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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How automated network operations turns on the lights

As agencies focus on modernization, government network operations teams have overflowing plates that never seem to get cleared. They are charged with keeping their agencies’ critical digital operations and workloads running, even as they respond to countless events, tickets, technology upgrades, security compliance checks, cyberattacks and more. These instances cover the gamut from simple to complex, everything from addressing complaints about a slow application to a denial-of-service cyberattack. It’s a high-wire juggling act: the teams must ensure that their service level agreements are met, cyberattacks are kept at bay and any performance issues are quickly diagnosed and fixed.

Most government agencies have network monitoring systems that automatically send an alarm when things go wrong. But the task of going through those alerts, prioritizing them and addressing them -- that is, extinguishing the fire -- is still done by people using time-consuming, manual processes. For agencies that don’t have an accurate map of their day-to-day network operations, their IT staff can feel like they are operating in the dark as they work to resolve issues with limited information and visibility. Given these many challenges, a key objective for any government network team is to automate as much of its day-to-day operations as possible so it can be more proactive and strategic.

Unlike compute and storage, network operations have not fully benefited from automation and artificial intelligence until recently, presenting an unprecedented opportunity for increased efficiency, system reliability and cost savings. Automation and AI can also help to answer a network manager’s biggest question, “How can I automate the preponderance of network operations tasks that dominate after Day 1, so I can better focus my team’s energy and talent on high-level tasks?”  

The benefits of automating network operations are obvious in the following three daily challenges often experienced by network managers on Day 2+:

1. Troubleshooting and cybersecurity. Due to networks' heterogeneous nature, network managers often lack the end-to-end visibility necessary to diagnose and address performance issues quickly. When addressing cybersecurity threats, this limitation often makes it difficult to get a firm handle on a breach and determine what area of the network has been impacted.

Automating network operations allows for continuous diagnostics and mitigation by “turning on the lights,” providing the visibility necessary to quickly identify, isolate and troubleshoot an application, network or systems issues with dynamic visualization.  Automation also accelerates security diagnosis and helps  safeguard against future attacks by automating tasks required before, during and after a cyberattack, including executing historical and forensic analysis to strengthen the network’s cyber posture.

2. Documentation and compliance. When not putting out fires, network managers are faced with time-consuming, manual network documentation to meet compliance. Manual documentation presents a host of challenges. For example, how can network managers keep up with network that are always changing?

If the documentation process does not change as the network evolves, an agency can end up with missing information about critical application flows and baseline diagnostics along with incomplete operational know-how. Documentation is also extremely time-consuming to create, which diverts network managers away from optimizing operations for mission success and forces them to spend time on repetitive, low-value tasks that are often impossible to master. 

Automated dynamic network documentation allows network managers to access accurate data and reports in real-time so they can troubleshoot to meet compliance quickly. They will also save time and money by eliminating the need to create network diagrams manually and enhance collaboration across teams through the sharing of accessible and accurate information.

3. Workforce. The aforementioned challenges place a considerable burden on network managers. From troubleshooting interruptions to safeguarding against cyberattacks, their days are often spent on time-sensitive tasks that divert resources away from advancing the mission. 

Automating network operations allows network managers to refocus on mission objectives by providing a clear path for troubleshooting, automating daily administrative tasks that ensure a strong cyber posture and easily sharing accurate information within multi-tiered operations. Better yet, some automated network operation solutions use AI algorithms to baseline the network and automate and scale virtually any network diagnosis with executable runbooks, which automatically collect and analyze specific network data and are continually enhanced with lessons learned.

A “write once, execute everywhere” approach better enables network and security operations teams to meet the challenge of automating all aspects of network operations and scaling that automation across heterogeneous network environments. This allows government network teams to transition from putting out fires to more strategic tasks that unlock more agility, productivity and performance from the network.

As the nation continues to make strides in the global race for technological dominance, the government’s networks will only become more complex, continuing to advance the need for automating network operations. When network managers can move away from firefighting and step into a proactive role, mission objectives will be achieved more effectively, critical infrastructure systems will be better safeguarded against cyberattack and the nation will be better prepared for the adoption of emerging technologies.

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is the vice president of federal sales at NetBrain Technologies.

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