Organizations today are competing on a world stage. This requires them to use technology in order to improve their products and services and ultimately gain a competitive advantage. Supporting these dynamic and growing organizations are increasingly complex networks, which have evolved to include a wide range of devices, cloud resources, and other valuable assets.
As networks grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to troubleshoot network performance issues, stay in compliance with stringent regulations, and, above all, identify security vulnerabilities. That’s why all organizations that want to remain competitive and minimize the risk of costly security breaches must develop a detailed understanding of their network infrastructure by performing periodic network assessments.
What Is Network Assessment?
The term “network assessment” is broad, and it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people in the context of network devices. Many network assessments start with the realization that the network has grown to such an extent that the IT department is no longer sure what is occurring on it or how large it is.
When that happens, the most sensible course of action is to perform a comprehensive review of the entire IT infrastructure to discover what network devices are running on the network and what their individual configurations are. This review may include an in-depth performance and security assessment, as well as a network architecture review, which assesses everything from personnel to processes to technologies currently in place.
Network assessments are typically automated, and they eliminate the burden of manual device inventory and network auditing. Modern network assessment tools, such as SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager, help save time and effort by automatically obtaining up-to-date information on all network devices and making it readily available from a centralized repository, allowing the IT department to support the needs of the organization in other ways.
Why Businesses Need a Network Assessment?
It’s estimated that the average network has over 1,200 applications running through it, with only about 30–40 of those being sanctioned by the IT department. This massive blind spot in network visibility can have a number of adverse effects and negatively impact everything from security to performance to compliance.
It’s a well-known fact that data breaches are on the rise, growing both in frequency and in severity. In 2018, the total number of confirmed data breaches reached 12,449, a 424% increase when compared with 2017. Many data breaches are simply a result of organizations not having sufficient resource visibility, which is becoming harder and harder to achieve as network grow both in size and complexity.
Organizations that are in the dark about their existing network resources and their utilization also find it difficult to plan and implement infrastructure upgrades, adopt new applications, and otherwise secure the technological advantage they need to compete in today’s complex cross-border marketplace.
What’s more, they risk potentially devastating compliance fines for failing to achieve compliance with standards and regulations such as HIPAA, PCI, and others. License management can also become a major pain point, especially with the looming threat of an external license audit and its potential consequences.
In summary, the most important advantages of network assessment include:
- The identification of potential security threats and vulnerabilities.
- Streamlined resource utilization.
- The removal of performance bottlenecks.
- Compliance with stringent regulations.
- The elimination of unsanctioned applications and shadow IT in general.
- And more…
How to Perform a Network Assessment?
A network assessment shouldn’t be seen as a one-time task. Instead, network assessments should be performed on an ongoing basis so that the IT department, and by extension the entire organization, is always in the know about its infrastructure, allowing it to make sound decisions when implementing new technologies or planning any big IT project, such as migrating to the cloud or replacing some hardware that is nearing the end of its lifecycle.
Stage 1: Preparation
To get the most out of a network assessment, it’s important to sufficiently prepare for it beforehand. The C-suite and the IT department should communicate their needs and expectations so they are aligned as closely as possible. At this stage, it’s necessary to enable SNMP (a protocol for collecting and organizing information about managed devices) on network devices and edit access rules on the computers that will be used for the actual assessment.
Stage 2: Assessment
When it comes to the network assessment itself, the most important thing is to use a reliable tool capable of gathering all the information the organization would like to obtain, such as information about network inventory, performance, and security. Of course, it’s possible to use a combination of different network assessment tools but using just one comprehensive network assessment tool saves time and effort.
Stage 3: Post-Assessment
Finally, it’s time to make sense of the gathered information by generating post-assessment reports and reviewing the results. Needless to say, the findings are useful only if they are actually put to good use, so organizations should ask themselves what could be done differently to improve network performance, security, reliability, and so on.
Organizations today can’t risk falling behind their competition, which forces them to constantly evolve their networks as they take advantage of state-of-the-art technologies. However, there are many problems they can run into unless they periodically perform in-depth network assessments to maintain perfect network visibility, including costly security breaches. The good news is that there are many excellent network assessments tools IT departments can use to make network assessments effortless to perform, and many of them are either free or well within the budget of most organizations.
Written by: Payam Pourkhomami, President & CEO, OSIbeyond