Network Management Challenges of 2014

No matter how much virtualization or abstraction or automation we place into the network, it still has to run on a physical infrastructure somewhere. And you still need to understand how the underlying network is performing, which route the traffic is taking, how much bandwidth each application needs and during what time periods, etc.

So no matter how much the venerable router is under assault and in danger of becoming a commodity, we know that you will never be able to abstract all physical devices – or humans for that matter – from the network. But we will all need to adapt.

This is the perspective we’re taking in this blog. Welcome to the first post of the Packet Design blog, where we will delve into all things network management, route analytics, SDN, IT and beyond. We’ll be covering issues for everyone affected by network management concerns.

That’s a broader audience than you’d think at first glance. It of course includes the planners, architects and engineers who design, set up and maintain the network, the NOC staff who oversee it, the managers responsible for IT infrastructure, telecommunications and network services, and even the liaison roles that interface to the user community. These professionals work in enterprises, government agencies, educational organizations, network service providers, fixed line and mobile operators, cable providers, managed service operators, and Internet service providers around the world.

But network management issues go far beyond only IT professionals. Our world is intimately connected the way that no society has been before. And issues in networking that affect those who design, build, and manage wide area networks will ultimately affect everyone.

For example, 2014 looks to be a year of disruptive transitions in network management. Just like 2013. And 2012, for that matter. Come to think of it, isn’t disruption the whole point of information technology? Every advantage that allows us to cut costs, drive new revenue, improve services and/or transform business is going to end up upsetting the standard way of doing business. That’s great, but sometimes it feels like new technologies come along precisely at the moment you and your team have just gotten comfortable with the old ones.

First, cloud computing has provided some of the biggest network management challenges of previous years: how to keep track of those temporary Amazon EC2 servers, shadow or rogue IT where non-IT users are spinning up their own services simply because it is faster and more effective, reliance on the Internet for access to mission-critical services, and the security needed to keep confidential information confidential. We’ve gotten pretty good at addressing these problems and started to realize how cloud computing has become a great cost-cutter, reducing duplication of effort. But there’s still much more untapped potential in cloud computing.

We’ve more or less figured out how to use the cloud to more efficiently execute existing business processes, access data in the field, free up a mobile workforce and expand enterprises globally, but what’s coming next?

The growth of cloud computing has also come at a time when mobile demand is spiking, especially in those emerging markets where there isn’t necessarily a robust landline infrastructure. Plus, the broad adoption of 4G LTE services requires significant backhaul network upgrades to accommodate the demand for mobile data, telecommunications, and video.

The challenge for network managers here is to be flexible and ready for the next big idea to come along. This requires a Zen-like awareness of not only how your network is performing, but also how it is configured, what can be changed easily, and what cannot.

Which brings us to software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV). We went through a steep learning curve when we virtualized compute and storage, so we understand abstraction well enough. But there are additional challenges (and opportunities) with SDN, especially outside of the data center in the WAN.

While we explore these issues and many others, we hope you’ll find this blog insightful and helpful in addressing whatever exciting new developments and challenges may come this year and beyond.