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As Information Technology Changes, the One Constant is Visibility
Sachi Sambandan
Monday, February 1, 2016
The march of progress in technology has never stood still, but these days it feels like it's moving at an incalculably swift pace. The explosion of mobile, social, Big Data and cloud computing has changed the way we work, play and live. These technologies were first disruptive, but are now becoming so pervasive that it is almost difficult to remember a time without them.

Advancements in information technology have underpinned the disruptive business models of the startups that have changed the way we think about retail, telecommunications, transportation, and more. Most of us experience these dynamic shifts as consumers, whether it's riding in a cab hailed from a smartphone or streaming movies on a smart TV. But what consumers don't see are the incredible advances in information technology that have formed the infrastructure of the new, connected world. Networks are faster and larger than ever, the raw power of commodity cloud compute and storage is transformative, and mobility provides amazing possibilities.

These innovations represent an incredible achievement for engineers and computer scientists. But, it's called disruption for a reason-these advancements have created incredible new challenges that must be met, as well as unintended consequences that could not have been foreseen. These challenges are compounded by the fact that end users - be they consumers streaming video or employees at a large enterprise - need technology to perform, with no room for error. While at times the challenges seem endless, there are four core problems facing today's IT professionals - security, manageability, flexibility and agility.

Manageability applies to the sheer scope of IT today. Between cloud, mobile and virtualization, the mass and complexity of infrastructure has grown daunting. Fueling this fire is both the rise of machine-to-machine traffic and the increasing use of encrypted traffic. These complexities have in part created issues in security. While the benefits that have come with cloud and mobility are massive, they have dramatically expanded the threat vector for attackers, who have taken the upper hand in the ongoing cyber war.

While IT is more complex, it also requires more flexibility in its design. The days of going to a single, monolithic vendor and acquiring all that is needed are over with-that is evident both in the makeup of today's infrastructure and in consolidation of the "mega vendors." To succeed today, IT departments are required to assemble the best collection of technologies possible from a wide ecosystem of vendors and their partners. And, if all of this wasn't complicated enough, IT has to be incredibly agile to meet the needs of its uses. This breakneck pace forces them to adopt new technologies sooner rather than later to avoid the creep of Shadow IT, but at the cost of increasing complexity and potentially weakening security.

The rapid pace of change has no doubt created many challenges, and while there is no cure all, each issue is aided by single remedy-visibility. The size and scope of networks, and the new services and applications that run on them, make monitoring network traffic critical. Not only does this network traffic come at a higher volume than ever before, but encryption and machine-to-machine communication create added layers of complexity. As networks grow in importance, our thinking around them needs to become more strategic in terms of operation, optimization and performance. That requires visibility and understanding of everything that is on the network, including a process to identify and monitor all network traffic to head off minor issues before they become major problems.

There's growing consensus in the security community that the perimeter-focused approach is no longer viable, and that enterprises need to focus on discovery and remediation of breaches rather than prevention. This strategy absolutely depends on having visibility into the entire infrastructure-you can't secure what you can't see. A modern security approach depends on the availability and consistency of network traffic data being fed into security applications in real time. Solving the security problem requires that enterprises first solve a networking problem, and it all starts with gaining complete visibility into infrastructure.

As for flexibility and agility, visibility is necessary to harmonize the vast ecosystem of interconnected technologies from a variety of vendors. While some software and hardware is proprietary, packets and network protocols aren't, and visibility serves as the thread that ties this vast ecosystem together. Additionally, once IT gains an understanding of its network, it can eliminate contention for traffic and give IT operations new abilities to address problems and speed operations without disrupting the production network.

Ten years ago, the biggest concern in mobile technology was how to make phones thinner and lighter. Now, most people walk around with a smartphone that's as powerful as a computer. That comparison may seem trivial, but it illustrates just how fast technology changes and how dramatic the results can be. But, as our world grows more interconnected, and our systems grow more complex, there is one constant we won't outgrow, and that is the need for visibility.
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