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What is network management?

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Network management is the process of controlling the connectivity and configurations between devices and the things that use them, which typically encompasses 2 categories in IT: underlay networking and overlay networking.

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.

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

Network configuration includes defining the desired state of networks or networked devices, and then maintaining them in that state over time. Network configuration 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; network monitoring and troubleshooting; ensuring high availability; and preparing disaster recovery plans. Measuring a network helps maintain network performance, which is the speed and efficiency at which data is transferred across network devices—known as network traffic—to improve bandwidth and response time. Performance management and performance monitoring can help identify performance issues; minimize downtime and outages; and have the auxiliary effect of improving application performance.

As automation is an evolution of management, so too is network automation an evolution of network management. 

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. When that happens, what was once described as management might now be described as automation. 

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: 

Because 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.

Some network management tools

Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform

An agentless automation platform.

Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure

An integrated, software-defined compute and storage solution.

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