Your network is a key part of your business IT system and to keep it running smoothly it’s important for you to perform some basic network management tasks. Network management encompasses a range of tasks and processes as to ensure a resilient and functional network. Mismanagement of a network can severely affect all services, applications, and servers on which a business relies on. Hence it is important that all network management tasks are taken seriously and held to a high standard.
Here we look at 10 crucial network management tasks that follow best practices, process, and some tools, in properly handling the project management of managing the network.
What goes into IT network maintenance?
1. Network Configuration
Getting on with running your company is what matters and having a well-managed network will serve your business better, reducing the time you spend solving problems.
Properly architectured networks are designed and templated in such a way that the network can be further built and updated as needed. The templates are used in two ways; firstly, they assist in configuring and deployment of devices. Secondly, they ensure consistency of configurations across different device architectures.
Today many ICT professionals and firms use Network Management Software to assist in configuration management, provision, discover, monitor, and maintain networks.
2. Network Monitoring and Alerting
Ongoing health management of the network managed devices is important for optimal performance and uptime availability. Closely watching the operational health can be done with the use of network monitoring tools, health monitoring services and protocols. To assist with this the automation of triggering alerts when issues arise can be done by tools such as Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) manager, trap message, syslog, NetFlow, deep packet inspections, and application layer protocols.
3. Troubleshooting and root cause analysis
There are times when the network does not perform optimally or experiences a complete network failure. When this occurs, it is the network administrators’ job to identify and remediate the issue in a fast and timely manner. When such events occur the network administrator must conduct a root cause analysis as to properly document the true cause of the issue and what was done as to resolve the issue. The root cause analysis then can be used as to help place into practice, measures to ensure the issue does not reoccur again or at least reduce the possibility of reoccurrence.
4. Change control management
The production network is a closely watched and monitored system. When network changes are necessary the network admins closely govern the entire deployment from start to finish. This includes dictating who can make the changes, when and how the changes are to occur, the announcement of the changes, and the review of such change requests.
To conduct such changes, admins typically use a service ticketing platform that assists in the management of change requests, scope determination & risk analysis, peer review, pre-deployment testing & validation, implementation to the production network & integrity testing, and finally document the updates.
5. Firmware bug and vulnerability patching
Vulnerabilities are the number one reason for system compromise today. Device firmware management is not carried out as frequently as applications and OSes, however, modern networking equipment is making it easier to update device firmware and therefore is becoming more frequent.
Network admins should put processes in place as to review and update firmware patching as like any other networking device change control management procedures. Leading providers are now adopting central network management tools to deploy firmware updates.
6. Configuration backup and secure storage
Secure storage of backups and the configuration scripts are vital for disaster recovery purposes. It is important these backups are stored outside of the provider’s cloud in the event of a major service outage. There are still legacy network devices still use command-line interfaces for configuration purposes. It is important to also have text copies of these configuration scripts so as to copy into replacement equipment. Limited access and encryption policies should dictate who and how the storage of the backup and the backup itself are to be accessed and managed.
A backup strategy is the 3-2-1 backup rule which reduces a single point of failure. The rule involves: (3) Create one primary backup and two copies, (2) save your backups to two different types of media (local & external hard drive), (1) keep at least one backup file offsite (cloud storage).
7. Policy and compliance validation
Compliance Administrators must not only govern networks but also regularly review and validate network policies to ensure the network is not only optimised for performance, but also from a security, compliance, and regulatory standpoint. Depending on the type of business operation, they will need to ensure compliance with the various standards and industry governance.
Admins must enforce regular review to various ISO standards, Cybersecurity, Privacy Act 1988, PCI, SOX, GDPR and so on. Many automation tools are available to assist in the security and compliance validation process.
8. Network diagrams
Network mapping or keeping network diagrams allows for network admins to scale and grow networks in a safe and co-ordinated manner. Maintaining accurate physical and logical network diagrams assist in the complexities of growing networks. Today many automated network mapping tools are available that can assist in networks that change frequently, however these typically do so with less information. Whereas, manual mapping of network diagrams generally has more information, but are difficult to maintain in a rapidly growing network.
9. Network resiliency
Networks are designed and built with monitoring solutions and high availability in mind. Network mapping software assists in factors such as standby equipment maintenance , cable redundancy, routing protocols in the event of a production hardware failure. Tasks for network resilience include steps to regularly test and evaluate response times in the event of a failure.
Further to network resilience is understanding hardware replacement times, vendor support hours of operations and service delivery methods that include detailed steps to resolve common problems from start to finish. It is also important to ensure proper hardware and software licensing with vendor support contracts.
10. Short- and long-term road mapping
This network management task requires the network administrator to be familiarised with new technologies, as all networks change with time. An understanding when and how emerging new technologies are to be adopted needs to be planned and road mapped out accordingly. Having a network roadmap of short- and long-term architecture assists understanding as to where the network is now, the network capabilities in the near future, and when major upgrades will be required.
Keeping on top of network maintenance
For small businesses managing your network can be an overwhelming task where it need not be. Networking technologies do not change as frequently as other technologies for this reason once the foundational aspects of network configuration have been setup ongoing management tasks become routine.
To carry out network management and maintenance tasks regularly, you can allocate the responsibility to someone in your business and build the tasks into your company’s schedule. If you only leave the tasks to someone who has a spare moment, then there is a good chance they’ll probably never get done!
It is a good idea as to minimise disruption and to always perform network maintenance outside of the normal business hours. Maintenance tasks like hard drives optimisation, running virus scans or testing backup systems can slow down a network server. You may also want to automate these management tasks. For instance, virus scanners can be set to perform a full scan in the evening at a specific time and can do the same for cloud backups. In some cases, the service provider will do most of the heavy lifting for you.
Network management costs
If you don’t have an aptly knowledgeable member of staff to take care of your network management tasks, it’s wise to find an external IT provider like NETCorp IT Solutions who can do it for you.
You may wish to read further on “Managed IT Services for Small Business”
If you already work with an IT provider, then they may offer a network maintenance contract. Dependant on your company size and complexity these costs typically start from $650+ a month for a small company network.
Although this may sound more expensive than self-managing the network, it will most certainly reduce and hassles, and will pay for itself if it prevents just one significant network failure resulting in any downtime.