The eternal IT stalemate: how network automation can improve collaboration
In theory, IT professionals should be the most adaptable workforce in any organisation. I can’t think of any other department in your average business that deals with as much constant change as IT - working practices and the tools that go...
The rate of change within IT has dramatically accelerated; this is especially true over the past 18 months with the growing adoption of cloud computing, virtualisation and mobile work policies. The pace has quickened even further fuelled by the consumerisation of IT trend sweeping through the corporate ranks. While today’s employees require a seamless working environment allowing them to work wherever they are, whenever they want to and with whatever device they choose, this puts an incredible strain on the IT network infrastructure and the teams powering it.
Order in the front, chaos in the back
Seamless application and data access for the front office requires management of an increasingly complex network involving multiple environments, including cloud, virtualisation, mobility, legacy systems and the management of which is a mounting nightmare. Each piece of the IT environment is interlinked with a host of others, thereby affecting the health of the entire network; individual IT team members often only have knowledge of a part of the whole picture which is now becoming one of the major issues.
This separation of responsibilities worked fine in the days when the IT environment consisted of a small room with a handful of servers, routers and switches, with few entry points to the network from the outside, but in today’s multi-vendor, multi-platform environment, this siloed approach can pose a major threat to business continuity.
Let’s take security as an example. All too familiar to the security staff, a lot of today’s security management affects the network layer. For example, it is the security team that sets internal policies governing best practices that impact network teams. Unfortunately, this is the network manager’s territory. Challenges and frustrations grow when network teams have neither the experience nor time to implement, and security teams have no auditing information to verify that required actions are carried out correctly. Lack of knowledge means that the networking team can’t deliver the proof points the security team needs.
Working in different silos with little transparency on how things tie together can lead to friction between different teams, especially when something goes wrong. While in an ideal world, each member of the IT function would have the necessary training and expertise to work across multiple vendors and technology areas, the sheer size and complexity of today’s technology infrastructure makes this virtually impossible.
Keep off my territory
The reality is that there are times when security managers are required to touch the network manager’s area of responsibility and vice versa, but neither will have the necessary knowledge, information nor experience to effectively deal with the task at hand. The solution appears to be for the different silos to work more closely together sharing information and expertise. However, with IT departments being notoriously stretched for resources, it is unlikely that employees will have sufficient time or knowledge to collaborate with a different team, even if it would mean more efficiency in the long run.
To overcome this problem and make successful collaboration possible, I would propose implementing technology that automates many of the traditionally manual network and security functions. To give an ideal example, the network teams would have the ability to make firewall policy changes quickly in one place and then distribute those changes to a myriad of multi-vendor devices, which not only reduces the time and effort required, but also eliminates the need to make changes to individual devices.
Centralising and automating labour intensive aspects of managing the network will free up time which can be better used by the IT team as a whole to work more collaboratively to secure and strengthen the enterprise’s most valuable asset - the network and access to key applications. This will allow the IT organisation to be seen as a business enabler and a competitive asset.
Steve Nye, executive vice president of product strategy & corporate development, Infoblox