While other departments within IT are embracing agile approaches to their operational practices, network teams are struggling to keep up with outdated philosophies and processes. This can lead to situations where the company has to constantly wait for network configuration changes to bring new digital services online.
Let’s learn why this delay is happening and how moving from legacy network operating models (NetOps) to an agile approach can lead to efficient digital transformation.
Legacy NetOps principles were intentionally slow
Business networks used to be static. Their only purpose was to move frames and packets from one place to another. Any changes that network engineers have made to production networks have been carefully planned, infrequent, and usually consisted of making several major changes at once, as opposed to smaller, incremental changes.
The thinking behind this slow and methodical approach was that the network infrastructure serves as the foundation for all other apps and services running on it. Therefore, stability and simplicity were paramount.
Modern networks are responsible for much more
In addition to switching, routing, and some basic access control mechanisms found in traditional networks, today’s modern network hardware and software is responsible for a variety of other infrastructure services. These include the following:
- network security, ie firewalls, data encryption, intrusion detection and intrusion prevention systems, network sandboxing, etc.;
- multipath WAN optimization;
- load sharing; and
- remote access.
The evolution of virtualization in data centers, clouds, and edge computing points-of-presence has also resulted in multiple software-defined configuration, management, performance, and security optimization capabilities. When used correctly, these tools can reveal how small configuration changes to a production network can significantly improve end-user performance on a per-service, per-app basis.
Benefits of an agile network approach
As the name suggests, an agile network approach focuses on rapid but calculated changes in the network. These small and frequent changes, in turn, help increase application performance, improve data security, and support rapid adoption of business applications and services.
In addition to these factors, the secondary benefits of agile networking can include:
- increased visibility of network operations with other critical IT teams;
- Increasing customer satisfaction as apps, features and services can be deployed to production faster and with better performance;
- Automation practices that reduce the risk of configuration change failures due to human error; and
- Networks built and managed with a higher level of adaptability and scalability.
Advocate for an agile NetOps culture and framework
Although networks are still the foundation of any enterprise infrastructure, the speed at which new services need to be brought online, moved, or adapted to perform is much faster than it used to be. To successfully transition to agile networking, NetOps teams must first learn to think differently.
For decades, NetOps teams were built around a culture where their internal customers were application, server and desktop teams requesting network changes to accommodate their infrastructure expansions and changes. However, an agile methodology eliminates this inter-IT customer thinking.
Instead, NetOps should focus on being an integral part of delivering powerful and secure digital tools to their end users. This allows NetOps administrators to better understand their role and why speed is so important. After all, a network that provides regular improvements in end-user experience can have a significant impact on a company’s overall success.
Once teams understand this culture shift, the next step is to adopt various network architectures, platforms, and tools that can facilitate network and device monitoring, management, and automation of network tasks. This process includes looking at tools such as self-service portals, AI for IT operations software, automated policy-making systems, and multi-cloud management portals.
Finally, a focus on continuous improvement is necessary. A transition from traditional to agile practices will not happen overnight. As such, it will take time for NetOps administrators to identify bottlenecks or limitations in their current practices and find ways to streamline or automate them. Because of this, it’s important to set realistic goals at the outset and slowly transition workflows to ones that are more in line with adapting to rapid business changes.