Learn from the past, live in the present and prepare for the future.

 

While this may sound like it belongs hanging on a high school guidance counselor’s wall, they are, nonetheless, words to live by, especially in federal IT. And they apply perhaps to no other infrastructure element better than the network. After all, the network has long been a foundational building block of IT, and its importance will only continue to grow in the future.

 

It’s valuable to take a step back and examine the evolution of the network. Doing so helps us take an inventory of lessons learned—or the lessons we should have learned; determine what today’s essentials of monitoring and managing networks are; and finally, turn an eye to the future to begin preparing now for what’s on the horizon.

 

Learn from the Past

 

Before the luxuries of Wi-Fi and the proliferation of virtualization, the network used to be defined by a mostly wired, physical entity controlled by routers and switches. Business connections were established and backhauled through the data center. Each network device was a piece of agency-owned hardware, and applications operated on well-defined ports and protocols.

 

With this yesteryear in mind, consider the following lessons we all (should) have learned that still apply today:

 

It Has to Work

 

If your network doesn’t actually work, then all the fancy hardware is for naught. Anything that impacts the ability of your network to work should be suspect.

 

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is Still a Straight Line

 

Your job as a network engineer is still fundamentally to create the conditions where the distance between the provider of information, usually a server, and the consumer of that information, usually a PC, is as near to a straight line as possible. If you get caught up in quality of service maps, and disaster recovery and continuity of operations plans, you’ve lost your way.

 

Understand the Wizard

 

Wizards are a fantastic convenience and come in all forms, but if you don’t know what the wizard is making convenient, you are heading for trouble.

 

What is Not Explicitly Permitted is Forbidden

 

This policy will actually create work for you on an ongoing basis. But there is honestly no other way to run your network. If you are espousing that this policy will get you in trouble, then the truth is you’re going to get into trouble anyway. Do your part to make your agency network more secure, knowing that the bad guys are out there, or the next huge security breach might be on you.

 

Live in the Present

 

Now let’s fast forward and consider the network of present day.

 

Wireless is becoming ubiquitous, and the number of devices wirelessly connecting to the network is exploding. It doesn’t end there, though—networks are growing, some devices are virtualized, agency connections are T1 or similar services, and there is an increased use of cloud services. Additionally, tablets and smartphones are becoming prevalent and creating bandwidth capacity and security issues; application visibility based on port and protocol is largely impossible due to tunneling, and VoIP is common.

 

The complexity of today’s networking environment underscores that while lessons of the past are still important, a new set of network monitoring and management essentials is necessary to meet the challenges of today’s network administration head on. These new essentials include:

 

Network Mapping

 

When you consider the complexity of today’s networks and network traffic, network mapping and the subsequent understanding of management and monitoring needs has never been more essential than it is today.

 

Wireless Management

 

The growth of wireless networks presents new problems, such as ensuring adequate signal strength and that the proliferation of devices and their physical mobility doesn’t get out of hand. What’s needed are tools such as wireless heat maps, user device tracking and tracking and managing device IP addresses.

 

Application Firewalls

 

Application firewalls can untangle device conversations, get IP address management under control and help prepare for IPv6. They can also classify and segment device traffic; implement effective quality of service to ensure that critical business traffic has headroom; and of course, monitor flow.

 

Capacity Planning

 

You need to integrate capacity for forecasting tools, configuration management and web-based reporting to be able to predict scale and demand requirements.

 

Application Performance Insight

 

The whole point of having a network is to run the applications stakeholders need to do their jobs. Face it, applications are king. Technologies such as deep packet inspection, or packet-level analysis, can help you ensure the network is not the source of application performance problems.

 

Prepare for the Future

 

Now that we’ve covered the evolution of the network from past to present—and identified lessons we can learn from the network of yesterday and what the new essentials of monitoring and managing today’s network are—we can prepare for the future. So, stay tuned for part two in this series to explore what the future holds for the evolution of the network.

 

Find the full article on Federal Technology Insider.