First let us consider the importance of visualisation and what makes a good corporate ICT infrastructure.
Take an organisation that builds advanced network infrastructure and provides a wide range of services. Such an organisation might deliver a variety of work, lifestyle and leisure-related information services that involve setting up websites and providing a range of services in these areas. Inevitably the ICT infrastructure will grow.
When building and operating key infrastructure for customer-oriented services, many aspects require very careful attention. One is security. Internet security threats are growing more sophisticated and more serious every year, so for web-facing businesses, ensuring secure services is a high priority issue.
But in ensuring security, care must be taken to avoid making networks too complicated. Although many highly effective security devices are available for monitoring networks and detecting and protecting against malware, connecting these to the mirror port of the master switch will spawn a configuration that becomes more complex with each new security measure implemented.
Greater complexity of network environments tends to bring an increased risk of service outages in conjunction with maintenance work or faults, and needs to be avoided at all costs. The answer lies in integrating a range of security devices supported by an architecture that integrates multiple monitoring devices and allows the visualisation of traffic flowing over a network on a wide scale. This will allow the building of an environment that enables detection, prevention and inspection to be carried out centrally.
Such an architecture allows the efficient aggregation of a large volume of traffic while maximising the performance of monitoring devices by making it possible to distribute just the traffic required by the monitoring devices.
Efficient unified monitoring
For many organisations, the decision to deploy network visualisation was triggered by the adoption of security measures. To identify what kind of external attacks an organisation is facing, or what kinds of latent threats may be present in-house, IT needs to identify particular types of traffic among the large volumes traversing the network. Network visualisation is an extremely effective tool for this purpose.
Simplifying the network and aggregating all the traffic on a visualisation solution will avoid the need to touch the production environment when adding new security devices in the future. Fewer devices will bring other benefits as well, such as an improved return on investment.
Applications in areas other than security can benefit from visualisation too, particularly in virtual environments. Unlike conventional physical environments, virtual environments have a complexity of interlinked layers, many aspects of which are difficult to see from the outside.
As virtualisation is extended throughout an organisation, there will be areas that conventional experience will not cover, for instance problems over the time taken to identify the cause of small faults. The monitoring of networks that have become difficult to see due to virtualisation will be an important theme for the future.
Certain vendors are already strengthening functions aimed at virtual environments. Organisations are using their solutions to visualise virtual environments as large as several hundred virtual machines. A common issue facing companies tackling virtualisation is how to visualise traffic that does not reach the physical switch, but turns back within a virtual environment.
Any major infrastructure failure could cause problems for a huge number of customers. To avoid this kind of situation, organisations need to focus their efforts on the visualisation of virtual environments.
Building infrastructure and making effective use of increasingly complex virtual environments becomes more difficult each year. In the past, IT simply bought servers, storage devices and switches and connected them. Now IT professionals face a huge number of choices, including whether to build a physical environment or a virtual environment. The burden on network engineers has grown, and their role has changed. In the future, we will probably have to think about the organisation and reallocation of personnel.
A vision of the ideal infrastructure
Software-defined networks (SDNs) are a current focus of interest. Most vendors are not yet in a position to put SDN into production, but organisations are watching market trends carefully and responding accordingly.
As leading vendors diversify their portfolios in the direction of SDN, they are pledged to support customers in data utilisation and value creation through visualisation, virtualisation and support of SDN. Many different solutions are available, but organisations are urged to review the issues they are facing once more before making their choice. Somewhere, a vendor will be working to provide solutions that help to resolve those issues.
An organisation that deploys all kinds of different devices as a stopgap measure can find itself in all kinds of trouble. But first considering what would constitute the ideal infrastructure, then considering what is required to fulfil this ideal, is a formula that can prevent problems such as growing network complexity. Different companies are no doubt trying to resolve different problems, but it is important to maintain an overall view at all times, even when a problem requires urgent action.
For more information
PR Deadlines, for Gigamon.
Tel: +61.2.4341 5021