- 11 November 2020 |
Networks have long been vital parts of an organisation, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up the demands on them like never before. The working lives of millions of employees have fundamentally changed, with remote working now fast becoming the norm.
More than ever, wherever people now work they depend on connectivity - as well as their employer’s network - to access the information they need, to stay productive and to collaborate with co-workers.
Most business networks weren’t designed for distributed usage at today’s magnitude, so new pressures are being placed upon network infrastructure and the teams that manage it. This means many organisations will have to look at making changes or plan for redesigns to the corporate network. But the problem is, few really know where to start - because they don’t have granular level visibility of their current network and all its constituent parts.
Re-establishing a network inventory
The reason many businesses don’t have an up-to-date network inventory is because it can take a lot of time and effort to maintain one. That’s because additions and changes are made to networks on a frequent basis, and they tend to be made in reaction to a particular pressing business need or emerging problem. It could be that network performance is being impacted by parts that are faulty or that have reached end-of-life, or it could be that more robust security provision is required to address an identified network vulnerability.
Either way, IT teams (understandably) are typically more focused on getting new kit installed and configured, than on keeping inventories up-to-date. Whether they deem it necessary to maintain one or not - IT teams generally don’t have the time to do so. If an issue occurs, the urgency is centred on reestablishing the service that was affected, rather than updating records and making sure everything is done in a controlled way.
However, establishing a fully updated inventory is imperative, especially in the current climate. If businesses don’t know the exact status of the devices, routers, switches and other assets sitting across the network, then they can’t make accurate plans or estimations around future network size, capacity, costs and maintenance requirements. Without this information, solving network issues will typically take longer and vulnerabilities may exist undetected.
At a time when all organisations are having to redefine their networks to meet changing demands, a detailed and up-to-date network inventory is vital for the following reasons:
Planning for network changes: understanding how the network is put together gives important context to the planning and management of the changes that need to be made, and the risks of making these changes. This is especially important when working with third-party providers in order to prevent conflicting configurations.
Proactive network management to minimise downtime: absent of key information and configuration details for every network part, your engineers are in a constant state of reactiveness. It results in frequent issues, protracted troubleshooting, unknown risks and also leaves you unsure where to make the right improvements to move your network forward.
Proper disposal of network assets: checking what isn’t operational within a network is just as important as checking what is. This not only means devices being removed from networks, but that they are done so properly in a secure, environmentally friendly and sustainable way. For example, if not removed from inventory correctly, a router in a branch office that is connected to headquarters on a VPN may still be able to access a corporate network if simply unplugged and taken to someone else’s premises.
Maintaining effective network security and controls: without a full inventory, it’s virtually impossible to manage end-of-life equipment, or parts no longer being patched or supported. On top of the inherent security risks, there are also regulatory implications around out-of-date assets that no longer comply with ISO security standards.
Maximising return on infrastructure investments: knowing how assets are depreciating and when equipment needs to be refreshed ensures that new devices aren’t purchased until they need to be - ensuring you get the most out of your existing assets for as long as possible.
Ensuring full support for network devices: knowing which devices need certain support services makes it far easier to get the right support in place, whether that be from the company supplying the devices or from the manufacturer. In the event of an error or a breakage, the resulting span of downtime can be significantly cut if IT operatives can easily call on relevant support and get straight to the heart of the issue.
Effective licence management: sorting out licences can be more complicated with some vendors than others, and if licence expirations aren’t kept on top of, repurchasing them can quickly become very difficult and expensive. There are also associated risks around licences being lost if support can’t be attached to devices after a certain period of time.
It’s clear that network inventories can no longer be overlooked. The next step is how this can be addressed. The ideal way forward is one that combines physical auditing and automation. The former brings the human skill of understanding environmental risks, physically seeing that parts exist, and taking other circumstantial elements into account that technology can’t.
But automated support still has a key role to play, especially in understanding the exact status of every item, keeping information updated in real time, and providing alerts when attention is needed - for example when part is faulty or a licence is close to expiry. SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) data can provide this detailed information about all your network-connected devices and it can be leveraged to drive such automation.
A detailed inventory that harnesses SNMP data will enable you to pinpoint exact network issues and resolve them in the shortest possible time-frame. It will give you full visibility and control of your network, enabling you to identify usage trends, advise on network design and capacity planning, manage multiple suppliers, administer user access and so much more.
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