Network software is defined as a wide range of software that streamlines the operations, design, monitoring, and implementation of computer networks. This article explains the concept of network software in detail and shares useful best practices for network software management in 2022.
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Network software is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of software that streamlines the operations, design, monitoring, and implementation of computer networks.
Network software is a fundamental element for any networking system. It helps administrators and security personnel reduce network complexities, and manage, monitor, and better control network traffic. Network software plays a crucial role in managing a network infrastructure and simplifying IT operations by facilitating communication, security, content, and data sharing.
Network software offers useful benefits to organizations. It has become an important tool in facilitating round-the-clock communication and allowing an uninterrupted exchange of information. One of the most significant advantages of network software is its direct correlation with productivity. The centralized nature of network software increases the productivity of the complete system. This helps reduce end-user technical support problems.
For example, if an end user accidentally damages their computer, the chances of losing data are reduced substantially as all its data is already shared on the network. Another key benefit of network software is its ability to enable programmatic management of network resources. This eliminates the need for manual processes, thereby providing a dynamic and efficient network configuration to work with.
Functions of network software
Although, it is important to note that traditional networks were hardware-based and comprised elements such as routers and switches with embedded software. The decoupling of software from hardware, called software-defined networking (SDN), works exceptionally well to simplify the management of infrastructure, making it more adaptable to the constantly evolving course of the tech world. The introduction of SDN has been a turning point and has completely changed the way networking is done.
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Key Components of Network Software
Network software is an advanced, robust, and secure alternative to traditional networking, making the network easier to administer in terms of management, modifications, configuration, supply resources, and troubleshooting. The use of network software makes it possible to administer from one centralized user interface while completely eliminating the need to acquire additional hardware. It offers administrators the option to customize with greater flexibility to change and define the network speed, expand network capacity, and look after security.
To understand how it works, let’s look at the components that frame network software.
Components of Network Software
1. Application layer
The first component is the application layer or the application plane, which refers to the applications and services running on the network. It is a program that conveys network information, the status of the network, and the network requirements for particular resource availability and application. This is done through the control layer via application programming interfaces (APIs). The application layer also consists of the application logic and one or more API drivers.
2. Control layer
The control layer lies at the center of the architecture and is one of the most important components of the three layers. You could call it the brain of the whole system. Also called the controller or the control plane, this layer also includes the network control software and the network operating system within it. It is the entity in charge of receiving requirements from the applications and translating the same to the network components. The control of the infrastructure layer or the data plane devices is also done via the controller. In simple terms, the control layer is the intermediary that facilitates communication between the top and bottom layers through APIs interfaces.
3. Infrastructure layer
The infrastructure layer, also called the data plane, consists of the actual network devices (both physical and virtual) that reside in this layer. They are primarily responsible for moving or forwarding the data packets after receiving due instructions from the control layer. In simple terms, the data plane in the network architecture components physically handles user traffic based on the commands received by the controller.
The application program interface (API) ties all three components together. Communication between these three layers is facilitated through northbound and southbound application program interfaces. The northbound API ties communication between the application and the control layers, whereas the southbound API enables communication between the infrastructure and the control layers.
1. Northbound API
Applications communicate to the controller to present the status of the network infrastructure and request resources based on availability. This communication between the application and the control layer happens via northbound APIs that help instruct what resources the application requires and routes them to the destination in question.
Northbound APIs are majorly RESTful APIs. The control layer decides how the applications are allotted the resources available in the network. Through its automated intelligence, the control layer also finds an ideal route for the application as per its latency and security.
2. Southbound API
The control layer communicates with the infrastructure layer (routers and switches) via southbound APIs. The network infrastructure is informed about the route the application data must move on based on the configurations made by the controller. The controller can control and change how the routers and switches move the data.
A major difference between traditional network software architecture and SDN architecture is that the former’s control and infrastructure layers are integrated. This only allows limited changes to the overall system as the network devices become an obstruction in the logical network traffic flow. On the other hand, SDN separates the control layer from the infrastructure layer and centrally integrates the network intelligence. The centralized and separated operations enable organizations to have greater agility to manage, monitor, deploy, expand, automate, and troubleshoot the network.
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Types of Network Software
There are numerous types of network software available, with most of them being categorized under the communications and security arena. The varieties of network software differ based on their key features and costs. The main role of network software is to eliminate the dependence on hardware by streamlining communications across multiple devices, locations, and systems. Not only are they extremely useful for end-user hardware (laptops, desktops), the addition of software is bound to have a positive effect on the organization’s everyday functioning and operations.
Let’s look at the different types of network software available today.
Network Software Types
1. Network storage software
In many ways, data within networks is like a child. With time, it only grows, and as it does, it requires adequate attention. Soon enough, data needs to be stored spanning multiple locations and a wide range of devices. Network storage software allows businesses to utilize a standard interface that manages countless databases between users or clients. It serves as a good manager of access between various departments or essential communities within an organization. This way, anybody having access can view or retrieve information with just a click, and at the same time, security concerns are also taken care of.
2. Data archiving software
In today’s day and age of dynamic networks spread across various functioning corporate entities, data once misplaced is data lost. Hence, it is vital to take regular backups. As organizations grow and networks evolve in size, it gets especially tricky to save data appropriately. In addition to that, data that needs to be stored increases at a rapid pace, and its management gets costlier. In such a situation, data archiving software is a perfect choice.
Organizations have heaps of data that might not have to be utilized daily but is still essential to be stored for various purposes, one of them being for regular compliance. Data archiving software enables better management of such information and is an optimal solution to reduce costs while ensuring that the data is being protected. However, as a word of caution, archive software does not function the same way as regular standard backups. Hence, it is always recommended to ensure that the archived data doesn’t need to be accessed soon.
3. Patch management software
It is a nightmare for IT employees to install updates on each device individually. Moreover, when a network consists of numerous devices, ensuring the timely installation of updates is not only expensive but often a cumbersome process as well. As the name suggests, patch management software aids in the smoother management of updates across numerous devices on the network through the installation of patches. This makes the process more seamless and enables each machine to download a patch managed by central software and run updates automatically. Patch management software is the more hassle-free and effective way to perform continuous updates across devices and systems in an organization.
4. Security surveillance software
A majority of network software focuses on data storage and linking devices. However, they do not incorporate protection for a network. This is where security surveillance software comes into the picture. It monitors and connects the various security solutions within a network. Specific software is ideal for large networks as it effortlessly links throughout locations and provides credible browser-based live and recorded footage to an organization. On the other hand, better-targeted software works well in protecting vulnerable units by building a network architecture that reduces attack surfaces, thereby keeping components hidden from any malicious parties. This happens through developing outbound-only connections with cloud services and providers.
5. Asset management software
One of the most challenging tasks in any organization is to keep the network up and running efficiently. Achieving this demands greater visibility of the network infrastructure as well as regular tracking and monitoring of essential metrics. That’s where asset management software comes to the rescue. Compared to most of its counterparts, asset management software operates from a centralized server room or hub and is not connected to any hardware. This is good in terms of cost reduction and offers an excellent experience to the users and clients.
6. Deployment and migration software
Managing a network comes with regular upgrades or movement of assets, and this can sometimes become a herculean task. However, it doesn’t have to be so. The use of deployment and migration software aids organizations in making processes such as upgrading systems hassle-free. The software provides an interface that enables easy monitoring of any deployment or data movement between the hardware and databases within the network. It also ensures mandatory checks on compatibility when any data is being moved between regular backups and archives, thereby significantly reducing the chances of data loss.
7. Printer and fax software
Printers and fax machines are indispensable equipment for any working organization. As an organization grows, so does the number of assets involved within its network. Standard options such as Wi-Fi printing might not always be the best choice, especially for big corporations or schools that span across many floors. This software provides an easy-to-use interface that enables the undertaking and maintenance of multiple tasks. That’s not it! With this software, one can easily set IP printing across networks or even deploy updates. What’s more? In some cases, it can also enable organizations to fax or print important documents and correspondence across different locations.
8. Network management software
In a sea of countless options, why should an organization opt for network management software? The reason is quite apparent. Their primary function is to monitor, manage, and troubleshoot any hurdles in network performance across the whole device infrastructure. While a network monitoring software might have some basic options plugged in to troubleshoot, network management software is equipped to manipulate and modify network performance for the better. These software applications are hosted by several industry-leading brands.
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Top 8 Network Software Management Best Practices for 2022
Network software helps a business become more agile and scale its operations while enabling a more secure and centralized data center. The adoption of network software has grown by leaps and bounds across organizations looking to deploy extremely flexible network infrastructure. Despite its rising popularity, its security and management can take a toll on the operations and network teams. For this, organizations need to follow certain best practices to champion the migration, management, deployment, and security of their network software.
Network Software Management Best Practices
1. Start by asking the right questions
Before taking the big leap, it’s best to start by asking important questions. Will your organization benefit from network software solutions? What are its benefits and the challenges that come along? Think about its application based on your organization and sector (IT, healthcare, manufacturing, finance, etc.). Will its migration, integration, and operations affect individual departments in an organization? Whether or not the cost of its updates will be worth the investment and have real merits for customers.
2. Educate your employees
Once you have the answers to the above questions, the next course of action would be to provide the necessary training and support to educate employees, especially key IT personnel, administrators, and operation engineers about the network’s architecture, design, and interfaces, to be well prepared for a successful migration. It’s also important to perform skill assessment and check for knowledge gaps when it comes to the understanding of the control plane and data plane.
3. Plan the pre-migration phase
Correctly charting the pre-migration stage to the T is crucial when transitioning to any new type of network. In this stage, organizations work to understand business application networks, their flows, and dependencies to make a seamless switch to a new network environment. What typically throws organizations off their course are complex network challenges such as network outages and data flow, scale, and performance problems. Hence, it’s essential to plan every step of the move to have the least disruptive transition possible.
4. Know your existing network well
Before proceeding with any type of network migration, it’s important to have a detailed understanding of your existing network, especially when functioning with legacy systems and complicated data structures. What might help here is going through similar industry use cases to get a glimpse of real-life challenges surrounding the network architecture, tools, processes, and dependencies that are likely to determine any network impacts.
5. Consider necessary security implications
Lack of a detailed security strategy can bring an organization to its knees. While the centralization of controls may be the best thing for network administrators, it can also offer a single point of opening for a complete network failure, attacks due to uncontrolled traffic, or the risk of malicious content sweeping through. Security measures such as data packet routing through a single firewall and segmentation are a few examples of extremely competent strategies that one could consider.
6. Develop a robust security management policy
Once you have a security strategy in place, the next step is to develop and implement an ongoing security management policy. The ever-so-dynamic nature of business applications requires administrators to modify network policies and keep track of risk and compliance reporting. It’s necessary to keep in mind that the system must have the capacity to support both SDN firewalls alongside traditional firewalls. An ideal way to handle the security management policy is to adopt an all-around automated security approach.
7. Start small, then build up
To quickly gain the security benefits of enterprise network management, migrating an entire organization’s network software in one go wouldn’t be a smart move. Not only would that be risky but also quite challenging. Hence, organizations are advised to start small, plan and document processes, and take a step-by-step approach to mitigate risks. Once this is done, it can be followed by utilizing additional software providing application optimization and other integrations as and when required.
8. Think of post-migration processes
No matter what, the best thing one can do is always stay prepared for any outcome, be it positive or negative. Start by setting metrics and processes to analyze the post-migration results and validate the target network. It’s imperative to have a backup plan with older log entries if, in case, there arises the need to go back to the previous working configuration. Network emulation and simulation tools are also particularly beneficial to foresee network behavior before real-life deployment.
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A flexible and programmable network is much more manageable in terms of security, maintenance, and faster application deployment. Network software can power networks, even across the smallest offices to large enterprise networks, and is undoubtedly a worthwhile investment for all businesses. The right network software solution provides innumerable opportunities to reduce costs and improve customer experience, from troubleshooting to setting up processes and beyond. Network software is truly the best way to innovate and enhance networks for businesses to grow and thrive.
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