Achieving network resilience through network observability

In the face of sophisticated attacks, natural disasters, and unforeseen pandemics, well-maintained network devices and continuously monitored network systems help maintain business continuity.

Targeted attacks are gaining momentum, with cybercriminals exploiting vulnerabilities that you never thought existed in your network to access sensitive data illegally. While the intent behind such attacks may vary, in most cases, threat actors obtain credentials and gain access to improve their visibility into your network. All you can do is make sure that your networks are reliable and their integrity is never compromised.

This article takes a closer look at how network observability can boost your network's resilience.

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Different types of networks and their complexities

Until a couple of decades ago, organizational networks could be defined by a simple diagram, like star, bus, and ring topologies. Then, as the internet evolved, networks also evolved so that users could connect from anywhere in the world using the internet.

Next, servers started moving to the cloud, increasing the complexity of networks. The need for a dedicated server within an organization's premises diminished. Organizations began to purchase devices in the cloud as required.

However, most organizations still have a dedicated on-premises network in addition to several cloud-based networks like Cisco Meraki or VMware NSX. A hybrid model of working has become commonplace due to the pandemic, which has increased network complexity by necessitating secure VPN connections.

Network Complexities

Network integrity

On Oct. 16, 2023, Cisco and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued advisories detailing two vulnerabilities affecting Cisco IOS XE devices. The NCSC offered suggestions in case threat actors had compromised a device before the patch fix was implemented, although the extent of the impact was not determined.

In practice, it is possible to overlook a device vulnerability due to the intricate nature of networks. How does this affect the overall integrity of the network? Although there are currently tools available to identify vulnerabilities and apply patch fixes, what happens if the integrity is compromised?

Network integrity refers to the overall trustworthiness, reliability, and security of a computer network. Network integrity is crucial to maintaining the confidentiality, availability, and integrity of information as well as the performance and functionality of networked systems.

If the integrity is breached, an unauthorized individual can gain unrestricted access to all the confidential information stored in your network, such as customer data and financial transactions. The consequences of failing to uphold network integrity are severe; damages can be financial and reputational. Network integrity can be compromised via hardware issues, software issues, unexpected network intrusions, or other ways.

Network integrity

Network reliability

Network reliability, in technical terms, refers to how long an organizational infrastructure functions without experiencing any disruptions. If your networks consistently function smoothly, remain stable even under heavy traffic or bandwidth usage, and demonstrate high levels of availability, then they can be considered reliable.

A reliable network has minimal downtime, allowing your employees and customers to access resources without interruptions or lag. You can achieve network reliability through several means. However, one of the most popular options is network redundancy. Network redundancy provides multiple pathways for data traffic, allowing for uninterrupted connectivity even if one route is unavailable or one device fails. This ensures that data can still be transferred, providing a high level of reliability and availability.

Network redundancy can be implemented in two ways. The first involves ensuring the network's ability to tolerate faults, which means having a complete backup of the network operating simultaneously with the main path. However, it is important to be cautious as you must prevent the networks from becoming overly complicated. So, the fault tolerance approach should be used wisely.

The next choice is high availability, which involves devices having failover capabilities. This means that if one device fails, another takes over. While this approach is more cost-effective to set up, it does not ensure the same level of reliability as the fault tolerance method.

Network observability

Network observability provides comprehensive visibility into your network, its components, and the associated metrics. It allows businesses to obtain valuable insights into their networks and identify unnoticed vulnerabilities. By monitoring and analyzing network performance, organizations can promptly detect and troubleshoot issues.

Leveraging AI-driven insights, network observability enables the automatic identification of anomalies in traffic, performance, and security. This proactive approach facilitates the analysis of problems across the entire infrastructure and application stack. Observability can be implemented in any network, regardless of whether it is hosted on premises or in the cloud.

Observability can be achieved through metrics, logs, and traces, which are the three pillars of observability. To manage network operations effectively, teams must gather information from various sources, such as network flows, performance data, network configurations, and logs.

With complete visibility into the network, teams can make quick, informed decisions and identify the root cause of any issue. Additionally, gaining visibility into the user experience makes it easier to troubleshoot in the context of a specific network device, interface, or virtual network function.

The key elements of network observability are:

  • Data collection

    Collecting data (logs, metrics, and traces) from various layers of the TCP/IP stack, such as network and application layers

  • Data analysis

    Applying advanced analytics methods after data collection

    • Data collection

      Collecting data (logs, metrics, and traces) from various layers of the TCP/IP stack, such as network and application layers

    • Statistical analysis

      Establishing initial benchmarks, ascertaining suitable limits, and detecting any deviations from anticipated effectiveness

    • Anomaly detection

      Automating the detection of unusual or suspicious network events that could indicate potential security threats or performance issues

  • Alerting and notifications

    Sending alarms when specific thresholds are breached or anomalies are detected

Network resilience

Despite all your precautions and safety measures, you may find that there is a network outage. When an unanticipated event tests your organization's capabilities to the limits, be it an external threat, a natural disaster, or even failed equipment, you must bounce back quickly. That is what network resilience means.

A resilient network can recover from challenges thrown out of the blue. The key to a strong network is maintaining the principles of integrity, reliability, and observability across all silos.

In practical terms, a resilient network should:

  • Adapt to changes dynamically

  • Possess the ability to route traffic through alternate means by using either fault tolerance or high availability.

  • Detect outages and get back to business-as-usual working capacity quickly.

Network resilience vs. network redundancy

Although the two terms may appear to have the same meaning, network resilience and network redundancy are actually different. While redundancy means having a backup of network components, resilience goes a step further. A resilient network is tried, tested, and tuned to make certain of constant uptime. Apart from route redundancy, it also requires:

In practical terms, a resilient network should:

  • Route diversity, which provides multiple alternatives to prevent congestion or outages.

  • Agility, as teams have to update configurations and upgrade to new technology as required.

  • Disaster recovery, which supports business continuity in case of disasters and bouncing back in case of outages.

  • Reliable and consistent services, which foster customer trust and enhance your reputation.

Achieving resilience through increased observability

Implementing redundancy in today's dynamic networks can be challenging as your networks may become burdensome and unwieldy. In order to maintain a competitive edge, it is crucial to have an agile network that can easily adjust, ensure security against threats, and guarantee uninterrupted operations. Network observability is the answer.

As your networks grow, evolve, and become more inclusive, it is important to remain vigilant in order to prevent any unauthorized devices from gaining access. By incorporating an observability solution, you can achieve comprehensive visibility, obtain valuable insights for capacity planning, and enhance security against potential threats.

Sophisticated attackers exploit device vulnerabilities to gain access to systems. While most device vendors often release patch updates quickly to safeguard the devices against security threats, the onus falls on the network administrators to identify the devices that require updates. In addition to outdated device firmware, threat actors also access networks through credentials that are not stored securely or are not complex enough. In large systems, managing all this becomes impossible without an observability solution.

When it comes to implementing observability solutions that improve resilience, organizations face the dilemma of whether to adopt a reactive approach following an outage or a proactive approach before an outage. Let's consider two examples that show that the cost of lacking resilience shouldn't be taken lightly.

1. A reactive approach to network resilience

Startups typically incur numerous expenses on a shoestring budget. Leadership teams are generally under significant pressure, whether due to time or budget constraints, and prioritize addressing current issues over planning for potential future events. In rare cases, there may be exceptions. What they don't realize is that bringing the systems up after an outage may cost more in terms of effort and customer dissatisfaction.

Zylker, a fictional startup, aims to introduce a product to the market with the main objective of establishing a unique position for itself and generating a reliable source of income. Since startups usually start small, Zylker assumes that a recovery process is feasible as its networks are usually contained within a room.

As the organization expands, devices are incorporated in a haphazard manner, leading to intricate, unnecessary redundancies that may be beyond the comprehension of even a network administrator. As Zylker grows, the absence of resilience becomes a hindrance because of frequent outages that impact both customer satisfaction and employee efficiency. The amount of manual work exceeds the team's capabilities.

Imagine that while the team is dealing with the overwhelming task load, a threat actor tries to gain access to customer data by exploiting a firmware vulnerability. It is highly likely that the attack will go unnoticed by the network administrator due to their focus on mundane tasks. This situation could have severe consequences that exceed the capabilities of the startup. It could lead to reputational damage or, in the worst-case scenario, even the shutdown of the organization.

2. A proactive approach to network resilience

Consider another fictional organization: XYZ, an e-commerce site that implements resilience as a core feature. As the company expands, resilience and observability are incorporated via dashboards that show pertinent data and send proactive notifications if a device is experiencing issues or nearing a service disruption.

When the organization reaches a hypergrowth phase, the observability dashboard starts to reflect the customer experience. Machine learning algorithms become capable of predicting when a device is likely to fail, such as during Black Friday when there is typically a significant increase in traffic. When the organization receives an early warning, it utilizes backup network devices to distribute the workload and guarantee a smooth customer experience.

An organization that prioritizes resilience through observability experiences enhanced customer satisfaction, increased revenue, and uninterrupted uptime while avoiding the expenses associated with outages. This is in contrast to organizations that adopt a reactive approach.

In short, a proactive approach requires:

  • Identifying threats well in advance and avoiding them.
  • Understanding the costs of failure.
  • Improving the MTTR with observability and monitoring.
  • Maintaining the experience that customers seek by making sure that there's no lag anywhere.
  • Evolving the architecture to meet resilience requirements.

How Site24x7 helps

At present, Site24x7 offers:

Network availability and performance monitoring, which uses SNMP to track metrics.

NetFlow monitoring, which is network traffic monitoring. This helps in analyzing the flow of data across a network to gain insights into network behavior, analyze traffic patterns, and identify potential issues.

Network Configuration Manager (NCM), which helps detect incorrect or unapproved device configuration changes.

  • This also includes firmware vulnerability management, which you can use to check if devices have any firmware vulnerabilities and if there are any patch updates available.

  • This also includes a network configuration compliance feature that checks if devices adhere to industry standards (like Cisco IOS, SOX, HIPAA, or the PCI DSS) and any custom organizational policies. Whenever a configuration is backed up in NCM, a validation process is performed to determine if the configuration file meets all the applicable rules and policies for that device. If any noncompliance is detected, an alert is promptly sent to notify the network administrator.

Cisco Meraki monitoring, which helps you keep an eye on the health and performance of your Cisco Meraki cloud controllers, firewalls, switches, wireless devices, and other network devices.

VoIP monitoring, which helps you assess the quality of VoIP services throughout the call path using Cisco IP SLAs.

WAN monitoring, which also uses Cisco IP SLAs to monitor the availability of WAN links and observe the round-trip time between two devices.

Our tool can easily integrate with other applications in your organization and display data across layers in a single window. By monitoring everything in your organization from a single tool, you get increased visibility that helps with root cause analysis. For instance, if a device is down, you can understand if it is due to high bandwidth usage, a device configuration change, or a power failure.

How network resilience helps

As your organization starts implementing network resilience as a feature, your ability to provide reliable, secure services consistently will lead to increased trust and revenue from your customers. By using an observability dashboard, you will be able to monitor relevant metrics and receive alerts for any anomalies. This will allow you to prioritize critical areas and focus on what matters most to your customers.

In the event of an outage, your failover systems will take over, resulting in minimal disruptions for your customers. You will be able to maintain realistic expectations for resilience and understand the importance of reasonable SLAs. With dedicated personnel and systems in place, you will effectively handle chaos and ensure uninterrupted business operations.

  • Consistent delivery of reliable, secure services

  • Increased trust and revenue

  • Anomaly detection

  • The prioritization of critical functions

  • Minimal disruptions, even in the event of an outage

  • Realistic expectations and reasonable SLAs

  • Assured business continuity

The way forward

Achieving resilience through observability can be done by proactively monitoring and analyzing your network's performance and health in real time to detect and mitigate issues before they cause outages. This entails gathering data from different sources within the system, such as logs, metrics, and traces, and then analyzing this data to get insights into the system's behavior.

This process helps organizations gain a better view of their network and identify potential bottlenecks, vulnerabilities, and abnormalities that could impact its resilience. By embracing observability, organizations can benefit in several ways:

  • Early detection of anomalies

  • Faster troubleshooting and root cause analysis

  • Detailed insights

  • Predictive analysis and capacity planning

  • The optimization of their network architecture, infrastructure, and applications to enhance resilience

Organizations need to have strong monitoring and alerting systems, reliable data collection and storage infrastructure, and skilled personnel to achieve resilience through observability. With careful planning and implementation of observability practices, organizations can enhance their network's capacity to withstand disruptions and ensure uninterrupted operations.