How To Thrive In A Post-Covid Era: 10 Predictions For Enterprise Network Infrastructures

How To Thrive In A Post-Covid Era: 10 Predictions For Enterprise Network Infrastructures

An enterprise network serves as the foundation for reliably connecting users, devices and applications, providing access to data across local area networks and the cloud, as well as delivering crucial insight into analytics.

But in the wake of a year that was no doubt shaped by COVID-19 and the disruption it brought to the industry, how have enterprise networks been impacted, and what are the requirements moving forward?

What were previously technology nice-to-haves and future infrastructure intentions, are now swiftly becoming business imperatives.

In this blog, we’ll explore our top 10 predictions for network infrastructure in 2021.

 

1.   Cloud Application Delivery

 

The traditional office-based-model has no doubt permanently changed and flexible working arrangements brought forward by the pandemic will continue. A Boston Consulting study from last year found that 63% of employees want a hybrid model whereby they continue to work from home part of the time.

Organizations will further turn to the cloud for application delivery, placing an investment in remote connectivity and new security functionality.

 

2.   Businesses Turn to Big Data and Analytics

 

The requirement for businesses to be agile, change and adapt is more prevalent than ever, and decision-makers need to identify trends and ultimately stay ahead of the curve through outcomes-based strategies.

Big data is becoming an imperative tool in every organization’s arsenal, though its presence is superfluous without the appropriate means to disseminate and analyse it.

We predict this will drive the recruitment of data professionals and further, the simplification in data management through self-service means, accessible to non-data-professionals.

“It’s really about democratizing analytics. It is really about getting insight in a fraction of the time with less skill than is possible today.” – Rita Sallam, vice president and analyst at Gartner.

 

3.   The Year of Mass Adoption for Cognitive / Artificial Intelligence

 

With big data, comes big responsibility and moreover – big processing requirements, which is where AI will be heavily recruited.

2021 will be the year of mass adoption for AI, as businesses of all levels have experienced a paradigm shift into a digital-first model. Corporate networks have been tested through remote working arrangements, uncovering major reliability issues and security threats. IT leaders are looking for a set and forget solutions that automatically provide optimization and security, which is where software such as Opmantek’s NMIS, opEvents, opConfig and Open-AudIT can assist.

Opmantek software is a key system used by IT operations teams across all industries — it acts as the dashboard of a car and tells them how fast everything is going and lets them know when something is faulty. It even predicts future faults, and that’s a big part of the AI. The longer you run our software, the smarter it gets — it learns about your IT Infrastructure and starts to automatically manage it better and deliver better information to the IT operations team.” said Danny Maher, Chairman of Opmantek .

 

4.   Hybrid Clouds in High Demand

 

Agility, speed, security, scalability and compliance are all considerations for IT decision-makers.

Though, there’s never a blanket / one size fits all solution for every business use case, and so the demand for hybrid cloud environments will continue to grow. The traditional model of cloud providers is that of a one-stop-shop. However, we predict as demand grows; cloud market leaders will introduce greater interoperability and further allow users to introduce cloud tools across their existing on-campus networks. Collaboration between cloud providers may even be on the cards as users demand greater flexibility.

 

5.   Networking Virtualization

 

Network virtualization offers many benefits by automating and simplifying processes, including network configuration flexibility, improved control over-segmentation, speed, increased security and cost savings.

According to research by Spiceworks, 30% of businesses currently use network virtualization technology — and an additional 14% plan to use it within the next 2 years.

 

6.   Unified Communication And Collaboration Tools Are Here To Stay

 

End-user adoption is often one of the greatest barriers for IT professionals looking to implement new software. However, seemingly overnight, employees were catapulted into a reality where unified communications as a service (UCaaS) was no longer just an occasional collaboration tool, but rather a necessity of the employment.

We have changed our habits and the way in which we do business. Even as the workforce begin to transition back to office or hybrid office/work from home environments, there’s no doubt that UCaaS is here to stay. Providers will introduce new functionality and continue to diversify their offering to accommodate hybrid working in 2021.

 

7.   WiFi Gets an Upgrade

 

Businesses and consumers alike want things faster, easier and more efficient, and WiFi is no exception. Enter WiFi 6e.

6e not only offers new airwaves for routers to use, but it doesn’t require overlapping signals.

One of the major benefits of 6e is a reduction in network congestion, specifically in areas where users are closely spaced.  As the pandemic continues to unfold, rush hour and crowded spaces are less of an issue, so it may be a waiting game as to when in 2021 we realise 6e’s true potential.

 

8.   IoT (Internet of Things) – More than just Alexa

 

As digital transformation is on the rise, so is IoT and its use cases. A SecurityToday article forecasted that by 2021 there would be 35 billion IoT devices installed worldwide.

IoT is already revolutionizing the way key industries do business, however, healthcare will double down in 2021. Reduced access to face-to-face medical contact has accelerated the need for remote care, and according to Allied Market research – the global internet of things in the healthcare market is expected to reach $332.672 billion by 2027.

 

9.   A Focus on Cybersecurity

 

In light of recent high profile cybersecurity attacks which infiltrated private companies, state and federal organizations by inserting malicious code into trusted software; cybersecurity and secure network monitoring will be paramount.

If you have data or services of value, you need to protect it properly. Keith Sinclair – CTO & Co-founder of Opmantek says, “It is critical to business continuity and data security that you have security controls in your environment to mitigate risk.”

 

10.    Infrastructure Management Software Leveraged

 

Application demands are continuing to grow and networks must respond. Network professionals must find means of simplifying these increasingly complex systems and environments. Here’s where automated network management software will be leveraged.

Opmantek Software serves to augment a network engineering or system administration role. As well as emulating actions that network engineers take within a network management system, it can also perform advanced maintenance tasks, assist in the interpretation of network data and communicate effectively with other digital systems in order to categorise, resolve and escalate potential network issues.

 

 

For more information about Opmantek and the services we provide, get in touch. Our network engineers are available to chat through specific issues you may be facing within your own network environment.

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[E-Book] How To Feed Your Network Monitoring Solution

[E-Book] How To Feed Your Network Monitoring Solution

This E-book outlines how Opmantek approaches the day-to-day concerns every IT Manager has. How to balance the quality, resources and time in your IT Team. Read how our approach can be applied and help you find that balance.

Key Points:

  • Applying Operational Process Automation (OPA) to help reduce the time spent on repetitive processes.
  • Using Open-AudIT, an agentless device discovery and auditing solution, to discover all the devices on your network and audit them.
  • Creating the proof of concept and how to to determine the best candidates for automation.
  • Time savings strategies and solutions recommended by Opmantek.

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Open-AudIT V3.3.0 New Release

Open-AudIT V3.3.0 New Release

Hi All,

Release 3.3.0 of Open-AudIT has some amazing new features, read on for the details. The release notes are available as usual, here – Release Notes for Open-AudIT v3.3.0.

Configurable Device Columns

From 3.3.0 onward, when you view the list of devices (Manage → Devices → List Devices), you’ll notice a small additional control on the upper right. Click it and you’ll see a list of available columns you can display. Click a column name and it will appear. Click a bold column name and it will disappear. If you want that set of columns as your default, click “Save as Default” and every time you view the device list, those will be your default columns. You can also click “Reset to Default” (if your columns are different) to reset them. The default list of columns is in the configuration under the name devices_default_display_columns. If you are seeing a n unacceptable slow down viewing the page, you might wish to limit the retrieved (but not displayed) columns. This is also in the configuration under the name devices_default_retrieve_columns. See the screenshot below.

devices collection 01 - 700

Device Components

Also on the Devices list page, you’ll notice a bar at the very top with a drop down arrow on the right. Click the arrow and you’ll see a list of component types. Click one to see a list of all those items. Be aware this list may be very large so we restrict it to the first “database_show_row_limit” (configuration item) entries. Increase that number to see more. At this stage we have not implemented a GUI for paging, but it is available using the API (or adding to the URL), by specifying limit and offset. So a valid URL might be (for instance) http://SERVER/omk/open-audit/devices?sub_resource=software&limit=200&offset=100. See the API documentation for more information – The Open-AudIT API. The following pages allow you to click links to see this specific entries details, all those entries on a device or the device details itself.

devices collection 02 - 700
devices collection 03 - 700

Comparing Your Database Schema

There is a new entry under menu → Admin → Database called Schema Compare. Running that will show you the schema as it is in your running database and compare it to the schema as shipped with Open-AudIT. If there are any differences, just post them to Questions and we can help you out. For supported customers, just log a support request and we’ll assist ASAP.

Change Log Improvements

Time has been spent to minimize false positive Change Logs being generated. As well as that, we have added two buttons on the Device Details screen (under the left side Actions menu) to remove Change Logs and remove Audit Logs. Using these may help improve database performance where these records are not required. Don’t forget you can always clear the entire tables using menu → Admin → Database → List Tables, clicking either table and hitting the Delete button. And don’t forget about our new configuration items for keeping non-current items and creating change logs. More information on these can be found – here.

Deleting Devices

There is now a configuration item named device_auto_delete. If set to ‘y’ (it is set to ‘n’ by default) when you change a device’s status (either individually or using Bulk Edit) you will get a regular warning “Are you sure?” and if you answer yes, the device and all it’s details will be completely removed from the database. Not just flagged with a status of deleted.

New Discovery Process and Improvements

With the coming release of Open-AudIT 3.3.0 we have implemented a new discovery process that scales even better than previously. Even faster discovery times!

The Discovery Queue

With 3.3.0 we have changed to using the discovery queue, not on a per discovery basis as previously, but on a per IP basis. From 3.3.0 onwards, when you click “Execute Discovery”, the following happens behind the scenes:

  • The server starts a script that calls /util/queue and instantly returns to the web user (or the API user). It starts the shell script and does not wait for a response before returning.
  • The user then continues on using the web/API as per normal.
  • The shell script calls util/queue – this endpoint only accepts requests from localhost. The resulting function does the following:
    1. Check the config for the queue limit. If this has been reached, exit. If it has not been reached, continue.
    2. Pop an item from the queue (locking the queue table as it does so). The item is read from the database, then deleted. If no queue items exist, exit.
    3. Spawn another script to request util/queue.
    4. Execute the item – which on the first time is always “run discovery on subnet”.
    5. When finished, return to #1.

There are (currently) two types of queue entries. The overall discovery entry, and an entry for each IP to be scanned. The second entry is created by the first. So we run the initial discovery, and for each IP we need to scan (that responds, if that option is chosen), we create another entry to scan that device.

We no longer use the discover_subnet.sh or discover_subnet.vbs scripts at all. We now call Nmap directly from within the Open-AudIT code, which frees us up to have one and only one routine (versus a bash and vbscript). It also makes it easier to code – PHP has much easier to use text parsing than bash and vbscript (in my opinion).

Because of the above, we have created a new configuration item called “discovery_limit” and set it to 20 by default. This means when a discovery is run, it will spawn up to 20 processing instances in parallel. Because of this parallel processing of target IPs, discovery is $discovery_limit times faster. Well, not quite, but you get what I mean. The old way ran a discovery and for each target, sequentially, started a scan. Several scans were run at once, but it was still waiting for an Nmap scan, before handing off to PHP to complete the rest. The new way completes the initial scan and loads all resulting devices into the queue to be processed in parallel. At the end of the day, it’s just so much faster.

Sudo SSH Key and Password

Previously we only had support for an SSH Key that used a password, but where that password was also used for sudo. That is obviously not optimal, so as at 3.3.0 you can add a specific ssh key password and a sudo password.

Additional Nmap Option

We have also added a new option to discovery scan options – open|filtered. Previously we used the “filtered” column to check for open|filtered. This change aligns the discovery scan options with Nmap return strings.

Auditing Time Reduction When Using sudo

When auditing a device using sudo, we no longer have to wait for the configuration item discovery_ssh_timeout (previously 300 seconds) to timeout. We now check every 2 seconds for our response and when received, proceed. This has made another large difference to audit times when using sudo.

Windows Users Apache Service

As well as this, there has been a change targeted specifically to Windows Open-AudIT Servers. Because of the issue’s we have run into using the default service account, you will now get a big warning stating you should change the service account to a “real” account. This is because by default the service account cannot access network resources. IE – copy the audit script to thew target and run it. The “old” way of running the script on the Open-AudIT server itself and specifying the target still works and is enabled by a config item – discovery_use_vintage_service, which is set to ‘n’ by default. One reason for this is that the discovery script contains sections that do not and can not work remotely. Think starting an executable. That won’t work as WMI can target the remote machine, but running an executable from the audit script would run it where the script is running – the Open-AudIT server.

The Default Network Address

Because of our new way of running discovery, we no longer need to set the Default Network Address. The scripts are run on the target devices and create a file (as opposed to submit_online=y). That file is then copied to the server and processed, rather than submitted using the URL (that was created from the default_network_address). The only reason to set the Default Network Address for Discovery is if you’re using discovery_use_vintage_service. The now normal use of this is only for the “Audit My PC” functionality.

Auto Delete our Audit Script

Now when discovery runs, the audit script deletes itself on the target, hence we leave nothing present on the target device.

No More “New” Devices Where We Have No Information

We have added a new configuration option called match_ip_no_data. If we discover a device and that IP is already in the database and we have no audit data about that device, assume it is the same device, so do not create another (usually duplicate) device.

SNMP Route Retrieval

We now retrieve the first (configuration item discovery_route_retrieve_limit) routes from a device when using SNMP.

And there’s even more improvements. Make sure you read the Release Notes for Open-AudIT v3.3.0 to stay across it all.

Happy Auditing,
Mark.

COVID-19 Effects On Businesses: Your Business Is Not Dead, But Your Market Probably Is

COVID-19 Effects On Businesses: Your Business Is Not Dead, But Your Market Probably Is

Over this past week I’ve received a number of calls from CEO’s and founders seeking advice on how to navigate through the economic downturn that we are faced with. All businesses will need to change – some more than others – some will be significantly boosted by this period while others will be significantly harmed. In Australia, we haven’t had a recession since 1990/91, so if we do enter recession, the majority of people in the workforce will have never experienced one – I am 50 years old and was at University when Australia had its last recession. For those of us operating in the tech industry, we have experienced several significant economic events – especially the .com crash of 2000 and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. We know what happens during economic slowdown while there are some unique factors at play in relation to COVID-19 also.

 

I’m going to focus my comments towards entrepreneurs and high growth companies (particularly tech companies), but there will be some relevance to all businesses.

Fundamentally what we have with the COVID-19 coronavirus, is a change in the marketplace and without doubt, economic slowdown. There are some unique factors relating to the virus pandemic, but there are also common forces at play that relate simply to an economic slowdown. Some businesses will naturally flourish, for example, if you’re producing products which help people work from home, you’re probably excited at the opportunity, if you’re in a business which requires mass gatherings, e.g. an events business, you might be wondering how you’re going to get through this. Every business has ways they can optimise the outcome for themselves. For some it’s about minimising losses for others it’s about maximising gains. Let’s look at fundamentally how this works.

 

I’m not going to cover off the simple things which we should already know or have read about, but I will talk about some fundamentals I don’t see being written about.

There are two fundamental parts to a business, not to oversimplify it, but a business has operational costs and incomes (which are typically sales).

Let’s start with the two combined together:

 

Cash Burn and OPEX

Quite simply as we all know the difference between the cash in and cash out is your burn rate. If you need to reduce your cash burn, then do it fast. We will all be implementing travel bans etc so those cost reductions will happen naturally. If people are working from home, try and sort something out with your rent to have it reduced or stopped. If you need to cut staff, then try and do it all at once – you don’t want people coming in each day worried, those that are left need to feel safe and positive – they will not feel that if a coworker is getting retrenched every second week (or day). You need to structure your business for the new reality, do not hang on to the past – it’s not your fault and you haven’t failed anyone. Alternatives to cutting staff include reducing all staff salaries, cutting incentive payments (especially for executives – show some good leadership and cut your own and other executive salary and incentives harder than the rest of the staff, it is common to cut exec incentives in full and salaries by as much as 30-40%), don’t forget that an employee’s leave will be paid out if you retrench them so also look at enforced leave (especially leave without pay) or reduced hours for staff in order to keep the team together. Also, remember that you’re going to get some good government assistance too, so factor that in.

 

Cash Incomes and Sales/Marketing 

During an economic slowdown, for most businesses, it is harder to raise capital and it’s also harder to generate sales, however some businesses will flourish in hard economic times.

In summary – your market no matter which side of it you are on has changed so your business needs to change with it.

 

The key on the revenue side (when you have economic slowdown or any other event which produces significant changes to the market) is that it becomes necessary to realign how you are selling your products and potentially which market segments you are selling them to. In the situation that we are in at the moment with COVID-19, we know there are a lot of home workers, pressure on the healthcare system, certain government departments are going to spend lots more and there will be boosts to many online businesses etc.

 

Step 1. Look at who is going to be busier or benefit from this new market – if they are potential clients for you, then target them.

You should also look at how buying processes and decisions change – again this is predictable. There will be less face to face meetings and more virtual. Adapt to online and virtual sales. For many smaller/high growth businesses this is fantastic as you won’t have to compete face to face on sales for the time being.  One clever tactic is to organise a “virtual tour” for one of your rarer people– believe me it works, for example, “our CEO will be conducting Zoom meetings with clients in San Francisco this week, so I’m reaching out to see if I can schedule some time before he moves on to London next week”.

 

As the remote workforce is on the rise it is crucial to stay connected to your business community to enable your growth. Business incubators such as the Gold Coast Innovation Hub are now offering virtual membership options; facilitating continued connections, collaborations, grow, investment opportunities and expansion into global markets.

 

Step 2. Adapt your sales strategies to the new manner in which your potential clients are working.

The other part of the buying process which always changes during an economic slowdown is that more businesses buy things that reduce their costs and less businesses buy things that increase their productivity – look at your potential clients, if they are a net beneficiary in the new market they will likely keep investing in growth – most will be losers (that’s what the slowdown is – net losers) so most of them will be looking to reduce costs. The “losers” don’t actually stop spending, they are happy to spend on products which help streamline their costs and assist in managing their pain.  A lot of products have multiple benefits (I’m sure yours do) and you can reproductise and remarket your products so that they realign with new decision making – especially cost-cutting decisions which are widespread during a significant economic slowdown. In the case of this particular slowdown, there are obvious changes – nobody is travelling, more people are working from home, businesses cutting costs so it’s about realigning and pivoting your marketing and productisation messages, and potentially making some tweaks to your products, but remember, we will get out of the economic slowdown so you are likely to want to focus on your marketing and sales to align with the shift in the buyer’s mindset than completely changing your products.

 

Step 3. Adapt your productisation and your sales and marketing messages to align with the new market.

Channels to market change with new markets also. Look at your resellers or channels to market, in this new market if they rely on face to face sales or mass gatherings at events, then likely they are no longer good channels – if they work mostly in sectors that are being ravaged (e.g. travel) then they may no longer be a good channel – move your sales to channels that make sense to the new market.

 

Step 4. Secure your current sales channels/sales partners if necessary or move your sales channels and partners to those that align with the new market.

 Let’s look at a simple example that everyone can relate to (and specifically steer around a tech business) – a bicycle (and please excuse lots of assumptions below – you should do market testing when repositioning anything).  You’re selling bikes and you’re selling them mostly through your shop and bike clubs. You’re selling awesome bikes, which are light in weight, strong and fast and that’s your main pitch. Your whole market just changed. Bike club memberships are going to drop, as will activity at the clubs – they aren’t the right channel anymore. There is also going to be less foot traffic in the store so you may need to close that or maybe it can survive or shrink – watch and act fast if you need to. You will likely want to be pushing more of your sales through online, social media and referrals. Bike ownership is probably not going to tank – in fact, it is quite possible it will rise as more people work from home and want to take a break and get out on a bike, and as more people look for socially isolated exercise rather than gyms. The benefits of the bike may well now also be that you can use your bike and stay off public transport in order to avoid the virus. Your whole pitch changes. Looking at your product set within your bike range – if you’re selling on socially isolated exercise and avoidance of public transport, it may well be that there is not enough extra benefit of a high-end bike over a low-end bike. The benefits of high-end bikes may now become secondary marketing items (they don’t go away; they just get pushed back). Sales of products like rollers (which allow you to ride your bike indoor at home for exercise rather than go to the gym) may increase and perhaps could be packaged with a bike in a new productisation effort if you expect to see an increase in purchases of home gym equipment including exercise bikes.

 

 

I’m sure you get the idea – your market is probably dead, but you are not – you are simply in a new market.  

 

These are unprecedented times with COVID-19, we know there are a lot of teleworkers, pressure on the healthcare system, certain government departments are going to be under pressure to boosts online businesses and they will need our expertise to do this.

Every business will need to change, Opmantek want to help our community to optimise their outcomes; this is where access to network management support is critical so that Australians can stay better connected.

As a final note – financially at this time – re-do your forecast, especially your cash flow forecast. The economy recovers slower than the virus – look at 12 months to start with.  You need to step back just like you would if you were starting a new company or a new division launching into a new market, look at how the market is reacting and adapt fast. Those that are familiar with agile project management within the software development world – use similar methods in your financials too –be very conscious that your ability to plan twelve months is now a lot lower than it used to be and you need to undertake agile planning and forecasting.

This will be a time of continual change however we do know that these things will be a constant.