D. Jay Cervino, Ed.D., MSIS, Director of Systems & Networks , Office of Information Technology (OIT), The University of Alabama
Assessing new network monitoring technologies is a part of every proactive network management strategy. The right newtechnologiesought to improve wired and wireless network reliability and performance as well as help to reduce the mean time to resolve issues (MTTR). In higher education, advances in network monitoring technologies also help IT shops to identify and prepare for emerging campus technologies and services that support teaching, research, and student success such asvirtual desktops, 4K streaming video, innovative classroom mobile device use, andthe specialized demands of research computing. Making the right roadmap decisions onemerging technologies can determinewhether an IT shop receivesthe value it expectsfrom tool purchases and operational efforts.
As Director of Systems & Network Engineering at the University of Alabama (UA), I challenge my teams to evaluate emerging monitoring technologies. Understanding a tool’s potential to add value to our network management efforts ensures that we are thinking ahead and remaining agile enough to meet the ever-changing network demands of our campus community. To better share our experiences on emerging network monitoring technologies, I have distilled our evaluation process into fivegeneral practices to follow.
Know your network first. IT shops in higher education institutions face monitoring challenges from sprawling physical plants, historically decentralized network growth, and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. These environmental factors often create barriers to understanding a campus’“as is” physical and logical network, the devices attached to the network, and the network’s baseline behavior. Before considering new monitoring technologies, ensure your existing toolset includes solutions to map network assets such as the cable plant, to detect wired and wireless devices, and to control network access. Verifying the basics will help you to remediate gaps in monitoring and identify emerging network monitoring needs that new technologies might address.
Avoid over-purchasing. New monitoring technologies take time and resources to implement and cultivate to a point where you derive full benefit of the purchase price.
As technology developments and advances in network monitoring enter the market, judicious evaluation of these new capabilities will allow you to adopt the right technologies for your environment
Be realistic about your use cases for the new technology and your ability to implement and support its features. Over-purchasing functionality that you are unlikely to deploy, or deploying functionality that you are unlikely to use, reduces the effectiveness and efficiency of your network monitoring strategy.
Start simple. Monitoring solutions often provide extensive feature sets and customizable configuration options. While these new monitoring capabilities offer the promise of comprehensive visibility into and control of the network, they also present risks to maintaining a targeted monitoring strategy. Follow the universal 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of effective monitoring should come from properly configuring and supporting the top 20% of your tool kit’s functionality. By focusing efforts on fundamental scenarios first and then expanding as needed and resources allow, IT shops can deliver on the promise of new network monitoring.
Develop meaningful analytics. Whether trending historical error rates or examining correlations of service desk wireless tickets to new smartphone OS releases, data analytics helps higher education IT shops get in front of potential issues, forecast demand, and identify emerging network uses. Developing meaningful network analytics with new monitoring technologies helps you identify trendsin historical data that may affect the baseline performance of your network. Using packaged log analysis, statistical analytics, and data visualization tools provides a relatively low effort opportunity to add data analytics to your tool kit. Most higher education institutions will already have some data analytics tools on site through departmental or institutional academic purchases.
Ensure business value. The emergence of ‘single pane of glass’ monitoring interfaces suggests a future of network management that includes increasingly unified technology and business processes. However, the reality is that most higher education IT shops currently rely on a diversity ofnetwork controls, including monitoring tools, service desks, after-hours network operations centers (NOC), and other touch points linked by cross-organizational business processes to assess and respond to changing network health and performance. Evaluating how easily a new technology will integrate with or improve upon the existing IT shop network monitoring infrastructure will help determine the tool’s value to the organization. Before purchasing or integrating new technologies, decide if the new technology will enable the organization to convert monitoring data into meaningful action. Will data from the new monitoring technology lead to better issue remediation strategies, new network projects, improved disaster recovery preparedness, more agile responses to changing user behavior, or more efficient business processes? Answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to these questions can provide guidance for adoption decisions.
In higher education, network monitoring is a window into the changing patterns of campus business and user behaviors. As technology developments and advances in network monitoring enter the market, judicious evaluation of these new capabilities will allow you to adopt the right technologies for your environment. Through proper planning, you will be less likely to over-purchase tools and integrate new technologies into your network management strategy better. You will also be more prepared for decisions on emerging technologies that affect higher education networks, such as blockchain use and network programmability for research use. Following a few tested guidelines on new network monitoring technologies ultimately improves the odds that your purchase will bring the expected benefit to your IT shop’s support of higher education’s mission.