Tag Archives: Network

6 Hot Network Specializations to Pursue

Being a network administrator in 2020 often requires skills far and beyond what is often considered “core competencies.” These disciplines commonly focus on routing, switching, WiFi, remote access, and basic network device hardening. But for those that have mastered the essentials, many are left wondering what areas they should specialize in that will not only be interesting – but will also be skills that are highly sought after. Let’s look at six hot areas of enterprise networking that aspiring professionals may want to consider pursuing.

Network security

While many IT professionals seek to achieve a broad range of IT security skills that covers the entire IT infrastructure, you may instead opt to specialize only in the area of network security. Because the field of IT security continues to expand, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to truly become an expert at everything. Instead, the better option may be to focus on tools and processes that protect the network, network edge, and any data traversing it.

Network automation, integration, and interoperation

Until recently, network administrators required few programming skills. Because most enterprise network hardware and software were proprietary in nature, admins were limited to configuring the systems only as the manufacturer envisioned. Less than a decade ago, however, customers began looking at open-source alternatives that were far more flexible from a network device integration, automation, and interoperation perspective. Smartly, the major network vendors identified this trend as a threat to their bottom lines and began opening the ability of end-users to program critical parts of their software. Network professionals finally had a way to granularly adjust network hardware and software for the purpose of increasing performance, sharing information with other network components, and automating many tasks that previously required human intervention.

Unified communications

The advancements in unified communications (UC) technologies are growing at a tremendous rate. Whether this deals with the migration of UC away from on-premises deployments in favor of the cloud – to advancements in streaming video, collaboration tools, or AI-backed customer experience (CX) integrations — the need for professionals that understand UC while also having a strong background in enterprise networking is extremely high. What also makes UC more appealing in 2020 is that many of us can largely avoid the need to understand legacy telco technologies such as POTS lines and T1 circuits. Instead, these have been replaced with session initiation protocol (SIP) trunks that operate over IP.

Network visibility

Most network administrators have the basics down when it comes to network monitoring. The use of SNMP, syslog, and NetFlow/IPFIX helps admins piece together a basic view of a decentralized-intelligence network. However, even with these tools, large visibility gaps can form that can hide significant performance or network security issues. There are two approaches to gaining additional visibility – and both are great skills to obtain. The first approach is to use modern network analytics (NA) tools that pull in highly-granular network health information from multiple sources across the network. This method is great for those that are planning to work in traditional network environments where the routing and switching intelligence is designed to be distributed across all network devices on a hop-by-hop basis. Modern NA tools use artificial intelligence (AI) to sift through mountains of collected data to pick out relevant info that provides admins a “single pane of glass” view of the network that was previously impossible to achieve.

The second way to gain network visibility is to migrate to a network that centralizes intelligence into a single control plane. Whether this is a solution based on software-defined networking (SDN) or intent-based networking (IBN) architectures, the result is a single source of visibility from one end of a network to the other.

WAN/Cloud connectivity

Because of the expected explosion of IoT devices connecting to corporate networks over the next decade, network administrators and architects will be required to solve the problem of data transport in an increasingly decentralized and borderless network. Areas of focus here include SD-WAN, the use of LTE/5G connectivity, and hybrid/multi-cloud network performance.

WARNING: Don’t skip on the basics

While specializing in a specific segment of the overall network can make you the “go-to expert” within your team sounds appealing, it’s important to remember that the new skills learned in a specialization must be built on top of a solid foundation of networking basics. Thus, be sure that you don’t get too far ahead of yourself when it comes to learning specialization skills. You’ll likely end up struggling to understand the “why’s and how’s” of these specializations without the proper networking background. Instead, make sure you start your specialization journey when you truly feel you’ve got a solid handle on the core network principles.

Check out these other Network Computing articles to explore new developments in the field:

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Why 5G Security Needs Smart Network Automation

The GSMA estimates that 5G has the potential to add a staggering $2.2 trillion to our world’s economy in the next 15 years. But the killer apps that drive revenues and customer loyalty in the 5G age will be very different from what we know today. The beneficiaries of 5G will include autonomous vehicles, telehealth, smart cities, and logistics – each of them multi-billion-dollar markets. Each of them is also likely to suffer significant disruption, even loss of life if their security is compromised.

To support these new and exciting market opportunities, operators need an entirely new approach to network management, automation, and cybersecurity. In order to address the concerns surrounding the risks of 5G, networks will be automated end-to-end, and software-controlled processes will be integral to 5G’s infrastructure.

Delivering on the potential of 5G will require networks to be extensively automated. Manual processes will be no match for the demands of, say, deploying self-driving cars during a busy rush hour. The mantra of the 5G age will, therefore, be ‘programmability’ or the ability to define and control every aspect of the network in software, from the core to edge. But this programmability is a double-edged sword – it also gives hackers a means to cause mayhem from afar.

A critical foundation in developing secure systems is a robust architecture to identify threats and design and deploy effective security controls. This needs to be a day-one priority and not an afterthought. To make this happen in an effective manner, a new ecosystem of vendors, researchers, and operators need to emerge to drive the cybersecurity agenda for 5G.

This architecture needs to afford operators the flexibility to deliver the services customers need while denying malicious actors any opportunity to cause disruption. The application programming interfaces, also known as APIs that enable programmability together with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), can become the service provider’s silver bullets against cyber-attacks.

Below are the key elements of a robust 5G security architecture that operators should be aware of:

Edge Security: Effective edge detection can help identify and contain attacks quickly, away from sensitive core networks. Edge computing can thus reduce attack detection latency by placing security monitoring functions closer to users, and creating alternate data transmission routes, making the process more secure.

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) Controller Security: Software-defined networking can help mitigate any breaches by using intelligence gathered through northbound APIs to control southbound routers and switches.

Proactive Security Analytics: Applying AI and ML to traffic at all points in the network can help operators identify patterns in data traffic – particularly useful for identifying zero-day attacks.

Hypervisor and Container Security: Virtualized systems are at risk from a variety of attacks, including data exfiltration and resource starvation. Hypervisor hardening mechanisms can help guard against bugs and misconfigurations, which commonly result in vulnerabilities.

Orchestration Security: The orchestrator oversees the functions and infrastructure of the entire network. That means it helps contain attacks but can lead to system-wide disruption if compromised. A variety of systems and procedures can guarantee the integrity of the orchestrator.

5G is expected to become one of the biggest technology disruptors of this time, and the security stakes are high. Enterprises can’t think this is something they can do on their own, and they should not be afraid to turn to outside help such as academic experts, researchers, or technology vendors and operators themselves to shape and design the cybersecurity architectures that will protect these networks. If the networks upon which 5G will operate are not built securely, the promise of 5G will be spoiled by malicious attackers. Those are risks that cannot be ignored.


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Network Computing Year in Review | IT Infrastructure Advice, Discussion, Community

As 2020 approaches, it’s time to look back at 2019 to view the most important trends in four key network areas: automation, branch connectivity, data center upgrades, and the cloud. Here’s a quick recap of what happened in 2019 and a peek at what’s likely to occur in 2020.

Network automation

A growing number of organizations turned to network automation in 2019 to handle tasks that were originally manual processes. Two examples are endpoint detection and response, and security orchestrated automation and response for threat analysis and incident handling. “In today’s environment, security resources are limited, and automating tasks provides opportunities for the information security team to focus on securing the organization,” noted James McQuiggan, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, a security awareness training firm.

Organizations are moving at a faster pace and can’t afford to make manual changes, so automation in the form of AIOps and intent-based networking (IBN) are becoming increasingly important and more widely used. “IBN systems go beyond simply automating network activities, enabling organizations to translate business needs into new network configurations and services,” explained Bob Laliberte, practice director and a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, an IT research and strategy services provider. Yet Laliberte warned that adopters shouldn’t approach the technology half-heartedly. “Organizations also need to keep in mind that automation, while powerful in a single data center domain, really needs to extend across the entire network environment and include campus, branch, and cloud [sites].”

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Branch connectivity

The biggest branch connectivity development of 2019 was SD-WAN going mainstream, observed John Smith, executive vice president and CTO of network performance technology provider LiveAction. “SD-WAN technology is being adopted at a rapid pace, and the industry has become crowded with vendors vying for market share,” he stated. Smith noted, however, that as SD-WAN adoption skyrockets, many organizations are experiencing network visibility challenges that can prevent NetOps teams from effectively monitoring the overlay, identifying bandwidth utilization issues, and verifying policies. “Potential blind spots created by SD-WAN deployments can result in degraded network performance and poor end-user experiences, as well as increasingly arduous troubleshooting and network management workloads,” he said.

Beyond SD-WAN, many organizations spent 2019 looking forward to equipping their branches with 5G technology. Next year will see 5G rollouts accelerate globally, but super-fast gigabit per second speeds will, for the most part, be limited to millimeter wave deployments, said Lindsay Notwell, senior vice president for 5G strategy and global carrier operations at cloud-based network technology provider Cradlepoint. Such deployments will offer limited reach and will primarily be restricted to urban cores and specific venues, such as sporting stadiums, he predicted.

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Data center upgrades

Increasing power density and maximizing power usage effectiveness (PUE) were major trend data center trends in 2019. “Cooling and powering the servers necessary to achieve machine learning and satisfy the demand for data centralization are key challenges for today’s data center operators,” observed John Veizades, vice president of product and engineering at software-defined networking company Megaport. “These demands will only continue to grow as more data is created across the globe.”

Meanwhile, with high-speed, high-capacity Wi-Fi 6 technology waiting in the wings, many data center managers spent much of 2019 upgrading their infrastructure, including cabling, to support the requirements of a variety of demanding network technologies. Speaking of cabling, 2020 will see the activation of new subsea cables providing new, resilient data pathways for traffic moving between the Americas and Europe. HAVFRUE, a new transatlantic cable connecting the US and Europe, will land in Denmark, providing an alternative to subsea cable systems that have traditionally landed in the UK or Northern France, said Mike Hollands, director of market development and strategy for data center services provider Interxion. Meanwhile, EllaLink, a subsea cable linking Brazil and Portugal, will carry traffic from Latin America directly to Europe, no longer requiring a data mid-stop in the US.

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The cloud, Kubernetes, containers, and other deployment options

In 2019, container technology was widely used to provide a more available, less complex, and secure cloud capability. “The increased use of containers can mitigate the risk of a system-wide failure, but it does require a focus on security,” McQuiggan said. The importance of losing containers in the cloud is just as critical as losing servers in the data center, and requires a similar amount of attention, he added.

If 2018 was the year of learning about Kubernetes, then 2019 was the year of deploying Kubernetes in production. “Helped by maturing standards and management platforms, such as Red Hat OpenShift and Rancher, as well as managed offerings from AWS (EKS), Azure (AKS), and Google (GKE), many of the global 1000 are now deploying production clusters,” said Rani Osnat, vice president of strategy at cloud-native application security firm Aqua Security. Yet along with growth, Kubernetes adoption creates some security concerns. “Security teams are often playing catch-up to this technology, and malicious actors are not far behind with the most popular K8s-based attacks being crypto-currency mining,” he noted. New adopters should, therefore, be prepared to address Kubernetes’ security vulnerabilities prior to adoption.

Related 2019 Network Computing articles:

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How to Select the Best Network Monitoring Technology | IT Infrastructure Advice, Discussion, Community

Experts agree that monitoring is essential for maintaining overall network performance, health, and security. But exactly which features should a network monitoring tool offer, and how should the technology be used to achieve maximum effectiveness? As both networks and network management goals advance and evolve, these questions are becoming increasingly difficult to answer, making it challenging to locate and deploy a monitoring technology that covers all of the essential bases.

The network underpins the entire business. “When it goes down, so does business productivity and, ultimately, business revenues,” observed Kathie Lyons, executive vice president and general manager of ParkView, the automated support division of Park Place Technologies, a data center maintenance service provider. “It’s vital to have a network monitoring tool for end-to-end visibility and management of the entire network,” she added. Constant, reliable monitoring allows IT and other managers to understand how well the network is supporting critical applications and business goals.

Key features

A network monitoring tool should be flexible and easily customizable to meet the needs of specific types of end-users. “Through custom dashboards, analytics, and reports, IT organizations need to be able to manage what’s important to them,” Lyons said. She noted that the tool should also be able to cover the entire IT network ecosystem, including servers, storage, and network devices, in both physical and virtual forms. “As a company grows, whether it’s by organic or acquisition [means], the tool should offer easy, unlimited scalability and extensibility for the entire network,” Lyons stated.

The key feature to look for in a network monitoring tool is coverage, advised Edmond Baydian, CTO of Optanix, an IT service assurance technology provider. “Gaps in visibility … can create major issues in the management of the infrastructure,” he warned. Scalability is also important “so that the tool can keep up with your growing needs,” Baydian noted. Complete interoperability is also essential, he suggested, to allow the monitoring technology to interact seamlessly with existing management and reporting tools.

Since their inception, most network monitoring tools focused on performance, capacity management, and basic security operations. Today, a new generation of monitoring products and services place an equal or ever greater emphasis on security and compliance functions. “Network functions are no longer about moving traffic between locations; they also must incorporate risk reduction to protect the business,” observed Nick Bianco, a senior solutions architect at Sungard Availability Services, an IT disaster protection and recovery services provider. “As a result, network monitoring must focus … on utilizing security controls, such as reputation-based IP analysis, data loss prevention, threat intelligence feeds, user behavior analytics, and machine learning, to assess whether traffic is [intended] for legitimate business purposes.”

Network monitoring technology is also getting smarter. “The network monitoring that tends to be the most effective is the type that’s able to successfully leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to keep up with the increasingly complex nature of business networks, as well as the rapidly evolving cyberthreat landscape,” said Attila Tomaschek, a digital privacy expert at online privacy research firm ProPrivacy.com. “Human IT staff and legacy systems … can no longer adequately monitor a network for connectivity and security issues on their own without effective automation and the help of AI and machine learning,” he added.

The big picture

The modern IT infrastructure is multidimensional, which makes it necessary to view network monitoring tools as part of a larger ecosystem. “The most effective network monitoring solutions offer an integrated combination of tools that not only tailors to your organization’s specific needs but works in concert to comprehensively manage the infrastructure,” Baydian explained.

Leading-edge network monitoring tools can draw insights from multiple data sources—wire, flow, infrastructure, and user—for integrated presentation on a single coherent dashboard supported by advanced analytics. Yet network dashboards should never be viewed as a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s important to support all IT stakeholders with a dashboard that presents—at a glance—the data needed to support job-related responsibilities. “For example, a line-of-business leader generally requires high-level situational awareness of all resources,” said Brad Reinboldt, enterprise and cloud solution manager for VIAVI Solutions, a network test, measurement, and assurance technology company. “In contrast, Level 3 support must have seamless workflows to problem resolution, which may, depending on the issue, require deep-dive access to specific network conversations or IT asset KPIs.”

A final thought

Perhaps the biggest mistake organizations make when choosing a network monitoring tool is selecting a product or service that can’t be properly scaled to the organization’s future needs and evolving network requirements. “If an organization expects to grow, then it should also expect that its network will evolve and grow in complexity over time,” Tomaschek advised. With a network monitoring solution that’s incapable of keeping pace, organizations can be left unduly prone to network connectivity issues and downtime, while simultaneously opening themselves up to a range of cyber threats.”

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Verizon To Offer 5G Network Edge Computing With AWS Wavelength

At AWS re:Invent Tuesday, Verizon Communications and AWS announced their 5G Edge computing partnership. As part of the alliance, Verizon will use AWS Wavelength to provide developers the ability to deploy applications that require ultra-low latency to mobile devices using 5G. The companies are currently piloting AWS Wavelength on Verizon’s edge compute platform, 5G Edge, in Chicago for a select group of customers, including worldwide video game publisher Bethesda Softworks and the National Football League (NFL).

[Source: TFiR]