Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Wednesday, September 19, 2018
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Network Automation Remains Elusive, Survey Finds 

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Enterprise networks, the plumbing of the vaunted digital transformation, are beginning to catch up with the rest the IT operation as network managers look seriously at automation tools while sorting through the proliferation of cloud “visibility” frameworks required to stay connected with customers.

All that, a vendor survey finds, plus ongoing worries about data breaches as more enterprise networks are connected to the internet are among the issues keeping operators awake at night.

While AI and machine learning are most often mentioned as automation technologies, networking managers have grown less enthusiastic to the point where “buzzword fatigue” has set in, according to network management report from network analytics specialist Kentik Technologies.

Still, the survey results released on Thursday (Aug. 23) did find that network administrators are looking for new ways to automate the management of growing volumes of network traffic. Just over a third of respondents said automation is a key trend, but only 15 percent said they are prepared to automate networks operations.

One reason is the proliferation of cloud “visibility” tools. Hence, network traffic analytics are the most commonly used among a combination of tools to get a handle on traffic management. Among the preferred approaches is using the same stack of tools for boosting both network performance and security, especially when networks are exposed to the internet.

Again, the survey found, expectations run well ahead of reality: Only about 40 percent of companies polled said they are prepared to implement strategies like shared management tool stacks.

“With increased business reliance on internet connectivity, the network world has and will continue to get increasingly complex,” said Avi Freedman, co-founder and CEO of Kentik. The San Francisco-based company specializes in gleaning business intelligence from growing amounts of network traffic.

“We’re just in the early stages of how our industry will need to transform,” added Freedman.

Part of that transformation is figuring out how to scale networks to handle big data that might deliver real-time intelligence. Automation is widely seen as a way to reduce errors and keep networks up and running. That trend is followed by the application of advanced analytics to, among things, boost network security.

The growing number of cloud visibility tools also is fueling network support for hybrid and multi-cloud migrations, the survey found.

Meanwhile, the need for more network automation is being propelled by the pace of technological change. For example, most the companies surveyed said they are having trouble training and retaining qualified networking engineers. That skills gap is “one of the potential drivers for more automation,” Freedman noted.

Previous company surveys found much enthusiasm for machine learning as a network management tool. This year’s edition revealed some early setbacks, including machine learning deployments that produced more false alarms about security breaches.

Still, the report concludes that network and security teams remain interested in automation as a way of understanding their infrastructure. One way of achieving that goal, respondents said, is development of a unified tool stack that addresses both performance and security, Freedman said.

Kentik said it polled 531 network managers during an industry event in June.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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