Tag Archives: Network

Goals and Challenges for CSPs in Network Automation | IT Infrastructure Advice, Discussion, Community


In the last few years, communication service providers (CSPs) are going through major infrastructure transitions to deal with increasing bandwidth demands from subscribers. A transition includes integrating cloud model into a backhaul of telecom network, as central or edge cloud. This transition has a significant impact on the whole IT technology business and the overall IT ecosystem. Now, with this, we will see how IT companies are playing a crucial role in building backhaul technologies for telecom network and there we have a big shift in how IT pros are building software technologies and how subscribers will access services.

CSPs are trying to lower their internal (operations and resources) costs to keep service costs to enterprise users lower, improve service delivery, and ensure and enhance the security of their offerings to subscribers. At this point, IT companies come into the picture to help CSP to transform hardware-based network to virtualized, i.e. software-defined network to bring agility, automation into a network with lowering expenses on resources (CAPEX) and operations (OPEX). 

Apart from the expenditure part, network automation for deployment and management of digital nodes will be the key to make this move successful. IT technology vendors are service providers are going to play a major role in this.

Network automation enablement with cloud

The reason for this move for telco cloud is due to the fact that cloud service providers are constantly creeping into network infrastructure to deliver end-to-end services. This is nothing, but we can call it as an amalgamation of CSP networks with cloud providers. Moreover, this opens up various possibilities for CSPs in terms of handling dynamic scaling of network resources and cloud applications, and automation of network operations to provide service velocity, fault rectification, and security.

In this context, in December 2018, Futuriom research firm released a report on CSP network automation to get insights from industry experts. A survey was conducted and gathered data from 130 professionals including telecom service providers and web-scale cloud operators. The focus of this survey was to understand key goals, challenges and components of network automation for CSPs. The report shows a comprehensive perspective on how automation can be helpful in upcoming years and an approach by service providers and cloud service providers.

Why are the expectations of CSPs from network automation?

If we look at the current network that is managed by CSPs, it is legacy network constituents of telco hardware and OSS/BSS on top of that which is very difficult to deploy each node and services on top of that manually. It will also be a huge task ahead in front of CSP to transition network to a virtualized one. The complexity of virtualized network is also in the testing phase due to the complex nature of virtualized deployment of operational elements within the network. So, what is in hand of CSPs – a vast telecom network which is going to transform into software-driven containing innovation provided with software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV). Also, on the road to 5G, new architecture like network slicing with edge computing will be adding more critical architectural ecosystem.

Due to all this end-to-end automation, become a very critical requirement for CSPs for driving efficiency by saving time for configuration and deployment along with cost as well by eliminating hardware and operational expenditure.

As per the report, there can be five expectations if automation comes into picture for CSPs:

  • Supporting dynamic services and real-time services

  • Faster service delivery and accelerated revenue production

  • Lowering OPEX costs

  • Lowering CAPEX costs

  • Improving network security with visibility

In the survey, Futuriom asked about the top three goals out of above expectations to participants. Faster service delivery for acceleration in revenue and support for dynamic services came on top of the selection. Network security with intelligence was the next priority for participants.

Therefore, it is clear that CSPs require network automation to focus more on service velocity and faster delivery along with secure network operations.

In any software driven environment, automation of operations and resource deployment mainly has an impact on cloud-native technologies. Containers, container orchestration engines, and microservices architecture along with central management platforms have been introduced by the public as well as private cloud vendors to fuel automation. As the CSP network evolved with the software-centric approach, the cloud-native technologies have been merged to the different tiers in the telecom network.

CSP relies on the network at highest scales where the realization of end-to-end automation is a hard thing. The main goal for CSPs can be to simplification of network design for integration of emerging cloud-native technologies to achieve automation. But there are certain challenges comes into the picture like:

  • Vendor interoperability, or managing how supplier equipment works together

  • Data and configuration consistency such as standards and APIs

  • Resources to implement network automation, notably people and money

  • Implementing technology at scale

A question was asked in a survey to find the most common challenges based on the above list. Investment in resources for implementation of network automation for staff and money is a topmost challenge according to the survey respondents. Next barrier came out is roadblocks in implementing new technologies at scale.

Therefore, it is highlighted to vendors and CSPs to the reality of lack of implementation assistance and tools in network automation.

SDN and NFV technologies are playing a key role in virtualizing network elements and abstracting software part of network hardware to have a central dashboard. The virtualized software sits on top of the COTS hardware at data center stacks within the network, which is again further used to gather telemetry data and analytics information. Furthermore, this pushes for even more intelligent automation that can be called as intent based networking. Most of CSPs are focusing to have the ability to just pass on the intent at central dashboard and network is deployed and managed accordingly.

The software approach in network automation enabled with SDN, NFV allows CSPs to gather telemetry, analysis, and monitoring data, which can be additionally used for security, purpose and allow CSP to have a network with intelligence fault remediation capabilities.

 



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Why Settle for Just “OK” Network Operations? | IT Infrastructure Advice, Discussion, Community


More often than not, just “OK” is not an option. After all, OK expectations can only lead to OK outcomes. This is showcased in a recent popular advertising campaign from AT&T, which depicts scenarios where just OK is not acceptable, portraying an “OK surgeon,” “OK babysitter,” and “OK tattoo artist.” While the commercials are comical, they bring to light some of the very real and not so funny problems that many businesses and specifically IT teams are dealing with.

With the explosion of the internet of things (IoT) and advancements in automation, artificial intelligence (AI), software-defined networking (SDN), and DevOps, many IT professionals are realizing that the processes they once relied on to manage critical areas of the network have become just OK. And when it comes to network operations, just OK is not OK. Networks today are mission critical, often relied upon to keep the entire business up and running. In fact, according to Gartner, the average cost of network downtime is around $5,600 per minute – a massive expense for any organization, especially when you factor in the amount of time it typically takes a network team to troubleshoot an issue using OK, aka manual, methods.

As our IT environments continue to transform, our processes must as well. The role of the network engineer has already evolved to include much more responsibility than ever before, and currently, many are struggling to juggle everything on their plates. As a result, there are several areas where IT teams have accepted an OK standard, but it’s not too late to transform OK to actually effective and efficient.  

An OK approach for complex dynamic networks

SDN is beginning to show some real benefits to organizations that are implementing the technology to create efficient, centralized network management, roll out new applications and services with greater agility, enhance security and reduce operational costs. On the flip side, however, SDN also brings on new operational challenges, creating hybrid network environments where SDN architecture is merged with traditional data center and MPLS networks. These hybrid environments are incredibly complex, consisting of hundreds and thousands of components and undergoing constant change. As the networks continue to become more complex and dynamic, significant visibility issues are created for network teams.  

Ideally, network engineers are able to see both SDN and non-SDN networks side-by-side so they can visualize the physical and logical interconnections and correlate the layers of abstraction at any moment. This visibility becomes critical especially during troubleshooting when speed is of the essence. Remember, downtime can cost an organization $5,600 per minute – with the ability to directly impact the bottom line. Unfortunately, existing troubleshooting and mapping strategies like CLI and network diagramming are less effective in complex hybrid networks, forcing IT teams to race against the clock to identify an issue, increasing MTTR (mean time to repair). End-to-end visibility across hybrid networks is essential for being able to identify and mitigate potential issues quickly. Without it, existing processes are just OK.

Automation takes things up a notch, far beyond just OK, allowing teams to view both traditional and application-centric infrastructure as well as data integration with the SDN console in a single view. This enables enterprises to acclimate to an application-centric infrastructure and understand how application dependencies map to the underlying fabric. In hybrid environments, where abstraction can lead to a cloudy view of the network, automated processes and the right data integration can give engineers the dynamic visibility they need.

OK collaboration between network and application teams

As networks become more software-defined and application-centric, the line between the application and network team starts to get blurry. The two often spend time blaming the other department for an issue and rarely take a collaborative approach to troubleshooting. As long as applications depend on the network to function and companies depend on applications to conduct business, the blame game between the two for slow performance, downtime, or otherwise will continue – that is if just OK network processes are in place.

Not only is there tension between applications and network teams, but there’s also a big knowledge and skills gap between the two, which brings new challenges as network projects start crossing over into application territory and vice versa. This is where automation and visibility come into play. Automation can help network engineers apply existing knowledge to these new environments and allows for IT teams to share their critical knowledge effectively – whether that be design information, troubleshooting steps or network change history. By providing a common visibility framework during troubleshooting and security and enabling teams to codify and share best practices, automation transforms OK IT communications living in silos, to effective collaboration for better results.

As organizations continue to invest in the latest technology and as a result, networks continue to grow in size and complexity, it’s become clear that automation is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. Traditional methods of network management simply don’t cut it with the hybrid environments of today. Stop settling for OK outcomes from your IT operations when automation can ensure the network is performing at its best.



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Four Tips to Worsen Your Network Security | IT Infrastructure Advice, Discussion, Community


If you want to keep your network infrastructure secured, you need to monitor what’s going on with routers, switches, and other network devices. Such visibility would enable you to quickly detect and investigate threats to perimeter security, such as unauthorized changes to configurations, suspicious logon attempts, and scanning threats. For example, improper changes of network device configurations will leave your network vulnerable to hackers who could break into your network. If you want to strengthen your network security, never follow these four tips.

Tip # 1: Don’t care about unauthorized logons

Most attempts to log on to a network device are valid actions by network administrators — but some are not. Inability to promptly detect suspicious logon attempts leaves your organization vulnerable to attackers. Unusual events include access by an admin outside of business hours or during holidays, failed logon attempts, or the modification of access rights, etc. An immediate alert about suspicious events enables IT personnel to take action before security is compromised. This practice is also helpful for compliance audits, as it gives evidence that privileged users and their activities on your devices are closely watched (e.g., who is logging in and how often).

Tip # 2: Configure your devices at random

The key threat associated with network devices is improper configuration. A single incorrect change can weaken your perimeter security, raise concerns during regulatory audits and even cause costly system outages that can bring your business down. For example, a firewall misconfiguration can give attackers easy access to your network, which could lead to lasting damage. Visibility into who changed what will provide you with insight and control of your network devices. Continuous auditing would enable you to have better user accountability and detect potential security incidents more quickly before they cause real trouble.

Tip # 3: Ignore scanning threats

Hackers often use network scanning to learn about a network’s structure and behavior to execute an attack on the network. If you avoid monitoring of your network devices for scanning threats, you might miss malicious activities until your sensitive data is compromised. To strengthen your protection against scanning threats and minimize the risk of data breaches, ensure continuous monitoring of network devices. Such visibility would enable you to understand which host and subnet were scanned, from which IP address it was initiated, and how many scanning attempts were made.

Tip # 4: Ease control of VPN logons

Virtual private network (VPN) access is a popular way to improve the security of remote connections for many organizations, but there are many security risks associated with it. In reality, VPN connections are usually used by anyone in the organization without any approvals. The best practices recommend providing access to network resources via VPN only after proper approvals and only to users that need access according to their business need. However, practice shows that there are no 100 percent secured VPNs and any VPN connection is a risk. The major risk scenarios include a user connecting via public Wi-Fi (since someone might steal their credentials) or a user who doesn’t usually work with VPN suddenly beginning to use it (which can be a sign that a user has lost their device and someone else is trying to log in using it). Visibility into network devices enables you to keep track of each VPN logon attempt. Such visibility also provides information about who tried to access your network devices, the IP address each authentication attempt was made from, and the cause of each failed VPN logon.



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Network Jobs: Hot and Cold | IT Infrastructure Advice, Discussion, Community


Network technology is constantly evolving. New tools and approaches arrive as others are replaced or discarded. The same can be said for managers, engineers, developers and other network pros, many of whom wake up one morning to discover that their once prized and sought-after talents are no longer as popular as they used to be.

For many years, network fundamentals remained relatively unchanged. This is no longer true, and many network pros are now beginning to feel the impact of possessing a dated skill set. “With advancements in SDN, cloud, segment routing, automation, and many other technologies, it’s an exciting time to be in networking,” said Justin Ryburn, head of solutions engineering at network analytics company Kentik. “There are great opportunities out there for any network engineer, operator or architect who is willing to invest the time in learning these new technologies.”

But which network skills are the best bet for future growth? To help you stay on top of what’s currently in demand, and what isn’t, here’s a rundown of today’s hottest network jobs and those that are on the path to zero bits per second.

Comfortably hot

Cloud network architects are currently in high demand, Ryburn noted. “As more enterprises shift their workloads to the cloud, they are finding the underlying network to be a critical piece of the success,” he explained. Cloud networking, however, is much different than traditional infrastructure networking, so it requires a new skillset, Ryburn added.

Steve Pace, head of HR at network management firm Forward Networks, predicted that cloud networking skills will begin to replace traditional on-premises network admins as more activity migrates to the public cloud. “There will be fewer boxes to install/configure/manage/maintain locally,” he observed.

The hottest networking job today is a network automation engineer, asserted Pace. “In recent years, there has been a major shift to automate many repetitive network IT tasks with programming and orchestration tools,” he noted. “This has been exacerbated with the convergence of DevOps and network operations. Network automation engineers are seeking to optimize workflows, reduce MTTR (mean time to resolution) and improve test methodologies.”

Network engineers, in general, are facing the need to improve their programming and scripting skills in languages such as Python and Perl, Pace said. They also need to begin learning a wide range of emerging orchestration technologies, including virtual networking, Kubernetes, SD-WAN orchestration, Ansible, and Puppet. “Glassdoor is currently showing an average nationwide salary for a network automation engineer of $86,588 versus an average salary for traditional network engineer of $72,946, reflecting the more advanced programming, workflow and orchestration skills required,” he observed.

Any IT pro that participates in the adoption, migration, integration, and automation of software-defined networks, and network functions that are virtualized in support of workload mobility, has a hot job, said Greg Jacobs, director, network and security product engineering at disaster recovery firm Sungard Availability Services. “This includes both public and private in the context of hybrid workloads,” he noted. “This also includes key DevOps integrated roles, such as an automation developer/architect or product owner and product management.”

Security analysts and engineers are “extremely vital employees,” observed David Armendariz, general manager of the technology division at executive search firm Lucas Group. “They are responsible for the education of employees on computer and network security, along with monitoring network breaches and responding to attacks to the network,” Such skills are invaluable, as security breaches can cost enterprises millions of dollars. “Security engineers are on the front lines keeping all data and technical systems safe, ensuring that security breaches do not happen,” he said.

Not so hot

As long expected, automation’s impact is beginning to reverberate across the entire network job market, making many manual network management tasks obsolete. “One clear example is WAN networking, where SD-WAN solutions have been widely adopted to manage most of the dynamic changes required of WAN networks,” Pace said. “This is extending to software-based policy management of Wi-Fi networks as well,” he added.

Telecom specialists, meanwhile, are becoming an endangered species. “As technology evolves, we’re shifting away from traditional telecom roles,” Armendariz said. For decades, traditional PBXes were a communications mainstay. “Now we’ve evolved into VoIP, and with the ease of administration on the VoIP systems we’re seeing more of a traditional network resource handling the telecom aspect of the network.”

Automation also threatens the job stability of traditional network engineers. “Leveraging scripting or automated tasks is preferred in a rapidly changing and dynamic network environment,” Jacobs warned.

The market is shifting toward transformation enablement, Jacobs observed. “Networks are becoming more abstracted through virtualization front-ended by APIs,” he explained. “I expect to see more roles opening up in the automation and network development space as organizations adopt concepts such as shared virtual infrastructures, software-defined networking—both SDN and SD-WAN—hybrid connectivity and shared horizontal infrastructure services,” he said.

Takeaway

The network job market will continue to be hot for the remainder of 2019, Ryburn predicted. “Between service providers and digital enterprise, networking continues to be a fast-growing segment of the IT market.”

 



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To Do Digital Transformation Right, Transform Your Network | IT Infrastructure Advice, Discussion, Community


A fast-casual restaurant chain was thinking big, its C-suite poised to sign off on a digital strategy focused on reinventing the customer experience to cater to a dining public with a growing appetite for a richer mobile-enabled experience.

The company’s due diligence around the transformation effort strongly suggested that consumers want digital tools at the center of their dining experience. So adding mobile order- and pay-ahead capability was on the menu, along with the launch of a branded mobile app, self-serve kiosks, and guest WiFi. All these capabilities, their IT people assured, were viable and, in terms of impact and ROI, worth pursuing.

But before the company could begin to put its strategy in motion, there was another key factor to consider: the network. Could such an ambitious digital transformation effort succeed with the company’s legacy MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) network and related hardware as its backbone?

From restaurant chains to retailers to banking institutions, enterprises are realizing that because digital transformation is largely about network-enabled, mobile, and cloud-based tools and processes, its success is often predicated on network transformation. Ninety-nine percent of companies see the need for digital transformation, according to a new research report from Dell. Two-thirds of companies have already waded into the transformation process, while another 17 percent are researching the execution of transformation but have yet to begin the process.

For companies that are just starting down that road, this is the time for a network gut-check — an honest appraisal of your current network’s ability to support a broad digital initiative like the one being undertaken by the aforementioned restaurant chain. Here is a look at what a network transformation generally involves in laying the groundwork for a successful enterprise-wide digital transformation:

Assess your current network vis à vis your digital transformation aspirations. To what extent does the network align with your plans for elevating the customer experience and moving certain key parts of the business to the cloud (more on that in a moment)? What does the overall digital experience you envision your enterprise delivering, both customer-facing and back-office, look like? What’s the end game? In most cases, the ultimate goal for digital transformation is to bolster the bottom line by improving the customer experience and by operating your network and your business more efficiently. As currently configured, will your network accommodate the key ingredients of a robust digital customer experience — things like a unified commerce experience, “always on” availability, and mobile-forward tools for customers to engage with you and vice versa? Will the network cost-effectively supply enough bandwidth to handle the apps you plan to deploy and the significantly higher network traffic that you expect as a result of digital transformation? What about its capacity to accommodate an emerging breed of AI, machine learning and analytics tools?

Get clear about the cloud’s role. An increased reliance on cloud-based solutions — SaaS, UCaaS, PaaS, CCaas, etc. — typically goes hand in hand with digital transformation, for the scalability, flexibility, and agility the “as a service” model provides enterprises as they build out and adapt their digital presence and network capabilities in response to customer needs, competitive demands and technological advances. Which customer-facing and back-office workloads do you intend to move to the cloud?

Determine your approach to apps. Apps represent the core of digital transformation. So, as part of your digital strategy, be sure you have an application roadmap for how you will bring to life the digital user experience you envision. Does your network as currently deployed have the bandwidth to support traffic from both existing and new apps, and to carry data from Internet of Things collection points connected to the network? Also, consider the extent to which your current network provides application visibility — tools that supply insight into app performance and utilization across the enterprise. This insight can help network managers to determine how to optimize application performance and isolate problems.

Determine if your WAN is wanting. As ambitious as a digital strategy may be, a legacy WAN such as the old standby MPLS on which so many enterprises have long relied, despite its rigid hardware dependencies and traffic limitations, can stifle those ambitions, making any move to mobile-first, cloud-centric apps and solutions complicated and costly. Many of those limitations disappear with a software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN). Enterprises with branch sites (banks, restaurants, healthcare systems, retailers, etc.) are particularly strong candidates to turn to a SD-WAN network solution, for its scalability, elasticity, and cost-effectiveness compared to other hardware-focused network approaches. Relying on public and/or private Internet connections, not only is SD-WAN more flexible and scalable than traditional wide-area alternatives, but it also can cost significantly less to operate. It’s deployable as either a strictly software-based solution or as a hardware/software hybrid with WAN edge devices, providing the virtually always-on, cloud-driven network operating model that in many cases is a prerequisite to digital transformation.

Attributes like these explain why enterprises are shifting to SD-WAN in droves.

Prioritize security. With digital transformation often come new exposures — to DDoS attacks, ransomware incursions, uninvited data exfiltration, etc. To protect against threats to your digital assets, your customers and your brand, your network needs the ability to deploy multiple levels of digital security, with tools like multi-factor authentication, firewalls on-premises and in the cloud, and end-to-end encryption.

When your network is not only secure but mobile-enabled and cloud-ready, then you have a foundation for making those big digital transformation ambitions a reality.



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