In the case of performance and network management, maintaining the status quo may end up getting you more than you bargained for - in the form of service interruptions that can be lethal to your users and deadly to your business. Enterprise networks play a pivotal role in enabling business service management (BSM) and virtualization for companies of all sizes. Operating a network at capacity, beyond its threshold, or with unaddressed issues could be a dangerous silent killer for many unsuspecting enterprises.
There are many common misconceptions and risk factors on the network that can be diagnosed and addressed before they become terminal to the network.
Connectivity is Key
Never before have businesses of all sizes and in all industries been so reliant upon IT to give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Their networks provide foundational connectivity for the latest new technologies that promise the corporation greater productivity and profitability, such as voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP), streaming media, collaboration, mobility, storage area network (SAN), supply chain management (SCM) and virtualization. Internet connectivity has not only made the world smaller by enabling data and voice to traverse the globe instantly, it has also provided a ubiquitous framework to tightly link supply chains of retailers and manufacturers worldwide.
As innovation is the cornerstone of todays business economy, data is the hottest commodity and successful management of that data is key to the innovation equation. IT departments cannot afford to be behemoth cost centers. They need to be quick, adaptable and proactive - and so do the tools of the trade. Network managers can proactively shift their IT departments from the back room to the front lines of innovation.
At the same time, business users are more service-focused and less particular about the underlying technology. They want reliable connectivity to the services that help them get their job done - email for example - and charter the IT organization with the responsibility to deliver. It doesnt matter how IT assembles servers, routers, switches, software or protocols, as long as send/receive functions on demand. A problem in any part of the infrastructure between the user and the service origination point, inside or outside the company, can have consequences that decrease employee productivity, cut off extended supply chains or even stop revenue flow completely.
Routine Physicals for Your Network
More than 80 percent of all IT problems are a result of change.1 As networks have grown in complexity and in strategic importance to businesses, visibility to the change alone is no longer sufficient because the downstream effect of the change can be far more detrimental. It is important that a reliable, proactive network management solution is in place to alert you to any inconsistencies before youre pulled in to do reconnaissance.
Most companies are stuck in reactive mode, yet an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are a range of solutions in use today, from reactive diagnostic tools to end-to-end frameworks. As networks and business systems grow, the time and effort required to use manual script, command line-based approaches or a collection of open source red light/green light tools becomes prohibitive. New technologies and services are added to serve the business, and their focus evolves from reactive - looking back using a diagnostic tool to troubleshoot the problem after a user raises an issue - to proactively using automated processes that alert you about potential operational or performance issues in advance, ensuring service availability and minimal user impact.
Fundamentally, the management philosophy changes from fixing users problems as quickly as possible after they call the support desk to keeping the phone from ringing in the first place. The question becomes, What can I do to ensure 24x7 availability of business services without having to spend my entire day glued to my computer?
A proactive network management solution allows IT operations to match resources to demand. Real-time and historical information is programmatically captured, giving visibility on each assets potential and actual utilization. Detailed inventory information allows confirmation that expected and real configurations are the same. Statistics on operating capacity enable IT administrators to efficiently balance between the requirement for ensured service delivery and expenditure on the underlying infrastructure.
An Apple a Day Will Keep the System Fail Away
A broad range of solutions are available today for network management - from freeware to expensive and complex frameworks. In fact, every network device manufacturer provides a management utility bundled with the purchase. The problem is rationalizing the level of effort or investment required in order to get the desired business outcome from the various tools. To use an analogy: you can build a house using a hammer and a box of nails, but it would be much quicker and more efficient to use a pneumatic nail gun.
Unlike oversimplified tools that only serve as quick fixes for isolated problems, a predictable enterprise-strength network management solution can proactively prevent service interruptions to improve business profitability.
Not Too Hot and Not Too Cold: Keeping Your Network Just Right
One of the key processes that helps enable this shift from a reactive to proactive solution is capacity planning. Capacity planning involves the identification of trends in resource usage and using that information to plan for the projected changes in resource demand. Todays on-demand environment has accelerated the speed of infrastructure change, making successful capacity planning more critical for enring service delivery. Businesses that understand their infrastructure, identify the changes taking place in its usage and identify trends and patterns then have the opportunity to make the right capacity-lanning decisions.
While excess capacity may be inefficient and reduce the return on hardware investment, running with little or no capacity can be downright dangerous and lead to sizable unplanned expenses. Enforcing a capacity planning tool can map existing network inventory in a matter of hours, enabling a company to allocate resources more efficiently than ever before.
If youre a network manager, the success of the sales reps means added stress on the network through stringent service level agreements (SLAs) - creating increasedpressure on the network to deliver business services and value. And as network management continues to become a function outsourced to a managed service provider (MSP), this becomes even more difficult to manage when the network is housed outside the enterprise. Capacity planning is the key to smooth customer ramp-up. Are there enough resources? Are they allocated properly? Is the network ready to handle whatever is needed to meet the SLA for this customer? The right network management technology can make capacity planning a snap, saving a lot of pain and money in the long run.
Building in Redundancy
With advances in hardware and communications protocols, most IT managers are probably pressed to remember the last time they had a complete network outage. However, a false sense of security can cause many to miss the most pervasive and increasingly frequent instability issues. By increasing visibility in the framework, managers can anticipate their networks health without fear. What is a company to do when businesses are operating 24x7x365 and personnel are working 40-our work weeks? Reliance on the network to operate smoothly is no longer an option, but a requirement.
The role of automation in the ongoing configuration and maintenance of management tools has become increasingly important as well. In a world of complex and dynamically changing network deployments - especially with the introduction of service-on-demand offerings - the need for management solutions to track and accommodate these changes with minimal human administrative overhead is becoming increasingly important. Tracking key real-time and historical performance indicators allows the system to establish baselines and identify trends which otherwise would be impossible to catch.
A Side Bonus for Doing Something
In todays IT world, the importance of the network is sometimes clouded by the excitement around VoIP. However, the ROI promised by any of these new technologies presumes the connectivity of the network. The thousands of dollars saved in hardware costs by virtualized servers can be easily negated if every user accessing the enterprise application hosted on that virtual instance now has to wait for their transactions to complete. But the same economic conditions that incent companies to save money through more cost-effective technologies also necessitate doing more with less from a personnel perspective. While IT folks in small to midsized businesses (SMBs) will always wear many hats, judicious selection of network management technology can ensure that the hat is the right size and not a burden to wear.
The best network management solutions are designed to be easy to use and quick to deploy without the customization required of the large frameworks or end-to-end solutions. More importantly, proactive solutions will utilize Web-based dashboards and data export functionality, allowing IT operations staff to build their own management mashups and custom portals as desired. If the operational data is useful to a broader business audience, why should it be held hostage in the management application?
Addressing Tomorrows Issues Today
Through automated, actionable network management intelligence, businesses can set the bar high for IT standards, maximizing reliability as well as profitability. IT departments can now match resources on demand through heightened visibility and access to historical and real-time information. By looking through the wires and addressing connectivity issues, businesses are enabled to send and receive orders as needed before stocks are depleted. Additionally, capacity planning allows for the proper allocation of resources, facilitating maximum ROI. Through proactive management, businesses can utilize best practices to ensure network issues are addressed before they become detrimental to the bottom line.
- Ecora. "Ecora Software Releases Auditor Professional 4.1." BNET.com, February 5, 2007.
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