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Network Management 101: Challenges, Solutions, Best Practices


The “cube” approach to network management

When IT professionals face a network management task, project, or problem, we sometimes focus on only one aspecttypically the most challenging or the biggest hurdle to overcome. For example, if you’re tasked with deploying a new branch office network, you might realize that you need a way to access and troubleshoot that network from hundreds of miles away, even if there’s an ISP outage. So, you dedicate most of your time and resources to implementing remote OOB management (more on that later).

However, in doing so, you’re neglecting all the other challenges in remote and branch office network management. For instance:

    • How do you monitor the environmental conditions in the networking closet? 
    • Can you extend your network security policies and controls to the users and devices in that remote location? 
    • Will you be able to integrate that branch into your network automation or orchestration solution?

That’s why it’s helpful to use a “cube” approach to network management, viewing every potential challenge from every corner of the cube. This will help you develop a holistic approach to enterprise network management.


The network management challenges your enterprise faces

Every enterprise network will have a slightly different cube that depends on your unique business goals, requirements, and network architecture. However, here are five common network management challenges that you’ll likely face in developing your own cube-based strategy. 

Data center environmental risks

There are a variety of environmental risks to your data center infrastructure, including:

  • Temperature – if your data center appliances (such as switches, servers, SAN devices, and firewalls) overheat, they could malfunction and potentially bring down your enterprise network.
  • Humidity – too much moisture in the air could cause corrosion, shorts, and component failures.
  • Fire – a fire in your data center could burn crucial equipment, affect air quality, and (most critically) activate automatic fire suppression controls that may damage your infrastructure.
  • Air quality – particulates in the air can get sucked into the fans in your equipment and prevent adequate cooling or damage internal components.
  • Power failure – if a power outage lasts longer than the battery life in your uninterrupted power supply (UPS), it could bring down your critical data center infrastructure.
  • Physical security – an unauthorized user could tamper with your data center equipment to either cause damage or breach your network.

To prevent these environmental risks from damaging your infrastructure or bringing down your enterprise network, you need environmental monitoring sensors to detect and monitor each of these factors. However, environmental monitoring solutions often present problems of their own, such as:

    1. Can you view or manage your sensors from outside the enterprise network, or do you need to be on-site or connected via VPN?
    2. How do you connect to your environmental monitoring solution if there’s a network outage?
    3. What do you do with the massive amount of data being generated by your environmental monitoring sensors?

Troubleshooting remote infrastructure

Another network management challenge involves remote branch and data center infrastructure. To illustrate the problem, here are three potential scenarios:

Scenario 1: A data center hundreds of miles away goes offline in the middle of the night. How do you perform a root cause analysis and develop a fix?

Scenario 2: A branch office network is infected with a virus and needs to be taken offline before the infection spreads to the rest of the enterprise. How do you remove the virus while the branch is offline?

Scenario 3: A server or appliance in your remote data center needs a BIOS update. How do you access the BIOS menu and power your devices back on across a remote connection?

Remote out-of-band (OOB) management addresses all of these challenges by separating the network management plane from the data plane and providing a dedicated connection to your remote network infrastructure. That means you have an alternative path to your critical equipment even if your main ISP connection goes down.

However, some OOB solutions only work within a particular vendor’s ecosystem, which means you’re either locked in to their products and feature roadmap, or you’re leaving critical appliances out of your OOB management. Plus, without virtual presence features like environmental sensors and consolidated infrastructure monitoring, your ability to detect and respond to issues will be limited.

Orchestrating hybrid network environments

Hybrid network environments use a combination of public and private cloud infrastructure, which are prevalent and challenging to orchestrate. For example, it can be difficult to apply enterprise security policies consistently across multiple vendors and platforms. You also need to learn how to correctly configure your infrastructure settings in each environment, which increases manual work and the likelihood of human error. Plus, to monitor and control your hybrid infrastructure, you face the challenge of maintaining a virtual presence in your data center and cloud environments.

Key tools for addressing hybrid network management challenges include SSE (security service edge), network automation, and DCIM (data center infrastructure management) solutions. Yet, each of these key tools comes with its challenges. For example, SSE provides tools for extending your enterprise security policies to your cloud-based infrastructure, but you still need an access on-ramp to connect remote users to your SSE platform. Hybrid network automation efforts and DCIM solutions are often hampered by vendor lock-in, which means you either need to purchase and manage multiple tools for each of your platforms or leave gaps in your coverage.



Automating your network operations

Network automation helps improve your network security by reducing the risk of human error. It also streamlines network infrastructure provisioning, speeding up deployments without negatively impacting quality. You can implement network automation using:

    • Zero touch provisioning (ZTP) enables you to automatically deploy configurations to your networking appliances from anywhere in the world. A ZTP device just needs power and a network connection, then it automatically downloads its setup files and configures itself. That means you can ship a factory-condition device to a branch office or remote data center, eliminating the security risk of pre-staging and the hassle of sending engineers on-site.
    • Software-defined networking (SDN) decouples your appliance configuration and management processes and abstracts them as software. That means you can write, deploy, and execute automated scripts to handle many key functions. You can also use orchestration tools to further automate and streamline network management workflows.
    • SD-WAN and SD-Branch, to extend your automation capabilities, you can also apply software-defined networking to your WAN (wide area network) and branch networks using SD-WAN and SD-Branch.

One challenge in automating your network management is that most solutions don’t provide or facilitate the necessary pieces to complete the network automation puzzle. That means you need to combine multiple boxes to get everything you want, increasing your network complexity and costs.

Another issue to consider is vendor lock-in. Your network likely consists of several different vendor solutions and platforms. Each system may allow for automation on its own, within that vendor’s ecosystem, but the hassle of managing multiple automation solutions without any centralized orchestration could be more trouble than it’s worth.

Securing enterprise networks

Enterprise network security should be one of your top network management priorities. According to IBM’s 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average cost of a data breach in 2021 was $4.24 million. However, protecting your enterprise network is more challenging than ever before.

Traditional network security focuses on defending your “attack surface,” or the sum of all the points at which a hacker could potentially breach your network. That attack surface continuously increases as you add remote and distributed infrastructure, cloud and SaaS resources, remote and branch office users, and IoT (internet of things) devices to your enterprise environment.

Also, as your network complexity increases, so does the risk of human error and configuration mistakes. A misconfigured server, networking appliance, or firewall could potentially create a vulnerability for a hacker to exploit. In fact, Gartner predicts that misconfigurations will cause 99% of firewall breaches through 2023.

To reduce your risk of a breach, you need a comprehensive network security strategy that includes:

Zero trust security – Instead of focusing on one large attack surface, you instead micro-segment your network and create individual micro-perimeters of security controls and policies that are custom-tailored to the resources they’re protecting. You also follow the principle of “never trust, always verify” by continuously assessing the trustworthiness of users and devices on your network.

Identity and Access Management (IAM) – To enforce zero trust security, you need the ability to create granular access control policies, manage permissions, establish trust, and monitor account activity for signs of suspicious behavior.

Security Service Edge (SSE) – You need consistent security to keep your network edge just as well protected as your main enterprise network. That means extending your security policies and controls to your remote users and cloud-based resources.

Network Automation – Configuration mistakes often occur on tedious and repeatable tasks because network admins may lose focus, become fatigued, or forget important steps. Luckily, these types of tasks are also the best candidates for network automation, which means you can reduce your risk of configuration mistakes while also streamlining your infrastructure deployments.


How Nodegrid solves your biggest network management challenges

Each network management solution listed above comes with some limitations or additional challenges. To solve your biggest network management challenges, you need a solution that:

    • Provides comprehensive, reliable, cloud-based environmental monitoring with data analysis
    • Offers vendor-neutral OOB management and virtual presence features
    • gives you a unified platform from which to orchestrate your entire hybrid network
    • Integrates with leading zero trust security, IAM, SSE, and network automation providers
    • Delivers all-in-one network automation with vendor-neutral ZTP devices and SD-WAN/SD-Branch management

The Nodegrid family of hardware and software is your complete network management solution. Let’s discuss exactly how Nodegrid solves your biggest network management challenges.

Nodegrid environmental sensors

Nodegrid’s environmental monitoring solution gives you a virtual presence in your remote data center with a full range of environmental sensors and a cloud-based platform that you can access from anywhere in the world. Plus, if you connect your environmental sensors to the Nodegrid Serial Console in your data center or the Nodegrid Services Router in your branch office, you’ll get reliable out-of-band access to your monitoring system even during a network outage.

To use all the valuable data collected by your environmental sensors, you can add the Nodegrid Data Lake application. This cloud-based data analytics and visualization platform helps you track KPIs and other metrics, detect potential issues before they occur, and identify opportunities to optimize your environment. In addition to your environmental sensors, Nodegrid Data Lake also taps into infrastructure, system, user experience, networking, and even previously hidden server and switch logs to bring all your data to light. 

Nodegrid delivers complete environmental monitoring and a virtual presence solution for your remote branch and data center network infrastructure.

Out-of-band management solutions

Nodegrid devices give you an alternative path to your critical remote branch and data center network infrastructure so you can remotely manage and troubleshoot even during an ISP outage. All Nodegrid serial consoles and network edge routers enable remote OOB management, allowing you to connect to and reach your various appliances over several types of connections, including cellular.

Nodegrid Serial Consoles (NSC) and Nodegrid Services Routers (NSR) run on the Nodegrid OS. This open x86 architecture easily integrates with all your Linux-based solutions for complete, vendor-neutral OOB coverage. Plus, you can use your OOB management with Nodegrid environmental sensors for a virtual presence solution, giving you the same access to your remote networks that you’d have with an on-site engineer.

Consolidated infrastructure management

Nodegrid’s vendor-neutral, cloud-based platform gives you centralized control over your hybrid network environment. Nodegrid helps you overcome the challenge of orchestrating hybrid network environments with ZPE Cloud, which provides you with:

    • Cloud-based management of SD-WAN and SD-Branch architectures to connect remote users to your SSE cloud security stack
    • A centralized control panel from which to deploy and orchestrate network automation scripts to your hybrid infrastructure
    • Vendor-neutral integrations with your data center, cloud, and network orchestration solutions for total coverage

Nodegrid further simplifies network management by consolidating many devices into a single, complete solution. The fewer appliances you need to monitor, manage, and troubleshoot, the easier it is to orchestrate your hybrid network infrastructure. For example, the Nodegrid Hive SR is a 5-in-1 branch gateway that combines SD-WAN, security, compute, NetDevOps, and OOB in one vendor-neutral box.

Nodegrid uses the ZPE Cloud management solution and consolidated Nodegrid networking devices to give you an easy and efficient way to orchestrate your hybrid network environment.

Nodegrid network automation solution

Nodegrid rolls up all the necessary pieces of the network automation puzzle into one complete solution. All Nodegrid devices support zero touch provisioning, network automation scripting, and software-defined networking. Plus, the open Nodegrid OS easily integrates with third-party automation and orchestration solutions.

Nodegrid simplifies end-to-end network automation so you can streamline deployments, reduce human error, and efficiently manage your enterprise network.

Zero trust security with Nodegrid

Both Nodegrid Manager (for on-premises and data center infrastructure) and ZPE Cloud (for cloud, hybrid, or multi-cloud architectures) give you one unified pane of glass from which to manage and secure your entire zero trust environment.

    • ZPE Cloud’s partnership with leading next generation firewall (NGFW) providers means you can easily manage your zero trust micro-perimeters from one convenient web portal.
    • Nodegrid integrates with leading zero trust security IAM providers like Okta and Duo to ensure you have complete control over accounts, privileges, and trust.
    • Nodegrid provides the access on-ramp to your SSE security stack through its SD-WAN and SD-Branch management platform.
    • ZTP and automated scripting support enable you to automatically deploy and configure network devices, reducing human error and configuration mistakes.

Nodegrid provides a zero trust security framework upon which to develop a holistic network security strategy. 


Simplify your enterprise network management with Nodegrid

The Nodegrid solution from ZPE Systems simplifies network management while still addressing your enterprise’s biggest network management challenges.

Want to learn more about simplifying your enterprise network management with Nodegrid? Contact ZPE Systems or request a free Nodegrid demo. We are here to help!