Nov 14 2022
Data Analytics

Predictive Network Analytics Can Keep Government Agencies One Step Ahead

Machine learning saves administrators time and money by parsing Big Data quickly.

Not long ago, IT departments used only a ping to test the speed and health of their networks. Over the past few years, advanced network analytics changed the game, providing state and local governments keen insight into network performance and where things might go awry.

“Where we came from, there was pretty much nothing. We were manually digging through logs,” says Steve Pollock, network administrator for the town of Newington, Conn. When something went wrong, it required time-consuming sleuthing to figure out why.

Pollock’s shop now uses the network analytics built into the Aruba switches on the town’s network. “It simplifies troubleshooting,” he says.

Network analytics delivers network and operational insight through the collection and analysis of multiple data sources. This includes other adjacent data sources that impact network traffic trends and determine the state of devices on the information pipeline, says Christian Gilby, senior director of product marketing at Juniper Networks.

“Network analytics and domain expertise identify patterns, trends and anomalies, which can be delivered through reporting or real-time event triggers to influence IT and business decisions,” he says.

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What Is Network Analytics?

Network analytics is all about seeing the whole situation. It’s akin to an airport control tower.

“A good analytics tool will provide visibility across the entire network, from the wireless edge to the data center and across multicloud or SD-WAN environments,” says David Savage, vice president of sales for Extreme Networks.

The key is automation via machine learning. Aruba tracks the network activity of more than 100,000 customers in a data lake.

“We pretty much mirror the market,” says Larry Lunetta, vice president of wireless LAN and security solutions marketing at Aruba. “As a result, we can focus on a customer network, profile it, look across data parameters and see if that network is being optimized.”

EXPLORE: Why ports are turning to IT networks for visibility into cargo data.

Machine learning uses standard network behavior as a baseline to spot and report deviations. That information displays on a dashboard that allows administrators to track everything in real time, and network administrators can customize the information they receive.

“If you don’t want to look at something, you can actually set up the rules for what you want to see,” says Brent Potter, a global government strategist for Cisco.

Cisco’s DNA Center product offers a dashboard that allows network design, the creation of user and device policies, and quick provisioning. It also allows modeling of gear changes. “So, we’re going to add this new piece of equipment into the heart of the infrastructure,” Potter says. “What’s it going to break?”

Network operators can preprovision to avoid potential crashes.

What Is Predictive Network Analytics?

Predictive analytics is the use of Big Data, statistical algorithms and machine learning to identify possible future events based on historical information. It’s as close to a crystal ball as you’ll find in networking technology.

“By taking baseline data and applying it to future scenarios, predictive analytics tools can identify when a scenario is likely, such as a potential entry point for unauthorized network access or when unusually heavy network traffic may start to cause issues for users,” Extreme Networks’ Savage says.

Extreme Networks offers a sandboxing platform that creates a digital twin, an artificial intelligence–driven simulated network that includes data traffic. “IT teams can run potential scenarios in a consequence-free environment and determine what actions they would take ahead of time,” Savage says.

DISCOVER: The current landscape for AI in state and local government.

Bear in mind that like a weather forecast, predictive analytics isn’t always perfect.

“Algorithms are mathematical constructs that run across massive amounts of networking data, looking at many variables in your network, applications and internet paths,” writes JP Vasseur, a machine learning fellow at Cisco, in a blog post. “It’s important to understand that predictions may be incorrect, and they may not account for some scenarios.”

So you need to be realistic. “We should set our expectations that there are limits to predictive analytics, but at the same time, not let that keep us from extracting the full potential value that we can obtain,” Vasseur writes.

David Savage
A good analytics tool will provide visibility across the entire network, from the wireless edge to the data center and across multicloud or SD-WAN environments.”

David Savage Vice President of Sales, Extreme Networks

How Does Predictive Network Analytics Help Government Agencies?

The California Department of Water Resources, a Juniper customer, built a new data center to serve 2,500 business applications, 6,000 servers and 13 petabytes of data. The built-in predictive analytics helped the agency reduce power consumption at the data center and other facilities using AI to know when to lower output.

“We have saved over $1 million in operational time and effort,” says CTO Sarb Takhar. “We can prevent problems, and we have better capacity, capabilities and sustainability of the components.”

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is using AI-driven endpoint analytics to simplify network control at the Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, N.C. It’s a feature of Cisco’s DNA Center. Existing technology didn’t provide much information.

“Whenever a new device connected, all the knowledge we had about it was its MAC address, IP address and the operating system it was running,” says Brian Jensen, network analyst for the agency in a profile.Given that most devices run on Microsoft Windows, we didn’t get any differentiating information on whether it was an X-ray machine or an HVAC controller.”

State and local government agencies also face real challenges with staffing, and predictive network analytics can help.

For Pollack in Newington, network analytics makes all the difference in handling problems: “It’s almost like having another person tracking it for you.”

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