Posted by Anna Nicholls on 22-Jun-2020 15:32:35

8 challenges facing a network engineer


As the digital world develops at a rate of knots, today’s networks need to support an ever increasing amount of traffic, which brings an increasing number of challenges to network engineers. From managing traffic spikes, to poor device labelling, we’ve quizzed our team of technical engineers to find out the biggest challenges facing a network engineer. 

Poor network performance

Poor network performance is the bane of a network engineer’s life. And we’re not just talking about slow networks. Although speed is important, so is reliability. In order to keep systems running 24/7/365, networks need to be able to handle spikes in load, providing alternative routes or failovers when a link or a site fails. Active-active network architecture is a great way to overcome this challenge.

Network growth 
As the number of devices attached to a network increases, network engineers are faced with increasing points of failure. Networks need to be scalable to cope with this demand, and systems need to be robust. Security becomes a challenge here, as networks expand and the number of end users, and with it the number of risks, potentially increases too. 

Network perimeters aren’t as clear as they once were, meaning many risks are now outside the control of the network engineer. Threats can enter a network via something as simple as an employee responding to a phishing email. While encryption helps protect a network, it can also make it harder to monitor network activity, making monitoring and managing a network a bigger challenge than it once was. 

4) Device labelling
Mis-labelled servers or switches can cause a real headache for engineers. Particularly on larger networks or in data centres. Sometimes the only information an engineer has, is the IP address - which isn't written on the device; or the serial number - which is often covered by other items in the rack. This could result in huge mistakes. Replacing a drive in the wrong server, for example, would be catastrophic.

5) Configuration and change management
If a device fails, or a change needs to be rolled back and there are no up-to-date backups of device configurations, then this leaves network engineers faced with the often impossible task of retrieving data that’s quite simply - gone. Ensuring that backups are functioning and tested regularly to guarantee restore success, is a constant and very important task.

6) Accurate documentation
Tech changes at a phenomenal rate, and we’re not just talking about headline hitting innovations such as AI and machine learning. Every day, dozens and dozens of changes are made to architectures and networks, and new services and updates are rolled out and pushed live. These changes aren’t always reflected in the latest documentation, which causes headaches for the next engineer to work on that system, slowing down efficiencies and basically wasting time and money.

7) Multi-vendor environments
Multi vendor networks and multi-cloud architectures are commonplace, and are a great infrastructure to have. Not being locked into a single vendor opens up options and opportunities, allowing for continued growth and development. However, these environments can also introduce problems or challenges for network engineers who are faced with different interfaces and commands and often, additional skillsets will need to be brought in to manage these environments.

8) Hardware compatibility
Often, hardware upgrades don’t happen when they should do. This could be down to budget restrictions, and it can bring about the challenge that particular models or versions just don’t play nicely together. This often forces the hand of the upgrade decision maker, but these delayed hardware upgrades could result in a bigger spend in the long run, introducing additional hardware to extend or cope with demand and replacing original kit. 

Written by Anna Nicholls