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Don’t let your network outgrow your IT team

08 Nov 2018

As an organism grows, so does the complexity of its structure—and that of the systems supporting it. The same applies to businesses: as they grow, so can the complexities of their networks, and the IT resources (like time, skill, and coffee) needed to maintain them.

That means, however, that growth can only go so far. At a certain point, when the time and energy of the IT team runs out, the risks of growth can start to go unchecked—and both efficiency and security begin to crumble. Things fall apart; the network cannot hold.

The obvious solution—get more resources—is easier said than done, as any IT leader knows. In the enterprise IT ecosystem, decent talent seems to be an endangered species and not a particularly healthy one at that.

Based on SolarWinds' 2018 IT Trends Index, 72% of surveyed IT professionals spend less than half of their time at work optimising their networks and beefing it up against future security threats. That leaves most organisations increasingly vulnerable to the growing number of risks in the digital jungle—both from hungry predators and inadvertent missteps into compliance quicksand.

There are two ways to stay in control of fast-growing networks and help to keep them from overwhelming your IT ecosystem: prune back complexity, and up your visibility. The less entangled your connections and infrastructure, and the more clearly you can see what’s going on at any time, the easier it is for even resource-poor IT teams to not just stay alive, but also to thrive.   

Get complexity under control

When a company first starts out, their networks often resemble a small, easily managed garden: different devices and software that fit together without much difficulty. But this can escalate very quickly as the company grows and new departments are added, leaving IT to manage multiplying numbers of network elements.

Before you know it, the garden’s a thicket, and IT teams are now at maximum capacity trying to unravel their network infrastructure into something remotely comprehensible. Ideally, IT should be spending most of their time optimising the network or patching its vulnerabilities—paving the way for future growth, rather than wrestling with the complexity of the “status quo.”

Prevention is always better than cure. Installing the right network management software (NMS) can give IT teams a framework to not only manage their current network footprint but also to map out its potential future growth.

Decent network management software is designed to help IT detect and stop threats across the network through user logging, tracking, and access control. It should also simplify how IT maps out future growth of the network, helping the team monitor the flow of data in real-time and identify potential choke-points in hardware or software.

A strong NMS should also minimise the complexity of extending the network into the cloud. Ideally, the NMS platform can enable IT to control network access levels for different classes of users, depending on how they interact with the public cloud, private cloud, or on-prem components of infrastructure. On-platform automation can further reduce complexity by automatically assigning IP addresses, flipping server switches, or scanning networks. This lifts the burden from the backs of IT teams, allowing them greater energy—and freedom—to focus on helping the business grow in as efficient a manner as possible. Monitoring only the correct vitals

Constant monitoring, however, has the potential to overwhelm IT teams with the sheer amount of information at their disposal. A well-designed NMS should be able to frame data into highly visual and contextually-specific maps or reports, giving IT teams an overview of a network at a glance—one that even less technically-inclined employees or management can understand.

That, in turn, makes it easier to explain and justify why growth in certain areas may cause more risks than it’s worth, or where to prioritise investments in additional infrastructure. This “focused view” can also help IT spot discrepancies or vulnerabilities in the system and direct their energies towards addressing those issues in an informed manner.

Some NMS platforms use design features like putting configuration data side-by-side with key performance metrics, or graphically displaying the relationship between different components’ statuses, to help network managers lock onto the most salient insights in any given environment.

The result: clearer decision-making amongst IT teams that allow them to predict where the network may be expanding out of control or struggling to keep up with traffic. And when it comes to compliance, it helps IT professionals—even relatively new ones—to quickly identify incoming threats with less false positives and assign the right response personnel to deal with them. Doing so often lowers the time needed to resolve potentially costly network issues and reduces the risks of a breach occurring.

It’s a jungle out there in the enterprise IT ecosystem, but the right tools can make navigating it that much easier for hard-pressed IT teams. A scalable and simple NMS platform helps IT teams, even small ones, to cut down complexity and keep threats at bay as the network’s perimeter expands.

Managing the network will still take time, skill, and robustness of both coffee-beans and percolators. Lay the right network monitoring foundations, however, and IT may find it that much easier to focus on what matters without compromising on the details.

Article by Leon Adato, Head Geek, SolarWinds

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