The Role of Automation in Network Visibility

By Todd Cain – Senior Engineer, Network Critical

Todd Cain

Today’s modern networks are experiencing unprecedented access, speed and transactional capabilities. Driven by a tidal wave of new technologies like mobile applications, IoT and cloud services, businesses and consumers are depending on reliable network performance  and security levels like never before. For all their  business benefits, these initiatives are introducing new complexities and creating visibility challenges for network and security operations (NetOps and SecOps) teams as they try to ensure network integrity from the core to the edge. As a result, more organizations are deploying advanced security and performance monitoring solutions to help mitigate network anomalies, streamline performance and management, and glean valuable insights into opportunities for improvement.

However, given that network conditions and security threats constantly change, organizations are struggling to keep up. As a result, many are beginning to explore the key role that automation can play in streamlining network management and security processes. For example, automation can enable a network to more quickly respond to changing traffic flows and patterns by automating product configuration changes, which reduces management workloads while making security and performance monitoring more proactive, which ultimately provides significant savings on OpEx costs.

Automation is a game-changer for network security and performance visibility. For instance, it can help NetOps teams engaging in device deployment to eliminate previous requirements for manual configuration and programming. Automation can also reduce the likelihood of a network outage by managing workloads more efficiently across a network. Downtime incidents can be incredibly costly and detrimental for business – just look at what happened to Target back in June 2019 when their point-of-sale system went down for hours. The level of efficiency automation can bring to workload management can prevent these types of outages.

What about security? We all know that cyber attacks are on the rise. Since many of today’s security incidents are made possible by automated processes, SecOps teams must scale their defenses through automated processing using machine learning to synthesize pre-existing threat intelligence data to provide a network defense that automatically responds to new conditions. Automated threat detection and response systems allow security teams to examine the network and quickly identify vulnerabilities. Moreover, once an automated security tool identified a potential threat, it can not only apply the necessary remediation, but it can also help SecOps teams implement the necessary adjustments to reduce further incidents.  

While it’s important to understand the role automation plays in network performance and security management, most of these sophisticated tools are ineffective  without the correct data. This emphasizes the need to ensure that the correct data is being delivered to the right tools, and highlights another level of critical infrastructure – network TAPs and packet brokers. These devices provide access to data that network monitoring and security tools rely on for visibility.

By using a layered approach, these access technologies filter and load balance traffic, feeding critical network insights and packet data to multiple essential networking tools. APIs can help automate packet broker solutions in order to provide security and monitoring tools with correlated data, freeing the analysis tools to perform their functions faster and without as much burden on processing speeds. Instead of tying up network probes and appliances with the task of correlating traffic flows, a properly engineered visibility layer with TAPs and packet brokers can remove that burden so analysis tools can focus on what they’re designed to do: help IT teams better maintain and improve network performance and security.

More sophisticated packet broker technology can receive network packet inputs from physical and virtual TAPs and outside control via APIs, enabling monitoring and security tools to effectively filter and control the data they receive. Deploying TAPs and packet brokers allows non-intrusive visibility and access to data that automated systems need to perform their service. As automation ties these devices together, improves their efficacy and streamlines management, monitoring tools and security appliances will become more efficient.

Having access to the right data is vital to the success of automated network performance and security solutions. If NetOps and SecOps teams can’t rely on the integrity of the information upon which their critical tools are operating, organizations will be unable to tap into the promising business benefits automation can provide. Network access technologies and visibility solutions like TAPs and packet brokers provide the lifeblood of information needed to automate today’s essential security and performance functions. In a modern IT landscape that’s increasingly focused on simplifying complex tasks and processes, NetOps and SecOps teams are only as good as their data foundation.

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