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SDN monitoring can help meet new network visibility demands

To keep pace with the demands of next-generation networks, management systems must be scalable, dynamic and intelligent. Expert Lee Doyle says SDN monitoring tools can help.

End-to-end network management presents a constant and growing challenge for many enterprise IT organizations. Disparate network elements, IT silos and the virtualization of data centers make it increasingly difficult to follow traffic flows from applications to end users, and to troubleshoot network outages.

Software-defined networking (SDN) technology can help scale monitoring platforms, enabling them to handle the massive and complex traffic flows of today's networks. Management systems must also dynamically adjust to changes in the IT environment, including application updates and changes in physical and virtual infrastructure. SDN monitoring tools have the potential to meet these requirements, while also capturing and analyzing huge traffic flows and identifying actionable information. In the event of outages, next-generation management platforms need to find the needle in the haystack, and then provide clear next steps for network managers.

Cloud and SaaS obscure end-to-end visibility

IT managers need SDN monitoring tools that provide insight into the end-to-end network and integrate easily into a DevOps IT environment.

The advent of large-scale data centers and cloud-based applications has created a more complex IT application environment and an increased dependency on network operations. Traffic growth and changing traffic patterns increase the complexity of identifying and resolving application and network performance issues. Increasing mobility demands (such as BYOD) make it difficult to pinpoint performance, compliance and security concerns.

The rise of software as a service-based applications -- such as Office 365, Salesforce, Lync/Skype, WebEx, Box, Dropbox, etc. -- further complicates IT managers' ability to monitor application performance and manage the network.

IT silos present challenges

IT silos often hinder comprehensive network visibility. A typical IT organization has a multivendor network, challenging its ability to provide end-to-end management. Consider the various suppliers that may lay claim to part of a given network:

  • Data center network: Cisco, Arista, Juniper and F5
  • Storage area network: Brocade, Cisco and Emulex
  • Campus network: Cisco and HP
  • Wireless LAN: Cisco, Aruba and Ruckus
  • Wide area network (including routers, WAN optimization and SD-WAN elements): Cisco, Juniper, Riverbed and many others
  • Network security: Cisco, Check Point, Palo Alto, Fortinet, Dell and many others.

Each of these suppliers has a specific management system that reports the status and performance of their part of the network. No one network vendor can easily provide end-to-end network visibility.

IT operations teams also have a plethora of tools that provide various "pieces" of the applications/network performance monitoring puzzle. Many organizations have as many as six to 10 different monitoring tools. IT professionals have implemented various combinations of the following products, available from a number of vendors:

  • Network packet brokers: Gigamon, VSS and Big Switch
  • Network performance monitoring: Riverbed and NetScout
  • Application performance monitoring: New Relic and Riverbed
  • Network configuration and change management: Cisco and IBM
  • IT operations management: HP and IBM

This disparate set of tools from multiple suppliers limits the operational efficiency of IT personnel. Users likely receive plenty of alerts, but limited actionable knowledge. Products have widely varying interfaces and generally do not work well together. IT operations teams therefore have lots of tools and raw information, but a limited ability to quickly identify and fix performance problems.

SDN monitoring can meet network visibility requirements

IT managers need SDN monitoring tools that provide insight into the end-to-end network and integrate easily into a DevOps IT environment, breaking down the silos between applications, storage, compute and the network. Specifically, network management elements should:

  • Correlate traffic and data to specific devices
  • Identify users on the network
  • "See" the network topology and traffic flows in real time
  • Pinpoint performance slowdowns
  • Understand and manage virtual and physical network elements

IT operation teams need to easily identify, isolate and remediate application slowdowns and outages, while addressing security and compliance concerns. SDN monitoring platforms can help meet these enterprise network visibility requirements.

Next Steps

What SDN monitoring means for network engineers

Network monitoring: The user's perspective

SDN brings challenges and opportunity to network management

This was last published in October 2015

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