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Network Visibility — The Key to Minimizing Downtime

Yigal Amram By: Yigal Amram October 15, 2018

Every company has become a technology company. No matter what products you sell or what services you provide, networking systems are the backbone for it all.

For business leaders, innovative technology means a more productive workforce and better customer experiences. But for the networking and security pros that support that technology, it means more pressure than ever to maintain availability.

A certain amount of downtime is a fact of life—even if it’s just a few hours in per year for maintenance. Unfortunately, so many companies deal with unexpected downtime incidents that both derail workforce productivity and hurt revenue.

It’s more important than ever to have a plan in place to proactively minimize network downtime and respond to incidents rapidly. First and foremost, that means planning for total network visibility.

The High Costs of Network Downtime

Ideally, all companies would enjoy five- or six-nines availability for every network system across the organization. That would translate to less than 5 minutes of downtime for the entire year—maintenance included.

But that tier of high availability is typically reserved for only the most mission-critical systems. And even then, it’s an expensive feature that can still fail in extreme circumstances.

Whether it’s due to management error, an issue with configuration, an external disaster, or a cybersecurity incident, network downtime can strike when you least expect it. That’s when the costs truly start to add up.

According to an ITIC report, 81% of organizations experience downtime costs of over $300,000 per hour on average. But depending on the actual systems and applications that go down, costs can extend into the millions of dollars per hour.

Different reports will present different findings for the costs of network downtime. The reality is that the costs will depend heavily on the context of your business and the outage.

However, one thing is certain—even the largest enterprises can’t afford to withstand the costs of lost transactions, corrupted data, diminished reputation, and customer dissatisfaction that come with continuous outages.

As we come to rely more and more on network availability, systems and security engineers must find new ways to minimize risk.

Network Visibility as the Foundation for Availability

One of the main reasons that downtime continues to be an issue is that the solutions we put in place—security appliances, performance management systems, monitoring tools—actually contribute to the problem.

Network downtime occurs because our network architectures continue to expand and evolve, becoming more complex for every new system we add. In a perfect world, we’d be able to maintain visibility into every single network link and prevent outage-inducing blind spots.

But budget constraints and port limitations keep us from that perfect world of network visibility. Instead, we have to prioritize traffic and links in an effort to avoid over-utilization and bottlenecks.

Designing your network for efficient load balancing and traffic prioritization isn’t enough, though. All that time and effort to deploy security solutions, performance management systems, and monitoring tools will be for nothing if an unexpected outage occurs.

Instead of reacting to outages, we have to proactively address network issues that could lead to downtime. That’s why network visibility is so important.

Pervasive network visibility includes monitoring and inspection tools supported by components like network taps, packet brokers, and bypass switches. With these visibility components in place, you can ensure that every packet is analyzed by the proper tools.

Unlike when you use SPAN ports for connectivity and visibility, network taps and other dedicated visibility tools eliminate packet loss, enable maintenance/troubleshooting without downtime, and improve service recovery time.

Building a pervasive network visibility layer doesn’t eliminate downtime in and of itself. However, it gives you the insights necessary to proactively address concerns across the entire network. Centralized network visibility is the foundation for service availability and security—the keys to eliminating the costs of unexpected outages.

Achieving Network Visibility with Port Mirroring and Bypass Switches

The best way to ensure you have total network visibility is to design for it from the start. Investing in a network visibility layer is great, but only if you implement it correctly.

That means understanding when it’s best to use port mirroring tools and bypass switches. There are so many different use cases, but these two examples can give you an idea of how to set yourself up for maximum network visibility:

Port Mirroring: Most switches have this feature built in, making it easy to send copies of packets to monitoring solutions for analysis without risking downtime. This approach lets you analyze intra-switch traffic and is best-suited for situations that aren’t time sensitive (remote locations with modest traffic, low-utilization troubleshooting, etc.).
Bypass Switch: While port mirroring is great for out-of-band monitoring, bypass switches are built for inline networking and security tools. This hardware provides failsafe capabilities, ensuring uninterrupted traffic flow on the network even if an inline appliance goes down.

Your combination of port mirroring, bypass switches, network taps, packet brokers, and other components of a visibility layer will depend entirely on your unique network. There are no one-size-fits-all answers.

But finding your perfect combination of network visibility solutions (at the perfect price) doesn’t have to be so challenging. Check out our free white paper, A Guide to Effective Network Visibility, to learn more.

For more information on deploying and optimizing your network security tools for better protection and availability, contact Niagara Networks to arrange a consultation today.

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