Business & Technology

Automate Network Management to Accelerate Digital Transformation

By Satish Veerapuneni | May 12, 2020

Over the last 12-18 months, I have talked to hundreds of customers across segments and industries. The two most common themes coming out of these conversations are, first that networks are getting more complex with time, and second, that automation is a strategic topic of interest regardless of the digital transformation project they have in place.

One of the most critical challenges of these increasingly complex and naturally fragmented infrastructures is how to implement an effective security strategy. Distributed and dynamically evolving networks can be a prime breeding ground for cyber risks, leading to frequent network outages. Contributing to this challenge is the fact that network operations teams rarely have clear and consistent insight into what controls and configurations have been setup across the infrastructure, and more importantly, a lack of comprehensive visibility across the network to identify anomalies. This limited visibility and control is the result of having deployed too many independent point products across the various segments of the network. 

The Need for Network Infrastructure Automation

The events of the past several weeks, driven by the need to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, have accelerated digital transformation for many organizations even faster and further. The need to support remote workers by inverting the traditional networking model, where the majority of workers have now been moved outside of the network, has accelerated the need for network operations teams to adopt agile network strategies supported by infrastructure automation.

In fact, a recent Gartner report on "Cool Vendors in Enterprise Networking” had some good data points around agile network infrastructures:

  1. Digital business requires agile networks, but 70% of enterprise networking activities are performed manually. This creates “human middleware” that limits networking scalability and agility, and increases the likelihood for errors. 
  2. The percentage of network activities that will be automated will rise from 30% in early 2020 to 50% by 2023. 
  3. The percentage of enterprises that do pre-verification of configurations will increase to 10% by 2023, which is an increase from fewer than 1% in early 2020. 

These data points help explain why 75% of network outages and performance issues are the result of misconfiguration errors.

In this regard, a network security strategy that prioritizes network automation can help reduce one of the leading causes of cyber risk and downtime—human error and misconfigurations. An integrated network security architecture enhanced with network automation capabilities can easily eliminate the complexity challenge for network operators. 

The Fortinet Fabric Management Center 

Fortinet’s Fabric Management Center combines FortiManager and FortiAnalyzer for effective network operations, making agile network management a reality for Fortinet customers across NGFW, SD-WAN, and IPS, as well as other projects for the organization. This combined solution enables three key use cases:

  • Centralized Management
  • Network Automation  
  • Security Fabric Analytics

1. Centralized Management  

When it comes to network security, disparate products typically cannot share threat intelligence or coordinate responses across an organizational infrastructure. This critical cybersecurity shortcoming is often compounded by a lack of skilled security personnel who are able to manage a wide assortment of disconnected point products. But even large organizations with dedicated IT security staff still have difficulty monitoring the network to keep track of which devices are connected, who has access to the network, and which resources are needed by applications and workflows. 

Figure 1

A centralized management solution with a single-pane-of-glass view, such as that provided by the Fabric Management Center, enables streamlined visibility that reduces complexity to increase visibility and control. It allows network operations teams to monitor data movement and identify anomalous activity, simplifies solution optimization, and centralizes the management of Fortinet enabled NGFW, SD-WAN, IPS deployments from a single location. It also streamlines operations for limited or under-resourced administrators and staff.

2. Network Automation and Orchestration

Automation and orchestration are being increasingly leveraged, especially in enterprises with complex infrastructures. They are used to consolidate configuration and change management for security across complex, hybrid networks—and most importantly, across use cases such as NGFW, SD-WAN, and others.

Figure 2

They are also used by operations teams to actively monitor for anomalies. For example, automation and orchestration can be used to identify irregularities in VPN access in real-time, which is especially critical now that enterprises have had to embrace remote work at an unprecedented scale. This cannot be achieved if security tools have not been properly integrated through a common management framework. The Fabric Management Center enables such automation and orchestration even across complex infrastructures via its built-in connectors and automation hooks, combined with real-time alerts when any network abnormalities are subsequently detected. 

3. Security Fabric Analytics 

Achieving real-time network visibility is not an easy task—especially as enterprises add an increasing number of point products to their already complex infrastructures. Once network teams change course by consolidating point products and leveraging FortiOS for intrusion prevention (IPS), virtual private network (VPN), NGFW, SD-WAN, SD-Branch, and other functions, they can then easily share telemetry data between all deployments and enable real-time visibility of anomalies. 

Figure 3

The Fabric Management Center’s FortiAnalyzer offering enables organizations to leverage FortiGuard Labs’ threat intelligence to identify problems in real-time. FortiAnalyzer helps correlate threat intelligence across the Security Fabric using its built-in analytics engine. It applies risk scoring to prioritize anomalies and shares findings across the infrastructure. These core analytics capabilities are then managed through Fabric Management Center’s unified console view.

Additionally, FortiAnalyzer’s analytics engine powers the visualization of the Security Fabric, enabling operations teams to identify and investigate any network risks in real-time. FortiAnalyzer also comes with built-in dashboards, easily customized reports, and over 720 datasets. These enable everything from easy on-boarding to advanced queries that can be optimized for real-time responses. 

Elevating the Total Value of Network Automation Across the Enterprise

Fortinet’s Fabric Management Center enables enterprise-class automation capabilities while helping network leaders actualize industry-leading benefits, including:

Improved Efficiency. With its single-pane view, FortiManager helps enterprises simplify the oversight of their security infrastructure and automate responses to potential problems.

Reduced Risk. Fortinet’s tracking and reporting features help organizations ensure compliance with privacy laws, security standards, and industry regulations, all while reducing risks associated with fines and legal costs in the event of a breach. FortiAnalyzer tracks real-time threat activity, facilitates risk assessment, detects potential issues, and helps mitigate problems. 

Decreased TCO. As part of Fortinet’s Security Fabric architecture, the Fabric Management Center helps lower TCO by consolidating disparate security management functions. Its FortiAnalyzer component delivers the advantages of advanced analytics and automation capabilities without having to add-on expensive, third-party point solutions. 

Combined, Fortinet’s Fabric Management Center leverages orchestration and automation to increase visibility across complex, hybrid network environments, identify and alert on anomalous behavior, and ensures granular control to reduce network disruption and downtime, whether they are due to human error or malicious behavior. 

Learn more about how Fortinet’s Fabric Management Center enables enterprise-class automation capabilities while helping network leaders realize industry-leading benefits like improved efficiency, reduced risk, and decreased TCO. 

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