Building a Stronger Network with Remote Access

For any organisation even at the best of times, it is challenging to maintain a resilient network and keep outages and downtime to an absolute minimum but these challenges have been exacerbated further by the current coronavirus pandemic

With severely restricted access to data centres, edge and colocation sites, the on-going pandemic and resultant lockdowns have made it more difficult than ever for businesses to get engineers out on site to fix and remediate problems.

An urgent need for network resilience

While the advent of COVID-19 has brought significant challenges, it has also highlighted the importance of solving them quickly and efficiently. By raising the risk to corporate networks, the pandemic has taught us that their high availability should be regarded as mission critical to any IT business continuity plan. After all, what is the point of enabling employees to work from home if the corporate network that serves them and allows them to do so, suddenly becomes unreachable?

What is needed in this context is a network that delivers true resilience, in other words, one that helps to keep the mean time to remediate any issue to a minimum, while at the same time keeping any mission critical applications or services up and running and minimising any downtime. Achieving this has been made more difficult through the pandemic by the difficulties businesses have faced in getting IT and engineering out to co-location sites or offices more generally.

Remote access though out-of-band management (OOB) is key here even for tasks as simple as rebooting a piece of equipment or applying a security patch. OOB has moved on significantly in recent years from providing purely reactive emergency only access to get organisations on their feet, to delivering much more proactive approaches to network resilience and increasingly interactive network management, with Network Operations (NetOps) workflows, orchestration and automation.

This kind of approach is expanding fast and that will be key through this pandemic and beyond. It helps provide an alternative path to devic­es located at remote sites when the primary network is down and facilitate access to edge infrastructure to ensure business continuity.

Building a stronger network

So, given the above, how, in a more nuts and bolts fashion, can businesses build a more resilient network in times of crisis like those we are living through today? With a combination of the latest Smart Out-of-Band and NetOps tools, businesses can configure and set up systems on day one, delivering secure provisioning of new locations through the network operations centre (NOC), without having to send an engineer out to site and even before a WAN network has been established. To facilitate this, tools can be made available to automate and orchestrate the NetOps workflow.

That effectively means that organisations can ship equipment to site and using Smart OOB quickly bring the site up via a secure cellular connection allowing for the remote provisioning and configuration of the equipment in-situ. This can deliver huge cost savings for many companies implementing new edge deployments, especially those trying to do so at pace. Then following deployment, if a problem develops that results in a loss of connectivity to the production network and one that cannot be resolved immediately, business continuity can be maintained with organisations continuing to pass any mission critical network traffic across the secure OOB cellular connection.

But Out-of-Band and NetOps in combination is not just about day one provisioning and remote remediation. Organisations can also use the approach to provide resilient ongoing network management during normal operations through always-on access delivered through a secure gateway.

Furthermore, using a separate management plane solution allows organisations to securely monitor and access all devices without impacting normal operations. It’s what we might term a ‘virtual hands’ approach.  Issues can be diagnosed quickly and efficiently; engineers will then be alerted if and when a problem has occurred at a remote site and will then be able to proactively ‘go to’ the device from their home office without having to get in their car or jump on an aeroplane – a very important benefit in the current crisis.

Organisations need a central point of access and management for network resilience or ‘single pane of glass’ that delivers complete visibility and control over the entire network and provides real-time alerts of critical incidents as well as the means to remotely remediate them. It also provides a secure connection via the Out-of-Band path and can act as an engine for the NetOps automation and orchestration functions.

Finding a solution for today and tomorrow 

Looking at the scenario today as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, it is becoming clear that businesses need an approach based around OOB and NetOps. With an always active management plane, organisations can configure, monitor and remediate their infrastructure securely. They can keep their business running during an outage while they fix whatever issues they face and then with the ability to use NetOps automation and workflows at the edge of their network, they can eliminate errors from repetitive tasks and increase efficiency at both data centres and the edge.

Over time, we also see machine learning and AI being used more widely to further enhance network resilience. The journey has really only just started, in many ways, we are still accelerating right now. But the ability and technology to develop a truly resilient network infrastructure is available today and businesses that adopt it can be assured that even in these difficult times and no matter what challenges the future may bring, they can build, manage and maintain networks that are not only more scalable and robust, but also support ongoing business continuity.

About the Author

Alan Stewart-Brown is VP for EMEA at Opengear. Opengear delivers secure, resilient access and automation to critical IT infrastructure, even when the network is down.

Featured image: ©Tanawatpontchur