Jul 12, 2022

Platform Mindset for Network Services

HARISH M N
SENIOR SOLUTION DIRECTOR, DIGITAL NETWORK AND SECURITY

Till the mid-2000s, when Cloud barely existed, Datacenters were the epicenter of IT operations for enterprises. Datacenters had an enormous amount of computing power, and acted as a gateway to the internet and enterprise applications. Setting up, moving or upgrading them was one of the most herculean tasks. A simple upgrade of hardware would take months to plan, order, and execute.

With the advent of public cloud platforms, this changed radically. While Cloud platforms offered flexible computing space, hyper-automation made spinning up new instances of hardware and software a routine activity and took the time factor out of the equation. This led to a pivotal shift in IT and business agility by tying these to business outcomes and not availability or time taken to resolve. While it took off slow, the ecosystem ensured incessant innovation, enabling anytime, anywhere access ‘as a service’ for anyone. And it is due to these reasons that today it is a major part of every enterprise’s IT strategy.  

Networks today are undergoing this same phase similar to how the cloud environment evolved. 

Until about 5-7 years ago, customers bought network equipment from the large OEMs and were stuck with the hardware, even if a newer network technology was available in the market a few months or years down the line. Technology (e.g., protocols at L3 & L2) was largely proprietary. Customers had very little to no control, and it was expensive and difficult to switch or scale-up.

A few large customers with deep pockets got software engineers to write code on white boxes. This offered control and the ability to add features to innovate independently without depending on Service Providers or OEMs (e.g., Google & Facebook). The emergence of an open-source ecosystem advanced this change which marked the beginning of programmable network devices. (e.g., Arista)

Around the same time, technology emerged focusing on the separation of the control plane and data plane, broadly defined as a Software-Defined Network (SDN).  Customers could influence QoS through traffic switching, application prioritization, network segmentation, etc.

As network technology and products evolved, so has its monitoring and management. Additionally, new capabilities like path visualization, granular visibility of events, and end-to-end flow have also been added from time to time.

While new capabilities bring opportunities, they also come along with their own set of challenges. Network Operations, for instance, have become complicated due to the ever-expanding variety of tools available to manage the legacy and the next-gen technology in the ecosystem. Cisco estimates a third of network managers use 11 or more tools to manage their network.

How does one navigate in this scenario of adopting continuously evolving tools and technology landscape to meet customers’ expectations of control, transparency and simplified operations? And all this while ensuring the network is set up to meet or exceed business goals.

Microland’s platform mindset or Platform First approach is the answer to navigating this scenario.

What does a Platform Mindset mean?

At Microland, we believe in keeping platform at the heart of conducting network transformation and operations. This means:

  • Focusing on user experience, not network uptime as the network is not the goal, business outcomes are
  • Achieving Automated Ops and not process automation to drive 10x benefits instead of incremental benefits
  • Answering primarily through technology and not through humans. Knowledge or skills should be a MicroBot or code on the platform

Characteristics of a Platform

To achieve all the above consistently and proficiently, the platform should have certain characteristics as mentioned below.

  • Vendor Agnostic – Connecting siloes in a hybrid, multi-tenanted world
  • Orchestration and Administration – Collaboration across multiple stakeholders, built-in workflow integration, ease of management, and navigation
  • Modular - Minimize customization and produce quick gains. A way to minimize risk as changes to elements built on top of the platform will not have a cascading impact that requires re-building
  • Open and Extensible – Easy integration of native capabilities with existing and new tools and technology landscape and supporting innovation by embracing new technology
  • Service-Centric – Focus on user experience to drive service enhancement from endpoints to applications
  • Visibility and Transparency – Analytics to actionable insights enabling focus on a continuous cycle of Continual Service Improvement

 

Emerging developments

 

From a technology perspective, software-defined networking is the lowest common denominator to embracing a platform first approach for networks. The evolution of 5G providing autonomy in the transport media is likely to be the next step.

However, innovation in networks is coming from all directions, not just from technology but also to include operations innovation which can have an even more powerful impact on the enterprise.

The 3 key operations innovation developments driving the platform for the networks are:

  • Observability – Continuously observing performance and state of technology and services through fine-grained telemetry coming from multiple sources
  • AIOps – Correlates the ingested telemetry, makes conscious interventions to resolve any undesired change in the state without the user or engineering team realizing it in a ticketless but not undocumented manner
  • NetDevOps – Network configuration has become a piece of code, giving customers the ability to clone, test, execute and reverse changes at scale in a hybrid environment

Benefits

This translates to a hyper-automated world with significant operational and business benefits. We manage infrastructure for one of the largest professional networking companies, and we can confidently vouch that they are early adopters of the next-gen technologies in their unique way and are reaping significant benefits. In the traditional network management practice, the engineer-to-device ratio is around 1:400, with the new approach, this is exponentially reduced to 1:12000. Other benefits include:

  • The operational efficiency goes up by an order of magnitude (10x benefits)
  • The user experience is unfaltering with technology being a self-healing component in the backend
  • Total control of the environment brings in business agility

How can you get there?

Now that we are aware about the benefits, let’s discuss how an enterprise can achieve this?

It is certainly not a sprint but a marathon towards this paradigm shift. While the health, maturity, and standardization of your environment dictate where and how to start, how smoothly, quickly, and efficiently you get to the finish line depends on a partner with proven capabilities.

Microland has been recognized globally by both Gartner and ISG as a Leader in the SDN Transformations and Managed Network Services space. The recognition is due to our ability to be a trusted partner and deliver the highest levels of performance in a manner that increases business capabilities and outcomes for our clients.

Our in-house Network Assurance Platform (NAP) that has driven many a technology and operational transformation is now enhanced to drive Platform First approach. The platform provides the ability to innovate by easily integrating with new technology and dynamic capacity allocation with a single pane of orchestration and administration. Enterprises need a new-age provider like Microland, which is challenging the status quo much like the OGs of the cloud world.  

If you want to achieve sustained and substantial business outcomes, reach out to us at info@microland.com

Reference:

Successful Network Operations in a Cloud-Centric, Software-Defined World with CA Performance Management, An Enterprise Management Associates® (EMA™) White Paper Prepared for CA (October 2016)