What Is Network Management? A Comprehensive Introduction

What Is Network Management?

Network management is the process that helps you know the working state of your network. It also enables you to fix various discovered or undiscovered network problems.

In today’s networks, it’s a complicated exercise to monitor and maintain how well your network is functioning. Network management involves so many different components that you need the right people, technologies, and tools to do it well. So in this post, you’ll learn more about network management, why you need it, and what’s involved.

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Why Do You Need It?

The need to monitor and maintain a network of interconnected devices has been required since the early days of the internet. The Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) was developed in the early 1980s to help identify network errors.

As networks became more complex with increased numbers of devices on LANs and WANs, getting errors with ICMP wasn’t enough. And along came the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) in the late 1980s to help get statistics before an error occurred. With SNMP, you could collect statistics, such as interface utilization, from routers, switches, servers, and other network devices. But more than that, you could set certain parameters, like interface descriptions or device locations, that are useful for later troubleshooting when collected.

This ability began to open the doors of true network management. But as network complexity continued, this process needed to keep adapting to help network administrators and engineers stay on top of things.

What Are the Components?

With increasing complexity, there was a need to broaden the meaning of network management. Although it started with focusing mainly on finding errors, today’s process involves various components. For successful network management, you need to implement some version of these components.

  1. Configuration management: The process of administering and maintaining the network device configurations. You can no longer maintain device configurations yourself. You need a system that can store these configurations, manage how you update them, and push them to your devices in an efficient manner. This helps even as your network topology changes.
  2. Fault management: The process of identifying and fixing errors on your network. Doing this successfully minimizes network downtime and maximizes uptime. Whether it’s a misconfigured port or a routing loop, you need a way to quickly find and resolve these faults on your network.
  3. Performance management: The process of monitoring for network performance and ensuring you’re meeting service-level agreement (SLA) expectations for performance. During this process, you’re finding out how much bandwidth your network connections are utilizing. You’re also doing network capacity planning and monitoring for degraded performance trends across the network. This helps proactively prevent problems.
  4. Security management: The process of ensuring your network and its devices are protected from unauthorized access. You need to know your firewalls, routers, servers, and switches can help prevent security threats. But when a threat like this does happen, quick mitigation is key. You need a way to manage things like authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA), ensuring that you can easily specify who needs access to what.

Benefits of Network Management

Having the above components in place helps you better manage your network. Some of the benefits you get when this happens are detailed below.

Reduces Network Costs

One benefit is you end up with reduced network costs. This is possible by meeting your SLAs and identifying unneeded or unused devices and connections. Also, solving problems faster helps lower your mean time to repair (MTTR) and thus your costs.

Increases Productivity

Increased productivity is another benefit. You’ll save time when you’re solving problems instead of asking for network maps or a history of past issues; no more flying blind.

Minimizes Network Silos

A third benefit is minimizing or preventing network silos. As part of the process to monitor and maintain your network, you can discover new network devices and links that get deployed. You can also identify new subnets as they’re added. This greatly increases the visibility you have of what’s out there.

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Challenges of Network Management

Having a network management process doesn’t come without its challenges. As the saying goes, sometimes “you’ve got to take the good with the bad.” Some to consider are as follows.

Privacy vs. Security Expectations

When managing your network, you can collect a lot of data. More data helps you with preventing security breaches. But collect too much, and you’re violating user privacy. You need to strike a balance.

Alert Fatigue

With network management in place, you can be notified when there’s a problem. If not done properly, you could be chasing problems that are false positives. You’ll soon get tired of all the alerts and start ignoring them. And that’s not good because one of them could end up being a real problem.

A Flood of Problems to Solve

These days, you likely have part of your network on-premises, other parts in the cloud, and more parts that are virtual with SDN. To find out the cause of a network problem, you might need to sift through data across device and network types. So network management has now added more problems for you to solve.

What You Need for Network Management

Good network management is hard. You need a few things to make it a little less hard.

Know Your Protocols

You need to know which protocols are used not just for network management but also which are used on your network. Is SNMP enabled on your devices? Are your servers using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI)? You need to understand what protocols you can expect to see. This helps you to know when network information is missing.

Know Configuration Commands

You need to know the various commands you can run on network devices to get specific information. It’s useful to know how to run show commands on your routers, switches, and firewalls to know what to expect. And understanding write commands results helps identify when a response isn’t right.

Use More People

Knowing your network, its protocols, and commands is good. But it’s all useless without the people. You need the role of a network administrator to do all of this work. They need to follow up on any network problems and get troubleshooting.

Use a Network Management Software Tool

Having network administrators who can do this work is great. But with hybrid and multicloud networks, you also need some automation help. You get that with a network management software like Netreo. With software, network device data is scanned, discovered, stored, and made viewable almost anywhere you have a browser. Whether you’re collecting data from SNMP, NetFlow, Linux, or others, the right software tool for your organization helps you and your team save time.

Tips for Consideration

The challenges can affect how successful you are with network management, despite having what you need. Here are some tips to consider to help minimize the challenges while reaping the benefits.

  • Get the right tools and systems. You’ll need network management software that can collect data using various methods. It needs to use dynamic alerting and thresholds to prevent alert fatigue for you and your team. And the software needs to provide root-cause analysis to help you solve the flood of network problems faster.
  • Don’t forget security. Don’t forgo incorporating proper security in place of easier network management, like using less secure protocols. Nothing can be 100% secure, but don’t neglect this one.
  • Utilize decentralized management. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket to avoid single points of failure. If possible, consider managing your network from outside your monitored network. If in the cloud, consider managing your primary cloud from a secondary cloud. Remember, AWS, Azure, and GCP don’t give you 100% uptime SLAs. It’s five nines for a reason.
  • Integrate with existing systems. There are many network management vendors out there like Netreo, and your organization likely has many other IT systems. Maximize the use of the data in your existing systems by taking advantage of available APIs.

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Go Network Manage

Well, there you have it. This overview should help you understand what network management is and what it can do for you and your organization. Making sure that you have the right people for managing your network is very important. But even more important than that is having the right network management software to help those network administrators do their work successfully without burning out.

Now that you know this about network management, take the steps to put this process in place in your organization. You already have you. Now go and get the network management software.

This post was written by Jean Tunis. Jean is the principal consultant and founder of RootPerformance, a performance engineering consultancy that helps technology operators minimize cost and lost productivity. He has worked in this space since 1999 with various companies, helping clients solve and plan for application and network performance issues.

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