The State of Network Management: Automated and Software-Driven
By the late 1990s, engineers understood what a good network topology looked like, but they had no way to gain a global view of network operations. They began seeking network monitoring capabilities to optimize traffic and gather information regarding device status.
The earliest network management software pulled in stats from the network interface controller. Companies like Tivoli began writing Perl scripts that would pull in alerts and push them onto a single dashboard. But as Earl Follis, then a Tivoli product evangelist, explained in an Ipswitch blog post, network administrators didn’t want more data — they wanted to prioritize alerts and manage their networks from a single dashboard.
Tivoli and others began to offer enterprise solutions that required custom programming and often came with costly service contracts. Then, in the labs of AT&T, a technology called Intelligent Routing Service Control Point was invented to optimize cellular network traffic, and software-defined networking (SDN) was born.
Fast forward to today, and in many enterprises, networks are managed by software using commodity network hardware that runs virtualized network functions (VNF). As SDN matures, the global network management software market is expected to grow 6.44 percent through 2021, according to Research and Markets. Increasingly, organizations will either outsource network operations or do more with smaller teams.
Now that it’s the midpoint of 2017, it’s a great time to grab a crystal ball and make some predictions about where network management is headed.
The White Box Revolution Is Coming
In April, AT&T announced they had sent data from one vendor’s commodity hardware in Washington, D.C., to another vendor’s commodity hardware, built with a different brand of chip, in San Francisco. It may take time, but the industry will push away from expensive, vendor-specific network device combos, forcing some hardware-centric companies and value-added resellers to rethink their business models.
“With this trial, we went from using traditional switches the size of multiple refrigerators to a chip that can literally fit in the palm of your hand,” Andre Fuetsch, CTO and president of AT&T Labs, said in a press release. “We think white box will be a big part of the future of the wide area network.”
Meanwhile, Facebook’s Open Compute Project, which treats hardware creation much like open-source software creation, will only accelerate the move away from single-vendor solutions, according to Business Insider. With commodity hardware running VNFs that are managed by SDN controllers and cognitive computers, network traffic flows, diagnostics and remediation will rely less and less on human intervention.
IT Relies More on Remote Resources
In addition to using more software-as-a-service solutions, organizations are increasingly launching both development and production workloads in the cloud. And because they want to pay for services only when they’re using them, more organizations will investigate event-driven computing, also known as serverless or function-as-a-service.
ZDNet reports that tools like IBM’s OpenWhisk event-driven platform and Websphere Cloud Connect will make it easier for cloud-hosted apps to access corporate data and move workloads to the cloud. This transition will require organizations to beef up their wide-area network architecture to minimize latency. It will also decrease reliance on human operations teams, as engineers automate applications to summon resources only when they need them.
Network Management Transitions to Network Programming
Network administrators who have programming skills in environments increasingly dominated by SDN will become hot commodities as organizations try to do more with shrinking operations teams. Businesses hurting for qualified security personnel will recognize the possibilities presented by machine learning and threat intelligence, making it easier for organizations to outsource and automate those services.
The traditional fixer may still be relevant to medium-sized business, but when it comes to the enterprise, now is the time to prepare for the jobs of the future. To remain competitive in a rapidly changing job market, IT professionals will have no choice but to expand their skills.
Bottom line: SDN, VNF and event-driven computing are coming to the enterprise network. Because these tools have the power to reduce downtime, speed application deployment and increase efficiency while cutting costs, it’s hard to see them as anything but inevitable.