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What is network management?

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Network management refers to both the process of configuring, monitoring, and maintaining a reliable network and the tools and applications used to do so. Successful network management ensures connectivity between devices and the people or software applications that use them. This includes providing optimal performance and security of those networks.

On the process side, successful network management should also reduce management tasks and rely on automation where possible. The entire process is performed with a variety of network management tools which deliver network provisioning, performance monitoring, real-time fault management, and network security monitoring.

Network management begins with the provisioning and maintenance of network devices, including routers, switches, firewalls, and access points, with appropriate settings and policies to meet organizational requirements. Network provisioning should optimize scalability across a computer network. Collectively, this first component is known as configuration management.

Network monitoring and performance management—in which the network infrastructure is continuously monitored for uptime, disruptions, downtime, and outages—is critical to network management to identify bottlenecks and areas for optimization. Monitoring tools observe network performance, measure response times, and assist in troubleshooting to improve network maintenance.

Network management encompasses security management, which identifies vulnerabilities and security threats to protect the network from unauthorized access, data breaches, and security threats. This includes implementing firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), access controls, encryption, and security policies to safeguard sensitive data and resources.

Network provisioning can mean either automating the initial configuration of a network device or setting up a network to be accessed by users, servers in a data center, containers, IoT devices, and more.

Network configuration includes defining the desired state of networks or networked endpoint devices, and then maintaining them in that state over time. Network configuration and network maintenance logically follows network provisioning.

Network security includes establishing security systems and security management protocols that protect networks against attack, damage, or unauthorized access. Network managers or network security administrators establish traffic routing protocols known as firewalls. They set up fault management systems that identify and remediate security, compliance, and configuration risks—all of which is improved by network automation technology. Some network security systems also provide remediation guidance that helps network administrators troubleshoot issues.

Network measurement includes network monitoring and testing, troubleshooting, ensuring availability, and preparing disaster recovery plans. These processes help maintain network performance, which is the speed and efficiency at which data is transferred across network devices. Monitoring network traffic metrics informs efforts to improve bandwidth and response time, optimizing user experience throughout the network. Performance management and performance monitoring can help identify performance issues, minimize downtime and outages, and improve app performance.

Successful network management is about securing and increasing the efficiency of network infrastructure while reducing manual oversight. When network management is well-organized, it should:

  1. Provide proactive performance monitoring and alerting. By continuously monitoring network devices, services, and performance metrics, network management tools can detect issues such as downtime, performance degradation, or security breaches in real time. Alerts and notifications sent to administrators warn of potential problems, allowing them to take corrective action before users are impacted.
  2. Optimize performance. Network management uses traffic shaping, load balancing, and route optimization to ensure optimal bandwidth utilization, low latency, and high throughput user experiences and application performance.
  3. Assist compliance and auditing. Network management can encompass compliance management— helping organizations achieve regulatory compliance and auditing requirements by monitoring and documenting network activity, configurations, and security policies.
  4. Scale and capacity plan. Successful network management can forecast future capacity requirements based on growth projections, network traffic patterns, and performance trends, allowing IT teams to scale network resources, upgrade hardware, and optimize infrastructure ahead of increasing demand to maximize cost-effectiveness.
  5. Provide critical business continuity and disaster recovery. Network management plays a critical role in business continuity and disaster recovery planning by implementing redundancy, failover mechanisms, and backup solutions to minimize the impact of network outages and disasters.  

As automation is an evolution of management, so too is network automation an evolution of network management. Network management systems now rely on automation to manage enterprise network resources and services.   

The difference between network management and network automation lies in the (highly subjective) differences between management and automation. Since there’s no such thing as seamless automation, there’s also no objective point at which management becomes automation. At some point, the human effort required to manage a set of tasks is significantly less than before—this is when management might now be described as automation. Automating network resource and management services allows network operations teams to become more flexible and better support modern business demands.

Underlay network management (or simply underlay networking) involves coordinating hardware devices like hubs, switches, routers, bridges, gateways, modems, and repeaters. Overlay network management (or simply overlay networking) involves building digital connections and managing permissions between end users, applications, or devices—all of which exist virtually as nodes.

For example: 

  • Underlay network management: A network engineer could use Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform to automate the network configuration of physical devices such as servers, switches, routers, and load balancers.
  • Overlay network management: A network administrator could use something like software-defined networking (SDN) to separate network forwarding functions from network control functions in order to create connections between network hardware and digital nodes.

Underlay network management: Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform contains thousands of network automation modules that can help you configure all types of network hardware. It turns network hardware into infrastructure-as-code (IaC), just like Linux® did. Most network switches come bundled with the vendor’s software, but Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform connects and acts on it. So a network engineer only has to know Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform, which commoditizes speciality network interfaces and proprietary hardware.

Overlay network management: 

Managing a network never starts out as a big lift but usually ends up as one. We can help you navigate network management challenges with software that manages underlay and overlay networks, and we can teach you along the way.

Our development model and commitment to open source software development gives you direct access to (and influence over) the innovation and collaboration happening in open source communities—many of which we helped establish.

Red Hat offers interactive labs in a preconfigured Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform environment. You can use these labs to experiment, practice, and learn how to create, manage, and scale network and IT practices efficiently—from rapid development and deployment, to simplified operations and analytics, to consistent end-to-end user experiences.

Keep reading


What is configuration management?

Configuration management is a process for maintaining computer systems, servers, and software in a desired, consistent state. It can be managed by automation.


What is application lifecycle management (ALM)?

Application lifecycle management (ALM) is the people, tools, and processes that manage the life cycle of an application from conception to end of life.


What is an SOE?

An SOE is a standard operating environment, or a specific computer operating system and collection of software that an IT department defines as a standard build.

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