Thursday, March 3, 2016

Blueprint: Monitoring as a Discipline and the Network Administrator

by Leon Adato, Head Geek, SolarWinds

As IT professionals, we know our way around data centers like the backs of our hands. But what consistently surprises me when I speak with other admins is the general lack of knowledge about and resources put towards what we at SolarWinds call monitoring as a discipline, especially as it pertains to monitoring networks.

Evolution of the network

The network is a complex thing, and it has evolved considerably over the past decade.

For example, the network used to be defined by a mostly wired, physical entity controlled by routers and switches. Business connections were based on T1 and ISDN, and Internet connectivity was always backhauled through the data center. Each network device was a piece of company-owned hardware, and applications operated on well-defined ports and protocols. VoIP was used infrequently, and anywhere connectivity—if even a thing—was provided by the low-quality bandwidth of cell-based Internet access.

Today, however, wireless is becoming ubiquitous—it’s even overtaking wired networks in many instances—and the number of devices wirelessly connecting to the network is exploding (think Internet of Things). It doesn’t end there, though—networks are growing in all directions. Some network devices are even virtualized, resulting in a complex amalgam of the physical, the virtual and the Internet. Business connections are DSL/cable and Ethernet services. BYOD, BYOA, tablets and smartphones are prevalent and are creating bandwidth capacity and security issues. Application visibility based on port and protocol is largely impossible due to applications tunneling via HTTP/HTTPS. VOIP is common, also imposing higher demands on network bandwidth, and LTE provides high-quality anywhere connectivity.  

And the future isn’t looking any simpler. The Internet of Things (IoT); software defined networking (SDN); and hybrid IT, with its accompanying challenge of ensuring acceptable quality of service to meet the business performance needs for any given service delivered via a cloud provider, are all cresting the horizon.

What’s my point? These trends, challenges and complexities underscore a new set of monitoring and management essentials.

Enter monitoring as a discipline

What is monitoring as a discipline?

Monitoring as a discipline varies from simply monitoring in that it is an actual role, the defined job of one or more individuals within an organization, not just something “everyone kind of does when it’s needed.” The most important benefit of such a dedicated role is the ability to turn data points from various monitoring tools and utilities into more actionable insights for the business by looking at all of them from a holistic vantage point, rather than each disparately.

Although such a monitoring-dedicated individual or team is in reality probably only likely at larger organizations at this point in time, small- and medium-sized businesses may want to take note, as their infrastructures, all of which rely on the backbone known as the network, are only going to get more complex, bringing the need for even them to create such a role into sharp focus. Don’t believe me? Think about how common hiring a dedicated information security professional was ten years ago—nearly unheard of. But today, many organizations of almost every size consider this to be a necessity given the constant specter of security breaches.

Now reflect on how IT environments, not just the network, have grown, both in size and complexity, being distributed across geographies more than ever. In turn, monitoring them has equally grown in complexity. In fact, due to hybrid IT, it has become extremely difficult to pinpoint the root cause of issues—whether they lie with the cloud services provider or the organization’s internal network itself.

Thus, the “old way” of monitoring, where network admins, server admins and storage admins, etc. each operate in silos, monitoring only within their specific realm without much if any cross-silo oversight, is no longer really a viable option. By employing an expert who monitors as a specific discipline across all of the traditional silos can provide a cohesive view across an organization’s IT spectrum, making root cause analysis much more efficient and accurate, reducing costs in the process.

Expanding monitoring skillsets

All that said, given budget constraints, the reality for IT departments at many small- and medium-sized businesses will be one without such a dedicated monitoring expert for at least the near future. If having a dedicated monitoring expert is not in the cards for now, the next step is to expand your current IT team’s monitoring skillset. At minimum, your team should at least be able to effectively monitor:
  • Hardware
  • Networks (i.e. NetFlow and syslog)
  • Applications
  • Virtualization
  • Configurations
Configuration monitoring is especially important because when it comes to configs—what changed as well as the exact moment the change was made is critical to both the security and stability of entire environments. In fact, 80 percent of all corporate outages are caused by unexpected or uncontrolled config changes. And, in all honesty, in the absence of a dedicated monitoring expert, we generalist network admins are perhaps best positioned to step in and corral all this monitoring data into one cohesive set of actionable insights.

In conclusion

As the network becomes more complex and expands in nearly every direction, monitoring as a discipline will become more critical to business success. In summary, companies of all sizes should consider:
  • Adding a dedicated monitoring expert or experts who can provide a holistic view of the organization’s infrastructure performance, turning seemingly disparate data points gathered by monitoring tools into valuable, actionable insights.
  • If a dedicated expert is not possible, ensure the current IT team understands the nuances of monitoring hardware, networks, applications, virtualization and configurations and has a comprehensive, but not necessarily expensive, suite of monitoring tools available.
  • Putting network admins in charge of corralling all this monitoring data.
About the Author

Leon Adato is a Head Geek and technical evangelist at SolarWinds, and is a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), MCSE and SolarWinds Certified Professional (he was once a customer, after all). Before he was a SolarWinds Head Geek, Adato was a SolarWinds® user for over a decade. His expertise in IT began in 1989 and has led him through roles as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. His career includes key roles at Rockwell Automation®, Nestle, PNC, and CardinalHealth providing server standardization, support, and network management and monitoring.

About SolarWinds 
SolarWinds (NYSE: SWI) provides powerful and affordable hybrid IT infrastructure management software to customers worldwide from Fortune 500® enterprises to small businesses, government agencies and educational institutions. We are committed to focusing exclusively on IT Pros, and strive to eliminate the complexity that they have been forced to accept from traditional enterprise software vendors. Regardless of where the IT asset or user sits, SolarWinds delivers products that are easy to find, buy, use, maintain and scale while providing the power to address all key areas of the infrastructure from on premises to the cloud. Our solutions are rooted in our deep connection to our user base, which interacts in our thwack online community to solve problems, share technology and best practices, and directly participate in our product development process. Learn more today at 

Got an idea for a Blueprint column?  We welcome your ideas on next gen network architecture.
See our guidelines.

Verizon Digital Media Enable Direct Link to Google Cloud

Verizon Digital Media Services is now allowing customers to use Google Cloud CDN Interconnect to more safely and securely transfer content between the Verizon Digital Media Services content delivery network (CDN) and Google Cloud Platform.

The high-performance interconnections provide a direct link between Google Cloud Platform and Verizon Digital Media Services' CDN, allowing content to move between the two directly without traversing other networks, providing increased availability and reduced latency for important content.

"Our commitment to open collaborations with companies like Google ultimately expands the choices our customers have to move their data and content efficiently, securely and affordably," said Verizon Digital Media Services Chief Technology Officer Rob Peters. "The combined power of Verizon Digital Media Services and Google Cloud Platform gives our customers the edge they need in today's digital media environment that demands constant innovation."

Verizon Digital Media Services customers that use Google Cloud Platform can save more than 65 percent on their cloud egress costs for an easier, more cost-effective delivery path that is optimized to move and scale content between Google Cloud Platform and Verizon's CDN. This provides an exceptional content experience that leverages Verizon's world-class CDN to reach any screen, anywhere.

BT to Offer Palo Alto Networks's Next Gen Security

BT will integrate the Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Security Platform into its global portfolio of security services.

Specifically, BT's Assure Managed Firewall service will now integrate WildFire cloud-based malware prevention, which is a key component of the Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Security Platform. It will be used to further secure the access to cloud-based applications, enabling enterprise customers to reap increased benefits from BT's Cloud of Clouds.

"Security is now a top concern for every business, and with continued growth in both the volume and sophistication of attacks, a breach prevention-focused strategy is essential to ensure a safe digital future for organisations and individuals alike. We are delighted to join forces with BT to help organisations safely enable business operations and protect their most valuable assets, managing both their risk and their security budgets," stated Mark McLaughlin, president and chief executive officer at Palo Alto Networks.

Hibernia Employs Accedian on Transatlantic Cable

Hibernia Networks is using Accedian to provide tiered termination aggregation services on its new transatlantic cable, Hibernia Express, which offers round-trip speeds of under 58.95 milliseconds between New York and London.

The Accedian platform enables Hibernia Networks to provide flexible Ethernet speeds for its portfolio of low latency connectivity solutions, ensuring a more precisely scaled service that meets the individual requirements of its customers.

Accedian said its network solution is capable of providing monitoring and measurement functions on a one-way transatlantic transmission with sub-microsecond accuracy—enabling Hibernia Networks to provide more proactive performance assurance support for low latency services, from its network operations center. The performance monitoring metrics include latency, packet loss, and

“We’re delighted to be part of Hibernia Networks state-of-the-art transatlantic cable system,” said Patrick Ostiguy, CEO, Accedian. “Our ability to guarantee lowest possible latency through technology innovation and best-practice continues to provide the hallmark for our ongoing expansion as we serve an increasing number of service providers spanning wholesale, mobile, and
cable networks.”

Telefónica Awards 10-year Contract to IBM to Modernize Financial and HR Processes

Telefónica awarded a 10-year contract for IBM to modernize and manage different Telefonica Human Resources and Finance Management processes of the telecommunications giant over the next 10 years.

As part of the agreement, IBM is acquiring three companies of Tgestiona -- a Telefónica company specialized in finance and human resources processes management for Communications Sector -- in Spain, Argentina and Peru.

"IBM was chosen as our strategic partner based on its ability to demonstrate market-leading best practices in finance and HR, deliver a superior user experience to Telefónica, and demonstrate automation and digital innovation while respecting the cultural diversity of our clients," said Javier Delgado, Director Planning, Projects and Global Services of Telefónica.

HPE Posts Quarterly Results, Networking Revenue up 54% YoY

Hewlett Packard Enterprise reported first quarter net revenue of $12.7 billion, down 3% from the prior-year period and up 4% on a constant currency basis. First quarter GAAP diluted net earnings per share (EPS) was $0.15, down from $0.30 in the prior-year period, and above its previously provided outlook of $0.09 to $0.13.

By segment:

  • Enterprise Group revenue was $7.1 billion, up 1% year over year, up 7% in constant currency, with a 13.4% operating margin. Servers revenue was down 1%, up 5% in constant currency, Storage revenue was down 3%, up 3% in constant currency, Networking revenue was up 54%, up 62% in constant currency, and Technology Services revenue was down 9%, down 3% in constant currency.  
  • Enterprise Services revenue was $4.7 billion, down 6% year over year, flat in constant currency, with a 5.1% operating margin. Infrastructure Technology Outsourcing revenue was down 8%, down 2% in constant currency, and Application and Business Services revenue was down 3%, up 3% in constant currency.
  • Software revenue was $780 million, down 10% year over year, down 6% in constant currency, with a 17.4% operating margin. License revenue was down 6%, down 2% in constant currency, support revenue was down 13%, down 9% in constant currency, professional services revenue was down 7%, down 2% in constant currency, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) revenue was down 9%, down 7% in constant currency. 
  • Financial Services revenue was $776 million, down 3% year over year, up 3% in constant currency, net portfolio assets were up 4%, up 9% in constant currency, and financing volume was down 4%, up 3% in constant currency. The business delivered an operating margin of 12.9%. 

"During our first quarter as an independent company, we saw the progress that comes from being more focused and nimble," said Meg Whitman, president and chief executive officer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. "We delivered a third consecutive quarter of year-over-year constant currency revenue growth, and excluding the impact of recent M&A activity, we saw revenue growth in constant currency across every business segment for the first time since 2010."

Ciena Posts Revenue of $573 Million

Ciena reported revenue of $573.1 million as compared to $529.2 million for the fiscal first quarter 2015. Net loss (GAAP) for the fiscal first quarter 2016 was $(11.5) million, or $(0.08) per diluted common share, which compares to a GAAP net loss of $(18.8) million, or $(0.17) per diluted common share, for the fiscal first quarter 2015.

"We delivered strong first quarter business and financial performance, including 8% adjusted operating margin, highlighted by engagement with a more diverse set of customers," said Gary B. Smith, president and CEO, Ciena. “Despite some recent volatility in the broader macroeconomic environment, the demand drivers for our business remain firmly in place and we are well positioned to translate our market leadership into continued growth and profitability this fiscal year.”

Some highlights:

  • U.S. customers contributed 63.7% of total revenue
  • One customer accounted for greater than 10% of revenue and represented 22% of total revenue
  • Cash and investments totaled $995.4 million

Nimble Storage Posts Revenue of $90 Million, up 32%

Nimble Storage reported revenue of $90.1 million for its fourth quarter of fiscal 2016, up from $68.3 million in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015. Excluding fluctuations in foreign currency over the past year, revenue would have been $92.6 million representing a 36% increase over the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015. GAAP net loss for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2016 was $32.4 million, or $0.40 per basic and diluted share, compared with a net loss of $24.7 million, or $0.33 per basic and diluted share in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015.

Total revenue for fiscal 2016 was $322.2 million, compared to $227.7 million in fiscal 2015, representing growth of 42% year-over-year.