Network Tools Consolidation Best Practices for Enterprise IT
Park Place Technologies
Network management tools have proliferated right along with other technologies. As we run full-tilt into the age of AI and machine learning, more and more enterprises find themselves saddled with more network management tools than they can reasonably handle – up to 25 in some extreme cases.
That overload is leading to a natural result – the desire to consolidate. Network tools consolidation simplifies the management process dramatically and delivers other knock-on benefits, including reduced time and hassle for IT. What should you know about the consolidation process, though?
What Is Network Consolidation?
Network consolidation is the reduction of network-connected devices and components, such as cable and PCIe ports. It’s also a reduction in network management tools. As components decrease, so too does the number of management tools in place (since many of these tools are mandated by device manufacturers, not by the enterprises whose networks are being consolidated).
Complexity Drives Demand
Network complexity is the driving force behind the demand for network monitoring tools. After all, the more components there are within a network, the greater need there is for monitoring. So, the converse is also true. Simplicity eases demand. The more streamlined a network, the less need for so many management tools. However, the need for the tools doesn’t evaporate. Instead, we see organizations turning to a unified suite of tools to optimize their network performance.
Unified Network Management Tools
The term “unified network management tools” refers to the process of consolidating tools to the bare minimum. The challenge is that determining where that minimum lies is difficult. That’s because some tools only do one or two things. Others do multiple things, but no tools do it all.
So, organizations are faced with the process of winnowing through their slate of network management tools, determining which to keep and which to lose, and then building a toolbox that contains something for all needs.
Best Practices for Network Toolset Consolidation
Network toolset consolidation isn’t a process where you can cut corners. Following best practices is critical. Below, we’ve mapped out helpful steps so that you can begin cutting out unnecessary tools while keeping those you’ll need for the long run.
Conduct an Inventory of Tools
You can’t determine where you’re going until you know where you are. The first step here is to take an accurate inventory of the tools that you have. This should include vendor, open-source, and in-house tools. However, you must do more than just list what tools you have and where they’re from. You need to know:
- The features, functions, capabilities, and purposes of each tool.
- Where each tool overlaps with others.
- What tools were brought in by a network manager no longer with the organization.
- Tools that don’t offer much in the way of utility or value.
- Which tools are redundant and being used as backups for primary tools.
Carefully Consider Custom-Developed Tools
One interesting trend within the networking industry is that network managers sometimes build their own tools to automate specific functions. While that might seem like a good idea at the time, it ultimately worsens the problem we’re discussing.
During your inventory stage, make sure to carefully consider any in-house tools developed by your managers that serve very narrow purposes. These will likely need to be eliminated.
Timing is another critical consideration. It’s best to make your move when licenses are expiring. You should also consider consolidation when vendors release new versions, as you will have the opportunity to identify new (and needed) functionality, which may let you delete additional tools.
Make sure that every tool you retain also has formalized processes and practices for managing and maintaining it. This ensures that there are documented, codified processes that everyone can follow. That eliminates conjecture and ensures that everyone is on the same page when it comes to tool usage and maintenance.
Seek Out Cross-Vendor Ecosystems
Organizations need a unified solution, not a fragmented landscape. To achieve that, you’ll need to work with each vendor to determine how their tools can be used with data from other vendors. It’s best to ask upfront for a walk-through of how data from their tool can be integrated with data from other vendors so that you can create a unified management platform.
Automation can save time, money, and hassle. It frees IT team members from manual tasks and allows them to focus on other things. However, understand that network automation is not the same as orchestration. Automation works for individual tasks, while orchestration is the arrangement and management of multiple automated tasks into a workflow. However, by automating (and orchestrating when and where necessary), you can reduce the amount of time spent dealing with network tools.
Consolidate Across Other IT Groups
Other IT groups within the organization also use network management tools. Look for ways to consolidate across the entire IT landscape, including DevOps and cybersecurity. It may be that these IT groups have tools better suited to the needs of the entire network. Alternatively, those tools might be superfluous when compared to tools currently in use.
While considering your options, look for tool developers that allow their log data to be used by other platforms to surface important insights, like event correlation, as well as better network management functionality. AIOps tools are just one example of areas where vendor log data can be used in this way.
Benefits of Network Management Tool Consolidation
Why consider network management tool consolidation? It’s all about achieving mission-critical benefits and advantages. These include the following:
- You’re able to increase productivity for the entire IT team by removing unnecessary tools.
- You free information to be used in other areas when you’re no longer bound by manufacturer-specific tools that don’t play well with others.
- You reduce the amount of training required, which in turn allows you to recover valuable time, as well as reduce overall training-related costs.
- A single platform and known tools with codified, formalized processes simplify manageability and streamline workflows.
- With a consolidated view, you’re able to see what’s happening across the entire network at all times, from a single management system, rather than having to switch between different systems.
- You’re able to enhance collaboration and workflows across different IT groups and throughout the entire organization.
- Network management tool consolidation offers improved context for network incidents and reduces the amount of time required to research incident causes and effects.
- You greatly reduce the need for new network monitoring tools, unless those tools not only integrate with your existing platform but also bring new functionality, while also allowing you to do away with an older, existing tool.
Security Concerns Surrounding Network Consolidation
Network consolidation, and network management tool consolidation to an extent, do usher in some security and bandwidth concerns. For instance, network consolidation can create bottlenecks that slow the flow of information through your organization. As network components are reduced, traffic streams must compete for bandwidth/pathways. QoS can help your network capacity management so that performance is maintained.
Some of the security vulnerabilities introduced include leaving Fibre Channel traffic open to malicious activities that affect other traffic. Usually, Fibre Channel traffic moves through a dedicated connection between a SAN and a server. However, with network consolidation, those channels may merge with network segments that handle other types of traffic. Of course, those traffic flows are usually only combined from the server to the converged switch. Using a network flow analyzer here can help detect problems and threats before they become major issues.
Fight Network Tool Sprawl with Entuity Software™
With network complexity on the rise, network tool consolidation is essential to achieve effective IT operations. And though it may seem like a rather daunting task, consolidating your environment’s network tools can actually be rather simple! It’s all about finding the right network monitoring and management solution.
Entuity Software™ from Park Place Technologies offers an all-in-one solution for discovering, monitoring, managing, and optimizing your entire network across countless devices. Representing a solid alternative to multiple disparate network tools, the Entuity enterprise network monitoring and management software is known for its short training time, ease of management and administration, and seamless integration with major framework environments.
Schedule a demo and discover how Entuity Software™ can help your IT team fight tool sprawl today!