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Network check-ups critically important to a business’ health

May 08, 20175 mins
AnalyticsBig DataNetwork Management Software

Network check-ups, like health check-ups, are important. Now, new analytics software makes it easy to check a network’s health and ID issues and remedies.

It’s best practice that every year we see our primary care doctor for a full physical exam. According to the CDC, regular health check-ups can help find problems before they start and improve the chances of treatment and recovery from illnesses. So, with just an annual exam, we should be in great shape, right? Most Americans, of all ages, are in poorer health when compared to their counterparts in comparable countries. So, where’s the disconnect, and what lessons can those of us in the technology industry take away?

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For one thing, the annual exam, where the results may take days to interpret, doesn’t exactly provide timely, actionable information unless symptoms are obvious. The quality of the exam data collected is very health-provider specific, and people frequently wait until some alarming symptom occurs before even seeking a physician’s opinion.

The recent technological advancements in wearable health sensor technology holds the promise of dramatically improving both the quantity and quality of data available for people to monitor their health. Wearables like Fitbits, sleep trackers and heart rate monitors are extremely popular, driving the forecast for the worldwide healthcare wearables market to $18 billion by 2021. As a result, many healthcare providers are investigating ways to incorporate these devices into patent treatment plans to help bridge the gap between fitness tracking for fun and actual medical care.

Gathering and analyzing network data

The same can be said for communication networks, which provide the key links for business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions and have become fundamental to almost every business—big or small. Understanding how a mission-critical network is functioning is essential, not just for technical peace of mind, but for the operational success of the company overall. In most networks, there is already a significant amount of performance information that’s constantly being created. In many cases, the information is only stored locally and is frequently discarded unless there is a major failure.

When all we look for are alarms, we see only a fraction of the information available at any given moment, and we lose the ability to connect all the dots in the full context of our larger network health picture. Plainly, the data is there, but we lack the ability to fully assemble, analyze and act on it.

When operators do try and assemble the information, they often wrestle with a collection of software tools that give insights into only small subsets of the overall network. Much like us with our wearable health tech gadgets, they can see only a piece of their network at any given moment, which limits how much preventative action can be taken to avoid disruption to their business.

Operators are craving solutions that can help them maintain network performance and keep pace with user demands for always-on, accessible-anywhere applications: everything from video streaming, to the Internet of Things, to mobile broadband and cloud services. Key to that are advanced tools and resources to equip them to make quick, informed decisions about how to optimize network utilization and performance. And to achieve speed and simplicity, they need the ability to visualize and integrate network and service management, as well as control and planning capabilities for a single way to manage and present the data collected.

Network data analytics key

Intelligent analytics is the key, and it’s a historically missing piece of this puzzle for network operators to gain a much deeper understanding of the network. As terabits of traffic data traverse the infrastructure, trends and patterns can be detected. If accurately deciphered, these clues can help optimize various aspects of the company’s operations, such as enhancing the customers’ quality of experience, increasing operating efficiency, lowering costs, developing better SLA management and improving the accuracy of business forecasts and resource requirements. And, much like a doctor viewing a patient’s test results, they can also use analytics to take preventative action to mitigate future problems and gain insights to improve planning.

Central to extracting meaningful value from all the information a network can produce is ensuring that the data is easy to collect, centralized in a data lake, properly interpreted and effectively visualized. When network operators can better monitor and understand how their networks are operating, the health check procedure changes from just waiting for alarms to continuous real-time monitoring and feedback. When we can see well in advance parametric changes and degradations, it becomes much easier to determine what requires attention and what remedies might be available to avoid an emergency before it occurs.

So, just like a physical exam looks for telltale signs of small ailments that can later blossom into big problems, this type of continuous network check-up is fast-becoming critically important to ensure both the near-term efficiency and long-term health of a business.


With more than 20 years of telecom experience, Mr. Alexander is currently serving as Ciena’s Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer. Mr. Alexander has held a number of positions since joining the Company in 1994, including General Manager of Ciena's Transport & Switching and Data Networking business units, Vice President of Transport Products and Director of Lightwave Systems.

From 1982 until joining Ciena, Mr. Alexander was employed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, where he last held the position of Assistant Leader of the Optical Communications Technology Group. Mr. Alexander is an IEEE Fellow and was the recipient of the IEEE Communications Society Industrial Innovation Award in 2012. He is currently an Associate Editor for the IEEE / OSA Journal of Optical Communications and Networking. He has served as a member of the Federal Communications Commission Technological Advisory Council, as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Lightwave Technology, as a member of the IEEE / LEOS Board of Governors, and was a General Chair of the conference on Optical Fiber Communication (OFC) in 1997.

Mr. Alexander received both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has been granted 18 patents and has authored a text on Optical Communication Receiver Design as well as numerous conference and journal articles.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Steve Alexander and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.