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The Network Evolution: Part One

Level 12

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.

11 Comments

If anyone in this forum isn't aware of these items, and living by them and supporting them, it's time to make a change to begin doing so.

Level 20

Since the DoD built the arpanet I believe it's definitely still "the network."

To follow up rschroeder​ if anyone thinks that it is okay to manage your network "In the Past" and "Live in the Present" you are walking a dangerous line of personal career growth limitation and the inability of said network to meet the demands of new technologies.

Level 21
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.

I think that bit is genius!  I just about always see network engineers deviating from the basics and end up with a mess and then wondering what went wrong. 

MVP
MVP

When it comes to music, I live mainly in the past. But in regards to the network, I've learned heaps from the past and live in the present

Level 13

preparing for the future is so important. If you don't do things properly in the "present" you may be re-doing them in the future to accommodate increases.

MVP
MVP

well said...

Level 14

Sometimes the past remains in the present.

Level 8

I think that a paradigm shift is required, it's time to, dare I say it, take the Steve Jobs approach to network design, implementation and administration\management and look at the end user experience first and work backwards.

When the IT industry changes, it's big and it happens quickly. Get onboard or get left at the station. I am sure that their punters who 8 or so years ago said "This cloud thing is going no where, who is going to trust their data to be stored in the cloud!"

Just as there will people saying "This SDN stuff and IoT is a flash in the pan" now.

There are some big changes coming to the world of networking. I for one am very excited.

I recall the story where Steve Jobs evaluated a new model Apple/MAC during boot and sent it back to the engineers, saying something to the effect of "This takes 45 seconds from power-on to operational screen.  No one wants to wait that long.  Make it boot in 30 seconds or less.  Now."

It's one thing about Windows 10 upgrades I've appreciated--a much faster time from reboot to operations being available.

Level 21

If nothing else that is the one thing you had to love about Steve Jobs, his constant push for higher standards and his unwillingness to accept anything less.  I would certainly like to see more of this in our industry.

About the Author
Joseph is a software executive with a track record of successfully running strategic and execution-focused organizations with multi-million dollar budgets and globally distributed teams. He has demonstrated the ability to bring together disparate organizations through his leadership, vision and technical expertise to deliver on common business objectives. As an expert in process and technology standards and various industry verticals, Joseph brings a unique 360-degree perspective to help the business create successful strategies and connect the “Big Picture” to execution. Currently, Joseph services as the EVP, Engineering and Global CTO for SolarWinds and is responsible for the technology strategy, direction and execution for SolarWinds products and systems. Working directly for the CEO and partnering across the executive staff in product strategy, marketing and sales, he and his team is tasked to provide overall technology strategy, product architecture, platform advancement and engineering execution for Core IT, Cloud and MSP business units. Joseph is also responsible for leading the internal business application and information technology activities to ensure that all SolarWinds functions, such as HR, Marketing, Finance, Sales, Product, Support, Renewals, etc. are aligned from a systems perspective; and that we use the company's products to continuously improve their functionality and performance, which ensures success and expansion for both SolarWinds and customers.