7 Nov 2013

Do you know everything?

Steve Harriman, Packet Design

Odd question, you might think. For most people, the exception being my teenage daughter, the answer is usually, “No, of course not.”

We all have a repository of knowledge about myriad things. And we all have a pretty good sense for what we don’t know. For example, while I consider myself to be reasonably competent in music theory, the workings of an internal combustion engine, and the rules of golf, I know that I don’t know much about organic chemistry (I’ve forgotten what little I learned in school), how to bake a soufflĂ©, and brain surgery.  

But there’s an infinite amount of knowledge that’s not even in my realm of consciousness—stuff that I’m just not aware of. In this case, I don’t know what I don’t know.  

But network engineers often claim to know everything about their networks. After all, many have gone through rigorous technology certifications and have years of experience under their belts. They have designed and built networks, implemented sophisticated management processes and purchased numerous tools to help them configure, monitor and troubleshoot their networks. So they probably feel justified in making that claim.

Interesting. When it comes to IP and their own networks, they know what they know. And they likely know what they don’t know, even if they might not admit it. But is it possible that there are facets of their network’s operations that they are unaware of because they have never been exposed to them? I.e. Areas where they have no context on which to build knowledge.

Most network managers have an array of tools for device monitoring, flow recording, deep packet inspection, point-to-point latency measurement, etc., etc. Many of these tools feed manager of manager (MoM) consoles like HP OpenView and service management systems like Remedy and ServiceNow. In spite of this wealth of management data, managers rarely have visibility into the layer 3 routing topology and how it changes second by second. In other words, they have no way of capturing and visualizing how traffic traverses the network, and how routing configurations impact service delivery. They cannot know, for example:
  • The exact layer 3 routing topology at any point in time. 
  • The paths that different classes of traffic take across the network.  
  • All VPN routes and when routing prefixes deviate from normal.  
  • When an intermittent problem, like route flapping, occurs and where.  
  • What impact a router configuration change or new service will have on the network. 
  • When services take alternate or secondary routes causing performance degradation.  
In many ways, they are flying blind. 

This year at Africa Com, Packet Design will ask visitors to our booth, “Do you know everything yet?” We look forward to hearing how they respond.

Sometimes, when it comes to your network, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Packet Design will be exhibiting at AfricaCom 2013. Come and meet them at stand F16 by registering for your free ticket to AfricaCom Here