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Is cloud-based network management right for your business?

Many enterprises use on-premises network management, but moving network management to the cloud might make more sense for some. Compare pros, cons and features of both options.

Network management has traditionally been a hosted activity via on-premises data centers that manage wired LANs, wired WANs and wireless networks. This approach still makes sense for many network managers, but the transition to cloud-based infrastructures has resulted in a swing to cloud-based network management.

Enterprises should examine the pros and cons of both approaches as they consider the switch to cloud. Teams should evaluate whether the location of network management makes a difference.

On-premises network management vs. cloud-based network management

Traditional network applications reside on premises, usually in data centers, while cloud apps exist in cloud environments. Network carriers, including local exchange telephone companies and large nationwide carriers across the U.S., provide traditional voice and data networks. Each corporate location has a point of presence in the data center or some network connectivity location.

Traditional on-premises networks include the following equipment:

  • Cable termination equipment.
  • Switching equipment.
  • Routers.
  • Hubs.
  • Switches.

Network management tools are some of the most important applications that run in data centers. Enterprise network management occurs in the network operations center, in which network managers and technicians observe activity across the network.

Network professionals complete network management tasks, such as packet routing, bandwidth management and performance troubleshooting. Many third-party hosted systems offer network management tools with similar capabilities.

Comparison of on-premises and cloud-based network management systems
Compare on-premises vs. cloud-based network management.

It might make sense for some enterprises to turn network management over to an experienced third party. Third-party organizations, such as MSPs, can set up platforms that give network professionals control of management activities.

With the increased adoption of cloud-based network infrastructure services, network professionals might prefer to use cloud-based network management resources available from a third-party MSP or cloud service provider (CSP), such as AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

Approaches to cloud-based network management

As with any major technology procurement, senior management should be on board with the network team's decision. To evaluate if cloud-based network management systems are right for an organization, the network team must conduct the following activities:

  1. Perform an assessment.
  2. Compare vendor services.
  3. Analyze proposal reviews.
  4. Determine the selection.

It's essential for organizations to use previous network management data to formulate the criteria for a new or upgraded approach.

The network team should also carefully factor in the current network infrastructure configuration -- and the potential changes -- to determine the optimal direction. The organization should also contact carriers to discuss rates, performance issues, service changes and other considerations.

The network management team should then conduct the following steps:

  1. Choose which network management arrangement suits the organization.
  2. Evaluate which network management features and resources to use to manage the infrastructure.
  3. Decide which vendor offers the pricing, support, training, warranty, security and user interaction that best suits the organization.
  4. Evaluate the difficulty of transitioning from one environment to another.
  5. Determine the ROI of the transition.

Pros and cons of cloud-based network management

An organization might be more inclined to move to cloud network management if it has already committed all or part of its infrastructure to a CSP. An on-premises or MSP-hosted platform might be better for organizations with a blend of cloud and noncloud infrastructure services or organizations that use more than one CSP.

Competing CSPs will likely push their network management services, and selecting one over the other could introduce new and unintended risks. For example, a CSP that provides network management services could have difficulty obtaining network performance data from another CSP.

Both cloud and noncloud network management services have the same fundamental capabilities, such as the following:

  • Real-time network monitoring.
  • Data gathering.
  • Performance management.
  • Problem identification.

Network teams have to examine these capabilities, along with many additional features, to identify potential benefits of cloud-based network management.

On-premises network management systems are typically applications that run on servers, so the effect on data center space is nominal. However, cost might become an important issue. For example, an organization could purchase an on-premises app that has a maintenance contract. Changes to the configuration, such as updates to newer versions, might have a one-time cost.

By contrast, cloud-based network management pricing could include the following:

  • A monthly fee.
  • Fees for service changes and other administrative tasks.
  • Fees for maintenance and software updates.

While neither approach has significant advantages over the other, it's important to exercise proper due diligence when deciding which approach to follow.

The transition from an on-premises network management system to a cloud-based network management system could introduce new challenges. Some challenges enterprises might face during a transition are the following:

  • Migration challenges.
  • Training and staffing challenges.
  • Security issues.
  • The need for service-level agreements.

AI in cloud-based network management

AI, one of the most significant elements of network management, could become the future of network management. Many on-premises and cloud vendors have noted the inclusion of AI capabilities in their recent releases. The ability to use data and AI to identify appropriate services to improve network performance can take network management to the next level.

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