What Is Network Management? Best Practices & Automating the Hard Parts

Network management is the process of connecting, servicing, and adding functionality to devices your company uses for work, data storage, and communication. It spans a broad range of potential devices, including laptops, routers, servers, WiFi networks, and cloud infrastructure.

With the rise of handheld devices and workers bringing their own devices to the company network, the domain of network management has grown wider and more complex. Furthermore, companies that use external cloud storage and software providers must manage those connections, how they should be used within your team, and who has access to what information.

Tools can help with managing devices, monitoring their status, and raising alerts. Indeed, many of the trickiest parts of network management can be automated with the right tools. However, ultimately the task of network management revolves around designing and enforcing an accessible, secure, and flexible infrastructure for your company's data and communications.

Three Main Categories of Network Management, Explained

Network management encompases a broad range of topics and tasks. Generally, those tasks break down into three main categories.

1. Network Administration

What gets measured gets managed, and administration is the process of cataloguing and designing solutions for your company's network. At a baseline, network administration begins with getting a handle on what devices you have and how they're all connected.

  • How many laptops or computers are on the company's network? Of those, how many are owned by the company and how many are employees who have brought their own device?
  • What other types of devices are allowed to connect to the company's network? Can/do employees use their phones or tablets to connect to the network? Is there machinery, equipment, or point-of-sale hardware that has access to the network?
  • How do you limit access to the network? What kinds of restrictions are in place on the WiFi network or on hard-wired LAN/WAN? Do you use a firewall and/or a VPN?

On the topic of administration, the first step is always inventorying current assets and policies. Thereafter, you can start to focus more heavily on adjusting policies and upgrading infrastructure and software, always maintaining an inventory of any assets you add to the network.

2. Network Operation

On a day-to-day basis, the job of network management is mostly operational. IT departments need to be sure that the network is secure, fast, and available to all stakeholders who need access. As such, there should be alarms and regular tests for network operations, so you can quickly identify when something goes wrong.

Remote monitoring and management (RMM) software is crucial here for automating the tasks of checking device statuses and accessing devices to troubleshoot issues. With early warning, IT teams can often identify, diagnose, and resolve issues before users are even aware of the problem. But that requires having excellent monitoring with real-time alarms and fast access to affected devices from anywhere.

3. Network Maintenance

Over time, infrastructure degrades and hardware becomes out of date. Moreover, your needs as a company might grow and you'll need to scale network infrastructure to meet demand. In both cases, the final category of network management -- network maintenance -- has a big role to play.

Without tools to assist you, rolling out upgrades across infrastructure can be a huge time sink for IT teams. Just keeping devices up to date or rolling out a software patch across many devices can eat up hours of time if done manually. However, tooling (often built into RMM software already on your devices) can help automate the process of updating or patching software.

When it comes to adding new hardware, network management involves making decisions about how to scale infrastructure in smart ways to meet uncertain future demands. Luckily, provisioning new hardware is also something remote management software can help with. Installation scripts mean that all your infrastructure will share the same versions of software and most of the hard parts of provisioning can now be accomplished in code.

Addressing Common Challenges of Network Management

Working across distributed teams, network management becomes much more difficult. Most IT leaders find themselves struggling to provision new employees remotely or setup new infrastructure or policies for data transfers that will support remote working.

Modern networks have to stitch together myriad software and hardware solutions to make work and communication easy for users. This often means the company network has to seamlessly support data, video, and voice at high speeds across uncertain device and WiFi conditions while also guaranteeing security.

With all this complexity, it can be tough to make good decisions if you don't have good information. Companies need to adopt new solutions to meet the expectations of the market, but they also need to defend from the very real possibility of cyberattack. Luckily, good software can make things like user onboarding, visibility into devices, malware prevention, breach containment, and remote monitoring easier for IT teams so that IT leaders can spend more time thinking about the big picture.

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