Network Mapping: A Vital Tool for the New Digital Enterprise

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By: Arthur Cole |

With the plethora of software solutions available today, network mapping is no longer the chore it once was. Yet the question remains: Is it even necessary?

First, it’s important to differentiate between network mapping and other diagnostic functions like discovery and visibility. These latter tasks are designed to reveal the systems and devices on a given network along with various operational characteristics. Mapping, on the other hand, specifically caters to connectivity. The idea is to provide a clearly defined visualization of all network elements, including transport layers, and how they relate to one another. This information is helpful for root cause analysis, network expansion and a host of similar functions.

With modern virtual and software-defined networks, mapping has become more crucial to a properly functioning enterprise data environment, but it has also become more complicated. As both the workloads and the resources they use rise above the physical layer, network relationships become more ephemeral and therefore harder to catalog from moment to moment.

Tracking Data

This is why mapping is not only good for IT, but good for business productivity, says British IT consultancy CWL Systems. To support digital processes and services, the enterprise needs to track data coming in, going out and at every point in between — and it has to do this on a continual, real-time basis. There’s also a security component to mapping that allows the enterprise to not only guard against external threats, but those that are internal as well. As knowledge workers become more technically savvy, an active mapping program might be the primary means of preventing unauthorized resource consumption and data handling.

Mapping is also a key element in data migration to and from the cloud, according to Data Center Knowledge. Following a thorough data discovery and needs analysis, the next step in the migration process is mapping and design of the new architecture, says MTM Technologies’ Bill Kleyman. This is particularly important when building on heterogeneous cloud infrastructure since resource sets won’t be as tightly integrated as in a single-vendor environment.

And in many cases, automated mapping will have to be backed up by manual verification to ensure data, storage and configuration mapping is consistent throughout the deployment. A clearly defined map of all internal and external resources also goes a long way toward streamlining backup and recovery operations.

Network Mapping Today

Unfortunately, the current state of most enterprise mapping is abysmal, says IBM’s Westley McDuffie. The typical scenario is a basic Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) system that provides little more than a red or green light to chart traffic flows. But this isn’t good enough. Proper mapping delves into domain controller logging history and performance, proxy server utilization and a broad swatch of risk management functions. By overlaying a network flow map over an SNMP map and linking it to a security information and event management (SIEM) system — along with an endpoint management platform — the enterprise opens up entire new worlds of configuration management. Security monitoring and network development are all possible, because you don’t just see where things are, but how they function and the impact they’re having upstream and downstream.

The endgame in network mapping, of course, is not just to improve network performance, but to improve the business process. Lack of visibility into data traffic is a lack of visibility into the services that drive revenue and enhance market penetration. Security risks on the network are security risks to the company.

Network mapping is not the cure-all for these issues, but it is a vital tool in the drive to maintain a full understanding of the data ecosystem. Today’s enterprise is embarking on a journey to a new business model based on digital products and services, and just like with any journey, the odds of getting lost go up if you don’t have a map to guide you.

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About The Author

Arthur Cole

Freelance Writer

With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

Articles by Arthur Cole
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