Imagine your network environment as the night sky filled with zillions of stars, heavenly bodies and satellites. In an astronomical world, the ability to clearly see the sky is what matters most. If an unknown object appears or the stars change their trajectories, you want to see that as it occurs in real-time. Manually gazing at the moving stars and trying to analyze this amount of granular information is time-consuming and exhausting. You need a solution that not only helps you actively monitor the movements but also allows you to prioritize, investigate and respond proactively.
Similarly, when we talk about networks, the first thing that crosses our minds is complex wired closets full of switches and routers — the technology that makes up a network. But what about the teams that manage it? How often do we think about the challenges they face? Where is the demand for the network bandwidth coming from, and what resources are being utilized?
Just as inquisitive astronomers continue finding new ways to gauge the movement of stars, so too are network professionals continuously seeking new ways to ensure seamless networks by solving their challenges. And the ability to get this done in a simplified and time-efficient manner is what we call network observability.
Although network visibility has gained significant importance in the post-pandemic era, its ethos and usage have been around for two decades. In this continuing VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world — where you need to balance network complexity with imploding data sets, employee attrition and ESG challenges, along with lightning-fast customer response times — the effective use of network visibility can be a game changer.
According to a report by Gigamon, the global network visibility market will skyrocket to a whopping $2 billion (equivalent to about $6 per person in the US) by 2026.
Now many OEMs are using the term ‘observability’ to offer differentiated products in the market. However, little consensus exists on what exactly network visibility covers and its perceived benefits, leading to confusion among information and operations (I&O) leaders purchasing products marketed with the term.
With that in mind, let’s explore the buzz around network visibility —without falling prey to the hype.
Finding the true meaning
Product Managers know that network visibility is a buzzword thrown around frequently by leading vendors these days. But given the evolving dynamic enterprise needs, it’s more than just traditional networking. Rather, it’s an evolution of the network monitoring system that collects a diverse set of network data to provide visibility and actionable insights into the current and future state of networks. These actionable insights include but are not limited to network security, network performance, application performance and end-user experience.
As shown, network visibility is built primarily on three pillars.
But merely enabling these pillars won’t suffice in making your system observable. Your network team should leverage the right telemetry (such as flow logs and performance testing data) to unlock information so you can ensure a more resilient network and make intelligent decisions. Additionally, decision-makers should emphasize actionable insights derived from AI, ML and low-code/no-code automation scripts.
What do IT stakeholders think of network visibility? With various definitions in the market, it seems that IT professionals recognize network visibility as something deeper than traditional network monitoring. It goes beyond the collection and presentation of data that most networking tools excel at these days. The Enterprise Management Group conducted a survey on the keywords and phrases that IT professionals associate with network observability.
The research findings show that network observability overlaps significantly with network monitoring, underlying the prominence of security features. Another top secondary selection was ‘actionable insights,’ which sets network observability apart from network monitoring and performance tools.
Why the sudden shift to network observability?
In this hyper-connected world, enterprises are managing a truckload of applications with multiple devices in their campus environments. With traditional monitoring solutions, this has made IT teams lose visibility and control when workloads begin to move to cloud and SaaS environments.
But with the advent of network observability, achieving visibility across multiple generations of network infrastructure has become a reality. This includes getting a unified view of VMs, bare metal infrastructure and containers hosted with on-premises or SaaS environments.
But is this the only reason enterprises are embracing network observability? Here are a few additional factors driving the demand for network observability tools.
Monitoring alone isn't enough
Monitoring is essential for identifying and troubleshooting network issues, but is it enough for enterprises today? We all know that traditional monitoring tools offer siloed visibility and lack an overall digital experience. While traditional monitoring solutions alert individual teams when network issues occur, they are limited when it comes to offering solutions for improving the network performance, thereby adversely impacting business and customer experience.
Why should enterprises leverage network observability tools?
In this instant economy, technological expectations are higher than ever. This means that IT teams must proactively prevent and rectify issues, not just react to them. Simply monitoring key metrics won’t suffice. Enterprises using agile methodologies, microservices, DevOps and other next-gen networking technologies should look at a broader spectrum of events related to network infrastructure, and deploy network observability tools to detect potential issues before they impact business performance.
Often, IT teams enable these steps by providing complete visibility of any changes in system performance across different time intervals and communicating how those changes are correlated. These tools also provide easy-to-understand reports and dashboards, with recommendations on how to resolve an issue.
Are enterprises really successful in using network observability tools?
Honestly, that’s difficult to answer. To find out what the NetOps community thinks about Network Observability tools, the Enterprise Management Group, along with Kentik, conducted a detailed market study, surveying more than 400 IT networking professionals.
The results of the survey show that most IT teams can do better by using network observability tools diligently and effectively.
What makes network observability a preferred choice over network monitoring?
While there is some overlap between network observability and the more familiar phases of network monitoring and network visibility, the former has clear distinct advantages and use cases. Let’s see this in detail to avoid any confusion.
Network observability is becoming popular because it promises to take away the limitations of traditional network monitoring tools. The successful deployment of network observability tools can provide significant business value in the form of reduced MTTR and enhanced productivity — and more time for IT teams to focus on other projects.
Also, network observability is crucial for enterprises as it provides unparalleled insights, swift issue resolution and fortified security. As technology evolves, it will embrace automation, integration and cost-efficiency in becoming a key driver for business success.
Challenges in the journey
Organizations face several challenges when implementing network observability. For instance, certain technologies within the network can't be monitored. These are primarily driven by disruptive technologies such as SD-WAN, multi-edge computing, Wi-Fi6 and others.
Another challenge is the difficulty IT teams face during implementations. For some, cost is a big factor, as vendors try to bundle network observability solutions with other services, making the overall solution more expensive.
Top complaints about network monitoring and network observability tools
How to overcome these challenges?
To avail the perceived benefits of observability tools, enterprises should look at it more holistically. As they embark on their network transformation journey, they should find ways to get actionable insights from their network observability tools. Here are several best practices:
Please note that these recommendations for customization, integration and documentation can also have negative impacts (increased cost, usability, time delays, reduced effectiveness with tools and disruption of other projects) on your business value. Therefore, you must first evaluate your observability tools and match them with your monitoring priorities and network data requirements.
Given the rapid innovation in the enterprise networking space, network observability may involve a single or several tools linked via API integrations and a common data lake. Regardless of the path the technology takes, IT stakeholders should keep a close eye on the changes taking place.
Whether you’re seeking tools to empower your IT team or are interested in shifting from network monitoring to network observability, HCLTech can provide you with the comprehensive network support you need to eliminate firefighting and grow in your transformation journey.
To take the discussion forward, please write to us at Contact.NGN@hcl.com.