Aug 19 2022

What’s Next in Network Analytics?

Network analytics — and increasingly, the more advanced approach of predictive network analytics — delivers more insights so businesses can get ahead of network problems.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to reshape how businesses operate, organizations of all sizes are rethinking the technology they need to support hybrid work. The corporate network has never been more important — or more distributed — than it is today. The network is the critical link for both the customer experience and allowing remote workers to access applications to get work done.

That makes monitoring enterprise network performance more crucial than ever. The emerging field of predictive network analytics promises to make IT and network operations teams more proactive by predicting problems before they occur.

Before the pandemic, IT teams could get a good read on network performance by simply monitoring the main onsite network, but that paradigm is less relevant with so many workers operating remotely. “Between cloud and hybrid work, IT departments need to apply the same kinds of network visibility and analytics to the public internet,” says Kip Compton, CTO and senior vice president of operations for Cisco’s Enterprise Networking business.

DISCOVER: Learn about the key hardware choices to enable hybrid work.

What Is Network Data Analytics?

At its most basic, network analytics is the use of data to monitor the performance, reliability and security of a network, according to Compton.

Mark Leary, IDC’s research director for network analytics and automation, says this encompasses three related technologies or approaches.

One is data acquisition from a variety of sources and metrics within the network. That includes timing data, flow and packet telemetry data, log information and other performance indicators.

Then, there is analysis to determine what that data means in terms of performance, driven largely by artificial intelligence. This includes root cause analysis, anomaly detection, complex correlations and other tools to derive insights.

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The third leg of the stool, Leary says, is automation of both the analysis itself and the actions that derive from it. Automation of network analytics differs from predictive analytics in that it is not predicting when problems might occur, but merely looking at current performance.

“Using data and analytics to see how a network is performing has been around for quite some time, but we’ve noticed that the amount of data being generated today is getting harder to process, as there is just so much more,” says Trent Fierro, senior marketing manager for cloud and AIOps at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. “The ultimate goal is to help IT organizations spot anomalies and trends that provide network, security and application insights that also help the business offer new services to its users while improving existing services.”

What Is Predictive Network Analytics?

If network analytics focuses on using data to look at past performance (and, hopefully, to monitor the current state of the network in real time), predictive network analytics is squarely concerned with anticipating what the future state of the network might be.

Using historical data fed into machine learning models, predictive network analytics looks at network components, resources and the end-user experience to extrapolate when a business might need to do an upgrade or “when you may need to reconfigure the network to avoid a problem,” Leary says. The key is to avoid the problem before an IT team needs to mitigate it, he says.

With network analytics, network managers can see if there is a problem on a network link and change a configuration to achieve better performance, Compton says. However, he adds, that is “fundamentally a reactive response,” in contrast to predictive analytics, which looks at patterns of network behavior to predict future operating scenarios.

For example, there might be a pattern of network overload on Monday mornings as workers all log in at the same time to download email and fire up cloud-based applications. Predictive analytics can anticipate this and give operations teams the ability to take proactive steps to avoid the issue by, say, routing traffic to different network links in advance of the expected spike in traffic.

While not a perfect crystal ball, predictive network analytics lets IT teams “make that change proactively” to deliver a better user experience, Compton says.

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Why Are Network Analytics and Predictive Analytics Important?

Ordinary network analytics data is useful in providing IT teams greater visibility into the state of their network and where problems are cropping up. However, the approach is predicated on a reactive mindset.

As organizations move toward a more predictive model, their IT teams gain efficiencies, experts say. Not only can resources be positioned ahead of time, but by helping IT teams avoid network issues instead of reacting to them, predictive analytics eases the load on IT help desks.

“It really is a force multiplier,” Compton says. “If they could do something as a planned cadence, as opposed to an emergency ticket coming in, it is a radically different level of productivity.”

Instead of focusing on the mean time to repair and shortening the duration of an incident, he says, “all of a sudden you’re in a mode where you’re actually avoiding the incident in the first place.”
“The use of AI and machine learning open the door to a variety of new use cases that stem from finding endpoint connectivity issues to how applications are performing on a network, even as traffic traverses the cloud,” Fierro says. “Traditional analytics usually focuses on a specific task, whereas predictive AIOps [AI for IT Operations] solutions work across your entire network — wireless, switching, WAN, security and applications — to provide a consolidated view.”

Kip Compton
It really is a force multiplier.”

Kip Compton CTO and Senior Vice President of Operations, Cisco Enterprise Networking

What’s Next in Network Analytics?

The network analytics market is evolving to be more predictive. In June, Cisco announced ThousandEyes WAN Insights, which uses aspects of Cisco’s Predictive Networks platform to forecast network conditions and provide recommendations for optimizing SD-WAN performance.

The first step (and the current state of Cisco’s products) is to make predictions about what the network will look like, let IT teams evaluate those predictions and decide whether they want to act on them, Compton says. In the future, the platform may respond automatically based on the prediction.

“If you’re a small company with a small IT team, the ability to automate some of this could be a huge win, and the upside could vastly outweigh the downside,” Compton says. “Perhaps if you’re a large enterprise company with mission-critical or even regulated industry workloads running in your environment, you may have a different approach.”

Fierro notes that Aruba recently added AI-powered endpoint profiling to its solution that “automatically identifies each client connecting to a network with up to 99 percent accuracy for security, as well as bandwidth planning use cases. By tying network and security analytics with automation, IT organizations can eliminate manual onboarding tasks that can save them time and headaches.”

Aruba also expects the market to shift to self-healing capabilities or workflow, Fierro says. “IT organizations will be able to designate where AI can assist in making a network change automatically to pre-empt outages and downtime,” he says.

Looking ahead, IT leaders should consider at what point, in terms of the degradation of a network experience, a user picks up the phone and reports the problem, Leary says.

“If you can use predictive analytics, avoid that problem and mitigate that threat before it becomes visible to end users, that’s a tremendous savings,” he says. “Not only to the IT staff in terms of credibility and service quality, but it’s also tremendous savings in productivity for the end user.” 

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