How to maximize network uptime

Oct. 14, 2016
Maximizing network uptime becomes even more important to any business wishing to survive (let alone thrive) in the coming years.
Frank Williams joined us at the Smart Industry 2016 conference last month, representing Statseeker. Today the CEO digs deep into his enterprise’s new ebook, which provides
guidance to maximize network uptime.

Smart Industry: What is your role with the new offering?

Frank: I defined the eBook, the table of contents, and wrote some of the chapters as well as collaborated with my marketing team on all of the content.

We have authored many white papers on IT/OT connectivity topics, including the impact of wireless, cloud, IoT & IIoT, data analytics and virtualization trends. We know the technology, trends and use cases. You may find it interesting that many of the so called “disruptive” technology trends you are hearing about are already commonly deployed on the IT side of the connectivity equation. Only recently are they being applied to operational (OT) deployments as firms try to remain competitive and relevant in an increasingly more agile and demanding customer base spread across a global landscape.

Senior managers and business owners are beginning to see great benefit in closing the chasm between the current IT/OT network divide, despite the clear difference in their respective mission statements. For example, IT networks are transactional in nature, while OT networks are real-time, with time-series data coming from sensors and controllers. This forces IT/OT professionals to decide what pieces of information the boardroom needs, and what the operations side needs. It’s another level of prioritizing and routing complexity that must be worked out to maximize the benefit from a truly connected business.

Still, the benefits of these trending network technologies closes the IT/OT gap. The result is a more complete and easier-to-deploy sensor-to-boardroom and data-to-information exchange. As OT professionals begin to overcome the challenges of effectively deploying these connectivity-enabling technologies, the adoption rate accelerates. Equally important is the commitment we see in the active engagement of new best practices, policies and procedures. 

From these actions, savvy business leaders are finding alternative operation models that drive new revenue streams, enhance market-capture share and deliver healthier bottom-line results. 

Smart Industry: What is the key to maximizing network uptime / making your network more visible in the modern era?

Frank: Businesses wishing to remain competitive over the next ten years must travel through a more-connected, global work environment. Maximizing network uptime remains paramount and becomes even more important to any business wishing to survive (let alone thrive) in the coming years. 

Aside from a strategic network architecture, maximizing network uptime requires end-to-end network visibility in near real-time. Benefits gained in networks that are tightly aligned with business goals and operating on frameworks of industry best practices will be diminished without state-of-the-art monitoring. The old adage “you can’t manage, what you can’t see” rings more true today than ever, especially in this high-risk age of cyber security. 

“Network down” is an alert IT/OT professionals hate to hear, as this typically impacts one or two significant areas of the business—safety (data and personnel) and/or revenue (market share and profits). The ability to capture data from any part of an organization and instantly turn this into actionable information is the prize.

Smart Industry: Why is the work of network-administration pros getting tougher?

Frank: Talk to any qualified network professional and, sadly, they will admit that more than 50% of their time is spent in ‘fire-fighting’ mode...a reactive posture related to network uptime and general network performance. There is increasing demand from business leaders to have immediate access to information on the health of their business. The maturing of the “connectivity-of-everything,” enabled by technologies such as IoT and wireless, is driving new levels of cost-effective and beneficial business communications aimed at added operational efficiency and greater customer value.

IT/OT pros must understand that management of these emerging technologies is crucial in taming risks while acquiring operational benefits. Most technology changes exponentially, often faster than businesses can easily handle. Keeping up with these changes is challenging. This is why it is important to strategically define the architecture of your network and ensure it is aligned with your business strategy and goals.

There isn’t one holistic approach to solving the challenges that new technology presents. Rather, savvy network admins succeed through:

  • A continuum of research and strategic analysis of the potential value to the business or organization on emerging technologies—perhaps a separate person or team to focus on this strategy.
  • An understanding of how the new technology impacts the organization (in ROI terms that matter), then setting up processes and training to mute the natural friction that occurs with change.
  • Recognition that change is complex and unsettling to most organizations—new-technology integration is best served by strong change-management techniques.
  • Forward thinking firms create “investment maps” to research technologies that keep competition at bay, yet drive operational value into customer touches.

Smart Industry: How great of a problem is data overload?

Frank: Data overload is the key challenge as business leaders push to connect everything. Capturing the right data remains paramount. Modern networks will be enormous, with IoT-sensor networks and wireless devices generating lots and lots of data.

So, how do you know that the data you are capturing is the right data? You need to plan for the data tsunami.

Should you capture all the data that goes through the network”? Probably not. But to maximize network uptime you should capture all network-performance data. This basic operating philosophy will provide greater network-performance visibility and limit untapped actionable data.  

Monitoring solutions provide a real-time window on your network and these solutions are advancing as fast as the technology they monitor. Look for a network-information monitoring (NIM) solution that is agile and state-of-the-art. It must be capable of capturing all the data you want, and store it with the same level of granularity with which it was recorded, not averaged. This is important. Only then will you be able to spot trends, see difficulties arise, and get problems fixed before they become mammoth.

You should also look for a NIM that enables you to set up flexible alert criteria. This way you can ‘manage-by-exception’ the data you want to capture and the data that should trigger alerts. Most NIM’s hold wide user options in this area—the user can define specific thresholds, or compute a different outcome that can alert by comparing multiple data and/or network segments. Alerts can be set for mission-critical (safety/revenue impact) or reduced network performance (affect operational efficiency). Data that is captured and within the band of acceptance don’t get an alert, nor require any of your attention. This means you will be able to concentrate on alerts and trends that really matter, which is especially useful as network connections begin to climb into the millions.

Smart Industry: Why is discipline critical to operating networks at the highest efficiency? Define how you use “discipline” in this respect. 

Frank: While technology plays a large part in keeping the network performing at a high level, a rigorous and disciplined approach to your network policies and procedures will enhance your network uptime. 

Some companies find value in allowing employees to bring their own device (BYOD)—iPods, laptops, etc. While providing the company benefit and the employee convenience, utilizing the BYOD approach opens a whole new exposure to how network performance can be adversely impacted.

A more disciplined approach to change-management, cyber security and network-access policies and procedures must be deployed in this new age of the “connectivity-of-everything.” For example: wireless holds tremendous benefit to networks, but it also increases the attack vector for cyber security threats. Unlike hard-wired connections, wireless can be instantly connected (usually from anywhere in the world) and removed just as quickly from your network. In many instances bad actors can hack your network and disconnect before you realize it. Strict policies must be defined and enforced to ensure you network continues to deliver the benefits it was created to deliver.

Smart Industry: What is the future of connectivity?

Frank: The future of connectivity will significantly drive transformative business behavior. It can’t be about the technology. Organizations must learn how to manage emerging technology that best integrates all aspects of their business (truly a sensor-to-boardroom connection) delivering greater customer value in operationally agile and cost-effective ways. Organizations thinking about these things, without being distracted by the technology, are rewarded with increased market share and stronger stakeholder value. 

Find the Statseeker ebook “Maximizing Network Uptime” here.