“Finding Problem Source” Tops Troubleshooting Concerns of Network Pros, Study Reveals

Network Instruments’ latest “State of the Network Global Study” reveals serious (and increasing) network analysis issues

Network Instruments (networkinstruments.com) released its second annual State of the Network Global Study on March 31. Among the highlights: new tools for monitoring and optimizing application performance still aren’t enough to help 75 percent of network professionals, who cite “identifying the source of a problem” as their primary troubleshooting concern -- a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

Performance problems are also on the rise; over two-thirds of respondents say they spend at least 25 days per year determining the cause of these issues.

The survey of 592 CIOs, network engineers, and IT managers from around the world was conducted in late January and early February “to find the greatest challenges organizations faced in troubleshooting application performance as well as the amount of time spent at various points in the process,” according to the company.

The study found that among network professionals:

  • Troubleshooting information is still lacking, a problem cited by 31 percent of respondents as a major network concern

  • Ensuring application delivery was the greatest network challenge for one fourth of survey participants

  • Over one-third cited bandwidth consumption issues as the greatest application performance headache; application latency and delay issues were the second most common culprit according to 32 percent of respondents

  • Nearly one respondent in three (32 percent) said his/her organization needed to do a better job troubleshooting sporadic performance errors

  • Security and compliance problems continue to be a problem for three in four people in the study

"Over the last two years, while IT staffs purchased new tools to optimize applications and traffic, the amount of time spent troubleshooting performance problems increased," said Charles Thompson, manager of systems engineering for Network Instruments. "It's clear that relying on new tools or increasing bandwidth doesn't address the performance problems. These problems will continue to grow as companies implement new technologies and applications on their networks. Without visibility into these applications, performance will continue to suffer."

Network Troubleshooting

In an interview with Enterprise Strategies, Thompson explained that solving application issues consumes the largest amount of time for network professionals. “The problem is that networks are so complex; newer technologies such as virtualization only add to the problem,” he noted. The study bears this out: 30 percent of network professionals spend from 26 to 50 days annually replicating network issues. Another 41 percent spend up to 25 days per year attempting to replicate network problems.

“That’s a lot of time wasted just trying to figure out what the problem is, which explains why retrospective network analysis is gaining popularity, since it helps you pinpoint the conditions that occurred when a problem arose.”

Thompson added, “The network isn’t the problem. The problem is that every facet of network communication is more complex, and the issues are new to a lot of people.

“One thing I’d recommend to reduce troubleshooting time is to take a baseline of the environment during ‘normal’ operations. It’s critical to have that measurement so you’ll have a better handle on how things should be.”

VoIP Popularity Grows

VoIP implementations increased five percent in 2008; 66 percent of organizations have implemented or may implement VoIP within the next 12 months. “That’s a figure that surprised me -- I thought growth would be stronger, given the benefits of the technology,” Thompson told ESJ.

Quality of service and the impact of VoIP on other applications were the largest concerns cited in the study; in 2007, reliability was the top issue.

Confidence in VoIP is growing: although only 13 percent of 2007 survey participants were completely confident in their VoIP system, one-fourth of this year’s participants had faith in the technology.

MPLS and 10 Gb Adoption

Migration to MPLS networks appears steady, though most organizations are still kicking the tires of the technology. The survey found that 35 percent of respondents will have migrated to MPLS networks in the next year, but 55 percent have no intentions of doing so.

Also growing slowly is 10 Gigabit (10 Gb) adoption: 24 percent of organizations will implement 10 Gb networks within the next 12 months but 71 percent have no plans for its deployment. Thompson noted that “That’s still a strong number, in part because costs are declining. Interfaces for servers are getting cheaper, and users want more bandwidth. In fact, many shops are replacing Fibre Channel with NAS using 10Gb to take advantage of the lower costs.”

About the Author

James E. Powell is the former editorial director of Enterprise Strategies (esj.com).