Global Enterprise Network Management for the Resolute

Author: Steven Zolman

You have to work hard to find a more demanding job in IT than that of today’s Global Enterprise Network Manager.  There was a time perhaps, before the wide adoption of TCP/IP, that this job was a little less demanding, but even then as the potential of networking computing systems in enterprise became apparent and reached a tipping point that we are still adjusting to, this job has always been a challenging one.

The role of the network manager is evolving, and is typically delegated to many individual niche responsibilities, but the accountability required to manage today’s increasingly global and ubiquitous networking infrastructure has never been greater.  Unless you’re in the trenches dealing with the day to day operations of keeping this communications infrastructure humming, it is easy to take the network for granted.  Today’s network infrastructure, whether within the bounds of the data center or linking the enterprise’s far-flung remote global locations in a wide-area network, the elements that comprise, administer and secure this infrastructure are complex and numerous.  As we are automating more business functions, converging more communications activities, collaborating more with a remote and mobile workforce around the clock, and pushing and pulling more time critical business information to the workforce in real-time, the network has never been more critical and valuable.

The expectations are considerable to maintain a high performing and high availability network.   There is no tolerance for downtime and, in fact, few excuses to allow this to happen.  Networks need to be secure from outside and inside intrusions, and flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of a business, whether it’s to accommodate a new sales office in South Africa or a new manufacturing plant in Curitiba, Brazil.   And not just adapt, but do it yesterday, because you’re signing leases now and hiring staff within a month and they need to access the SAP Supply Change Management systems on day one.

While it’s been awhile now since Sun’s John Gage uttered the phrase “The network is the computer”, there is probably no better way to illustrate this than to survey what makes up today’s modern enterprise network.   It is a complex amalgamation of hardware and software that, on the surface, has a very basic job of moving data from point A to point B.  But when you consider point A may be a laptop or desktop, tablet computer, smartphone, process control device, VoIP phone, etc., and the point B may be any myriad of server and storage resources from the web or an in-house sourced data center or co-location data center or managed services provider or public or private cloud computer supplier, or business partner or client, you begin to grasp the complexity and pervasiveness of the network’s reach.

Drill down a little deeper and consider the reliance on enterprise telecom carriers for your Internet and MPLS networking, the local access providers for the local loop and voice grade services, or managed services provider overseeing your local or wide-area network.   In addition to the individual network circuits that comprise your network, there is a complex array of switches and routers and wireless access points and WAN acceleration appliances linking all sites in a carefully orchestrated dance to get all information to the right place, in the right priority, quickly and all intact.    Managing and monitoring this infrastructure is a variety of element, application, performance and capacity management applications, each with a specific purpose to detect problems proactively, ensure network bandwidth is allocated to each application appropriately and react to trends that might necessitate upgrading a circuit to increase capacity.

Since you’re likely network connected to the Internet or business partners or customers, you also have security to address with your firewalls, intrusion detection and protection systems, virus and spam filtering, access control devices and universal threat management appliances and services, some of which may be hosted and managed in-house or sourced with a 3rd party cloud offering.

You may be a global company and you need to locate sales offices close to your customers or manufacturing close to cheaper labor, and that location is in South America or Eastern Europe or the Middle East and you are no doubt going to want them on your global network, adding another significant layer of complexity.  While the rest of the world is moving along and modernizing business relationships and regulations and breaking down barriers to make doing business around the world a little bit easier, telecom carriers continue to operate in what seems like the dark ages when it comes to provisioning network services and working with each other.   And working with each other is just what they have to do both by design and necessity.  However, trying to establish a network circuit in other than an urban location overseas in a less developed country is an exercise in patience and fortitude, and often a very costly endeavor—just adding to the burden on the Global Enterprise Network Manager.

While typically a more routine, less costly and less troublesome affair to establish a wide-area network with a telecom carrier or carriers in North America or Western Europe, you’re still dealing with what are often quite dysfunctional companies in telecom providers.  While the network infrastructure they provide is often the most stable and reliable part of their business, thankfully, you still have to guard against failures with a backup network infrastructure,  a backup data center and disaster recovery plan.    But where these carriers often consistently fail is in their on-going account support, billing accuracy, timeliness to implement ordered services and generally getting the attention from them you feel you deserve.   Again, adding unnecessary distractions for the Global Enterprise Network Manager.

This brings us to cost, which can be substantial; some would say staggering, when it comes to strategizing, planning, acquiring, implementing, managing and maintaining the myriad hardware, software and services that make up this enterprise network infrastructure.   There are also few domains outside of networking that have so many product and service choices and the companies that supply them.   This can be both a blessing and curse.   It’s a healthy market to have so much to choose from, with many competing suppliers offering excellent and innovative products, with competition for your business helping keep prices lower than they ordinarily would be with fewer choices.

But it is also a challenge to sort myth (or shall we say artfulness on the part of the supplier) from reality when it comes to making a product and supplier decision.  If you are getting your product information from a favored incumbent supplier or another value-added reseller, you’re often going to get fed a relatively self-serving profile of the merits of a particular vendor solution.  When it comes to understanding whether you’re getting an optimized and competitive offer for a particular product or service, whether this is a MPLS circuit in Brussels or a maintenance agreement for your router and switches, you’re mostly running blind without good market intelligence.

Peeling back the layers of the network infrastructure and all the responsibilities that go into managing this environment to cater to the needs of the business provides a new appreciation for the people behind this enterprise-wide service.  It also highlights the need to continually evolve this environment to maintain appropriate functionality, performance and stability, and doing so while trying to stay responsive to the needs of the business while keeping costs in check – a tall order and just another day on the job for our resolute Global Enterprise Network Manager.

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