IT Leadership

EXPERT ADVICE

Prime for the Unpredictable With Network Management Tools

When it comes to the preferred avenue for information access, the Internet continues to be the medium of choice. From news to commerce to entertainment, our always-on culture is constantly finding new ways to satisfy its digital fix, placing unknown and sometimes intensive demands on enterprise networks. Although you may be blind to the next performance-impacting service capitalizing on the pervasive connectivity of the Internet, there are top-down and bottom-up approaches to ensure “the next big digital thing” doesn’t cripple your business’ productivity along with your network.

Fans of “Back to the Future” starring Michael J. Fox will remember the look of astonishment one young boy gave his newly modified “skate board” as Marty McFly handed it to him following the town square chase scene. Marty “borrowed” the boy’s orange crate scooter at the onset of the chase, breaking the crate from the front, to serve as his get-away vehicle and avoid being run over by a car full of bullies.

For the next several minutes, the audience is thrilled by a seemingly impossible series of stunts, tricks and gymnastics as a high school kid on a board with wheels avoids harm, capture and eventual ramming by thugs in a convertible roadster. The scene culminates in the bad guys crashing into a truck and being covered by a mound of manure. Marty then skids to a stop, kicks the board up, and hands it back to its mesmerized owner, whose face seems to say, “Wow, I didn’t know a person could do that on a scooter!”

Network administrators are likewise mesmerized by the unforeseen influences and unimaginable ways their users find to connect to exciting new services on a daily basis. In addition to keeping corporate IT services running at top performance, fending off the latest virus or malware, and keeping the corporation safe from the constant barrage of phishing and spam, in the back of an IT manager’s mind there is always the nagging suspicion of what’s next. From runaway viral videos like those from JibJab, to online coverage of catastrophic events, to Rolling Stone concert ticket auctions on eBay, to media frenzies following historic sports moments like the recent Celtics NBA Championship win, the round-the-clock thirst for information makes foreseeing — and planning for — the next network performance-robbing anomaly an act of sheer clairvoyance at best. Recent examples demonstrate the full range and impact these unforeseen events can have on corporate networks.

The Latest Product Craze

Within days of Apple launching the original iPhone, network administrators started experiencing outages on their wireless networks. One report noted that Duke University’s wireless local area network was jammed due to the iPhones flooding wireless routers with IP (Internet protocol) address requests.

This later turned out to not be the case, but each time a new WiFi device hits the market, it can have detrimental effects on existing infrastructures. For example, introducing an 802.11b device into a faster 802.11g network causes an immediate performance impact as the router “steps” back for compatibility.

Transition From Print to Online Media

As Americans are increasingly disenchanted with traditional news outlets, many are turning to the Web for their news.

A recent online poll by We Media/Zogby Interactive found 64 percent are dissatisfied with the quality of journalism in their local communities. Nearly half of the respondents cited the Internet as their primary source news — up 10 percent from just a year ago.

With more people getting news online, catastrophic events like the Minneapolis bridge collapse of last year can precipitate record traffic. MSNBC reported more than 82 million page views for its coverage of the event and more than 11 million views of video streams. Record traffic of bandwidth consuming video is a one-two punch for an unsuspecting network.Social Networking Is Bad for the NetworkIf it’s always on, it’s hard to turn off. Web 2.0, social media and blogs can be a great source of information and a new marketing channel for high-tech companies.

Unfortunately, the ease of accessibility that democratizes these media outlets can also mean lost productivity and bandwidth to corporations.

From their desktops, with only an Internet browser, employees can spend hours in virtual worlds and risk liability for the company. A notorious Facebook example in the UK included a Goldman Sachs trader named “Charlie” who apparently spent over 500 hours of company time on the social networking site within a six-month period. Conservatively, this works out to be four hours per day, or 50 percent of his time.

Taking a Proactive, Top-Down Approach

With both the threats and the sources so varied, trying to plan for all unforeseen circumstances may seem impossible or require a broad range of technologies. While completely mitigating all risks is impractical and cost-prohibitive, devising a workable strategy can be accomplished when you realize the common thread shared by all threats — the network. Regardless of the application, service or hardware being utilized, they all use the network.

By monitoring and managing both device and flow-based performance of your network, you can proactively plan for peaks in access, utilization and bandwidth consumption to keep your business users productive. Utilizing modern network management technology, a properly understood and operational network can mitigate many of the risks and support the business drivers to remain competitive in the marketplace.

From the Bottom Up

The bottom-up approach: what do I have and how is it connected? Regardless of the threat, it will utilize and traverse your network infrastructure. Knowledge of the network inventory and the relationships and dependencies (topology) is foundational and prerequisite to your success. What resources exist, and which are being used? You cannot support what you do not know you have, and automated discovery and management tools keep your inventory accurate up to the second. Beyond automating tedious tasks, compared to staff expense, network management software can be more cost-effective.

Dynamic network access technologies, such as wireless, can change network traffic patterns and demands by the minute. Real-time notification of inventory changes is also critical to determine the source of problematic network events. All network administrators know that the source of 80 percent of problems is change, and that is always the first question asked when responding to a trouble ticket. A device may have been moved, system configuration parameters may have been changed, or its firmware may have been upgraded. Network management systems can keep you apprised of any of these circumstances.

Keeping Your Business Running

While you may not know what the next big event or scenario to cause a strain in your enterprise network will be, there are steps you can take to minimize its impact on user productivity and business efficiency.

Your network is a strategic resource, delivering critical business services to power profitability. From trading floors where US$1 million per minute electronically flows with each transaction, to small and medium-sized businesses where Internet orders drive revenue, a network outage or performance slow-down could be extremely costly, if not deadly.

With advanced network management solutions commercially available today, you can ensure that the infrastructure foundational to your business’ success is always ready for whatever comes your way.


Michael Jannery is President and CEO of Entuity, a leading provider of network management and service delivery solutions.


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