Enterprise network management is the practice of administering, managing, and operating an extensive business network, often (but not always) with multiple branches in different geographical locations. Network management best practices aim to ensure the enterprise network’s optimum performance, uptime, and security.
Network management best practices frequently change to keep up with new cybersecurity threats, business requirements, and technological innovations. Consequently, enterprises need to adapt to overcome these challenges.
Network management best practices for enterprises
Today’s enterprises face several network management challenges, including configuration management, adopting network automation, and addressing security risks and vulnerabilities. Let’s examine some network management best practices for addressing these pain points.
Gartner reports that with firewall breaches, 99 percent are caused by misconfigurations rather than flaws with the firewall itself. Network configuration management is a significant challenge for enterprises, with every new networking appliance, service, or device adding another configuration for your engineers to learn, implement, and document. The old methods of managing configurations, including creating individual scripts for specific configuration tasks, and building vast repositories of ad-hoc (and often out-of-date) documentation, are no longer sufficient for enterprise networks. However, various strategies address this issue, including network configuration management tools, such as Nodegrid Manager and ZPE Cloud. These tools allow you to manage, backup and restore your configuration in a semi-automated or entirely automated fashion from one centralized location.
Some enterprises, particularly those focused on DevOps, take automated configuration management to the next level using Infrastructure as Code (IaC), which is the concept of managing your network and infrastructure configurations the same way you do your software. This essentially means you write code that describes the desired state of your networking device. Then that code automatically performs the configuration tasks needed to bring your device to that state.
There are cloud platform-specific IaC tools such as AWS CloudFormation, or you can use an IaC solution like Chef Infra that works with on-prem infrastructure and across multiple cloud platforms. However you choose to handle your network configuration management, your focus should be on consolidation, simplification, and automation so you can reduce the chances of a catastrophic misconfiguration.
Enterprise networks are large, complex, and ever-expanding as user expectations grow more demanding. More enterprises take advantage of hybrid network models (using a mixture of private clouds, public clouds, and/or on-premises infrastructures). Now that network management involves many disparate systems and third-party services, it’s no longer feasible to manually perform all your network management tasks.
Automating network management tasks and configurations reduces the chances of human error. Even the best network engineer sometimes makes mistakes, either through negligence or because they have too much on their plate. Maybe they miss a critical alert or some unusual network behavior because they’re in a rush that day, or they accidentally click a button they shouldn’t or forget about an interdependency while installing a patch. Automation removes human error from the equation, ensuring network management tasks are carried out perfectly every time.
Overall, automating your network management decreases the amount of time your engineers spend on day-to-day maintenance tasks. This frees up your network management teams to focus on other projects and goals – for example, implementing and optimizing a zero trust network architecture. For this reason, enterprise business leaders and network teams can both get value out of automating network management.
You should start by looking for opportunities to automate simple, low-risk functions, such as application connectivity checks, device locators, and network configuration checks. As your team gains more experience with network automation, you can start implementing automation for more advanced and business-critical tasks, like firewall rule migration, password resets, and access control list updates. Your existing vendors may offer some form of network automation functionality for your products, or you can invest in a new network management solution with automation to achieve these goals.
Network security should be on every enterprise’s radar right now. Every day, brings more news about another high-profile cyberattack, and hackers are constantly developing more sophisticated techniques to breach your network and avoid detection. Plus, in addition to securing your production network, you also have to worry about protecting your out-of-band (OOB) management network. To adapt to these challenges, you may need to rethink your enterprise’s approach to network security completely.
Zero Trust Security
Currently, one of the best practices for enterprise network security is adopting a zero trust security architecture. Zero trust security follows the principle of “never trust, always verify.” This means, rather than creating a security perimeter around your entire network and trusting any user, device, or application that resides within it, you must verify and authorize every single access request no matter who or where it comes from.
You accomplish this by segmenting your network into micro-perimeters with specific security controls and policies governing who can get through. This gives you granular control over the security of all the data, applications, assets, and services (known by the acronym DAAS) on your network and reduces potential attack vectors. You also need to segment and protect your OOB network if you use one. You should completely isolate your out-of-band network and create separate access controls and policies to keep your OOB network as secure as your production network.
Though fully transitioning to a zero trust architecture is a long and gradual process, each step you take will increase your network security bit by bit. Even if your enterprise can’t commit to a complete zero trust adoption, you can still implement zero trust security controls and processes to shore up your defenses or address particular vulnerabilities.
For example, identity and access management (IAM) technologies for zero trust can solve many account security issues with features like single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), and passwordless authentication. Or you could use a next-generation firewall to segment your network, implement micro-perimeters, and monitor traffic and access requests for individual segments.
Secure Access Server Edge (SASE)
Another leading network security model is the secure access service edge known as SASE (pronounced “sassy”). SASE is a relatively new concept that converges wide area network (WAN) capabilities with network security functions, including zero trust network access (ZTNA) and firewall as a service (FWaaS), into a single cloud-based service model. SASE addresses many of the significant challenges that enterprises face with securing their remote operations (branch offices, work-from-home staff, etc.).
SASE combines WAN/SD-WAN (software-defined WAN) management and network security into one central console, rolling up multiple security features like FWaaS and ZTNA into a single cloud-native service. This allows you to prevent, detect, and mitigate network attacks without the need to install multiple security appliances at every branch or remote site. SASE also connects your remote workers directly to software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud applications, so you won’t need to backhaul that traffic through your leading network’s firewall, reducing bottlenecks and network latency.
SASE helps enterprises secure their remote operations while reducing network complexity. It’s also designed to complement and incorporate the zero trust security model, so these two solutions are not mutually exclusive. Using zero trust security with SASE is the best practice for keeping your enterprise and remote networks secure.
Implementing network management best practices for enterprises
These network management best practices represent the industry-leading solutions for addressing the most common pain points faced by enterprise IT teams. However, your enterprise network is unique, which means you need to develop and adapt your network management strategy around your specific requirements, business goals, and challenges.