Understanding emergent behaviour in computer networks and systems

What is emergent behaviour in computer networks and systems?

The increased complexity of computer networks and systems has given us a range of impressive features – this has arguably revolutionised how we engage with digital solutions.

Much of the functionality in modern networks is not static or fixed, but instead works dynamically with other services or functions within your network. You can view a network as being a set of co-operating protocols that are trying to support network and user operation.

Typically the network configuration has been created on the fly by the interaction of these protocols, but crucially they can change state and this may cause a change in the current network configuration.

This can give rise to operation that is unique to your network and systems. This emergent behaviour sometimes needs to be understood to solve certain kinds of network problems.

What is an example of emergent behaviour?

Emergent behaviour generally refers to a dynamic high-level process born from a combination of simpler processes.

A simple example is where there are multiple links between two sites. Perhaps a primary link and a slightly slower secondary link. Network protocols can watch the primary link and switch to the secondary link if the first one fails. What this can mean is that you can become dependent on a backup link when your primary link has failed.

This provides the benefit of continued (resilient) operation after a failure but may leave you unaware that you are one link away from total failure. Something somewhere needs to understand the effect of the change and warn you that you urgently need to fix your primary link.

You can see how this could lead to unexpected operation and how dynamic issues that emerge from a network can produce problems. On top of this, emergent behaviour features can be highly unpredictable and very hard to unravel without the right knowledge and tools.

The drawbacks of emergent operation

More sophisticated network operation and more complex forms of computing might push the hardware, software, and overall network to their limits. This can have a serious effect on network performance. For example, the system can experience a slowdown, an outage or even a complete crash, while trying to process some state change. If you’re currently experiencing intermittent network outages, then it may well be down to some kind of issue or fault in the emergent behaviour of your networks and systems.

Monitoring emergent behaviour

In order to maintain control of the network and its growing features, it’s essential that your staff knows exactly how to manage the system’s complexities. For this reason, your business might consider a network audit, which examines its IT infrastructure and its performance, as well as looking at how to monitor and support emergent behaviour in your network.

Audit your computer networks and systems

Your team’s awareness of your IT network is crucial in identifying issues, especially when using complex emergent behaviour. Layer3 Systems offers network audits and managed network performance services to deliver impressive device telemetry at every stage of operation. To learn more about our approach to emergent computing, contact our helpful team today.

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