodate their infrastructure adds and changes. However, an Agile methodology removes this inter-IT customer thinking.
Instead, NetOps should focus on being an integral part of delivering high-performing and secure digital tools to their end users. Doing so helps NetOps admins better understand the importance of what role they play and why speed is so important. After all, a network that provides regular improvements to end-user experience can significantly affect the overall success of a business.
Once teams understand this shift in culture, the next step is to introduce various network architectures, platforms and tools that can help facilitate network and device monitoring, managing and automating of network tasks. This process includes looking at tools, such as self-service portals, AI for IT operations software, automated policy creation systems and multi-cloud management portals.
Lastly, a focus on continuous improvement is necessary. A transition from traditional practices to Agile ones will not take place overnight. As such, it will take time for NetOps admins to identify bottlenecks or constraints in their current practices and find ways to streamline or automate them. That's why it's important to set realistic goals in the beginning and slowly transform workflows to ones that are more in line with adapting to rapid business changes.