Networks serving federal agencies used to be tightly controlled environments where change happened infrequently. But then the mobile era arrived, and the number of connected endpoints nearly quadrupled, bandwidth demands soared and wireless became the norm. This has forced network engineers to make more frequent changes, adding network switches and Wi-Fi access points at a furious pace.
While this has allowed users to accomplish more in more places, it has also triggered significant network sprawl, a condition that can result in overspending on network infrastructure, poor application performance and longer change management cycles. Network engineers need to control sprawl before it starts to affect the productivity of the workers within the agency. Here are three ways to keep a network in line:
1. Prioritize End-to-End Network Visibility
How can a network engineer possibly combat network sprawl if he doesn’t even know what devices are on the network? As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t see.” It’s likely that agencies already have several management tools in place to provide a partial view of the network, such as snapshots of the campus, wireless edge or data center. But a snapshot of the network does not provide end-to-end visibility. Network administrators who want to correlate data to assess network performance must do so manually.
To create a more useful look at their networks, agencies should focus on integrating their various management platforms into a comprehensive dashboard that provides one view: from the data center, across the campus and out to the branches.
2. Inventory Devices on the Agency's Network
The faster a network expands, the more difficult it is for admins to keep track of what is connected to each node. It’s critical to inventory the network and identify every system and device, how they’re used and how they’re interconnected. Several tools are available — both hardware and software solutions — to help accomplish this objective.
This can help IT teams make more informed decisions on whether to upgrade or add a new device. For example, if the Wi-Fi network performs poorly in certain spots, reconfiguring one access point might be a better option than adding additional APs. In addition to on-premises network inventory tools, cloud-based network management solutions often provide excellent reporting tools.
3. Adopt Software-Defined Networking
SDN enables network administrators to create virtual overlay networks. Instead of having to provision new physical networks to accommodate a new application or department, SDN allows admins to build software-based virtual networks that look and act just like physical networks. This technology enables agencies to carve up a single physical network into several virtual ones, similar to the way server virtualization works.
SDN also introduces network function virtualization for other network services, such as security and load-balancing, provisioning them as virtual workloads. Since these are managed through software, network resources can be created much more simply without adding new hardware, and that controls sprawl.