Q&A: Maximizing Network Performance

Network management is more than just knowing if devices are operating properly.

Network management is more than just knowing if devices are operating properly, but information about networks isn’t dauntingly technical to be of use. To learn about the myths surrounding network management, how mobile devices play a role in the changing network landscape, and best practices for network managers, we turned to Ken Klapproth, vice president of marketing for Entuity, a network management solutions provider.

Enterprise Strategies: What are the most prevalent misconceptions about network management?

Ken Klapproth: Four misconceptions come to mind.

First, network management is just up/down, on/off metrics to indicate how devices are operating.

A simple, up/down solution cannot provide the proactive network management needed to address strategic business initiatives. This type of basic tool perpetuates firefighting and finger pointing with no real way to drill down to get to the root of the problem. Today’s complex networks are best served with a network management solution that can help IT organizations address strategic business processes such as Green IT, capacity management, or ITIL. In addition to addressing these processes, organizations must be privy to appropriate metrics obtained through proactive monitoring and be able to supply tangible ROI data that shows business productivity results -- from the savings in cash and carbon footprints with our Green IT initiative to savings from consolidating services and not purchasing new capital expenditures.

Second, to facilitate outstanding network management, you need a large staff and an office full of tools.

This misconception could ring true if an IT organization is using separate tools to do multiple, different monitoring tasks. In that case, you run into the inherent silo problem because any information collected would need to be manually assembled to get any real cohesive results, showing the bigger picture. Companies should look for a network management solution that provides an integrated fault, performance, inventory solution that also has the ability to share vital network data in an open format. For instance, sharing network data with SAS business intelligence software or being able to share CMDB information to facilitate configuration changes with configuration management software, would deliver a big-picture view with little effort. This openness for sharing network data provides added value to the network management solution.

The third myth is that companies need large frameworks to manage large networks.

In many cases, a strong network management solution that supports multi-servers in a federated environment will suffice with the appropriate monitoring and reporting in place. Over-the-top professional services aren’t required to provide IT managers with the ability to have better, faster visibility of the network to make intelligent decisions. The software implemented should be able to take into consideration how IT organizations really work. Real-time data intelligence enables IT managers to trend, analyze, and proactively manage to avoid network support issues that often go unnoticed with oversimplified management tools or complex framework solutions. Large frameworks are expensive; they take hours of training and implementation. ROI can take years. A network management solution that can be up and functioning within a day delivers ROI in months.

The final myth is that information from networks is too technical or too granular to be adequately used.

There is a time and place for technical and granular data; however, to get the most out of a network management system it has to supply data for both the IT organization as well as for the business. This means a customizable reporting capability that delivers both executive reports (to show how the network is performing against the IT goals set by the company -- performance summaries, network summaries, operations costs) as well as technical reports to aid in analysis for capacity planning, router port availability, and so on.

The growth of mobile devices is certainly changing how networks are managed. How do you see network management changing, and what else is driving this change?

Network management is always in a state of flux because there are always new technologies to manage. Take virtualization, wireless, and VoIP. The ability to keep a network stable and responsive, while taking advantage of these technologies, is critical for a business’ success. IT organizations need to ensure that their network management solutions can accommodate the range of technologies being used today and tomorrow.

Due to the current economic state, IT organizations are being held more accountable for their business’ overall profitability. From this business perspective, networks now need to reflect business processes such implementing Green IT, reducing capital expenditures, reducing operational costs, and presenting associated results/ROI in reports that are easily customizable and understood by C-level personnel.

How do you define “good” network performance, and what are some of the best ways network performance can be improved?

Good network performance is when end users are able to do their jobs without having to call the help desk for IT support, or when IT organizations are the first to discover any network issues before end users do and can fix the problem before service degrades.

Network performance can be improved by automation. If tasks can be automated, go for it! You’ll save time and eliminate errors. Additionally, by implementing quality-of-service SLA metrics, IT managers can keep services operating properly, delivering consistently good performance and have the evidence to prove success through appropriate reports.

What are the proactive steps IT should take to manage its network?

There are a handful of steps that are helpful in beginning a proactive management process:

  • Create accurate network visibility: First, you need to know what you have on the network and how devices are connected (essentially what is there and what’s to spare). The other important component relates to accuracy, and this is achieved through ongoing auto discovery.
  • Manage network performance (predict, don’t just react): You can identify group behavior and likely problem areas by creating automated alerts and thresholds. Trending reports using real-time and historical data, along with other typical performance measures such as inbound/outbound utilization and packet corruption, can also deliver vital information.
  • Maximize intelligent event handling: You need to be able to sort through the smoke to get to the fire. Event handling determines whether it is a network-, server- or application-related problem through true cause analytics and prioritization of problems by business impact.
  • Support decisions with actionable data: How are you alerted to changes? How do you act on network activities? Dashboards, ad hoc queries, and reports should deliver data in a format that reflects your unique IT organization’s operation to make intelligent decisions.

What are the biggest mistakes network managers make today?

In my opinion, the biggest mistake that network managers make today is not maximizing their vendor relationships past the buy/sell point. For instance, taking part in beta programs allows network managers to see the latest and greatest versions of their network management software. An ongoing relationship will also allow end users to learn first-hand about product roadmaps and usage tips they might not have utilized before.

Another mistake network managers make is looking for the least expensive network management product to address their immediate IT organization’s needs. They should review products based on ROI capabilities for both the business and IT organization, along with the features that it offers. To further add value, make sure the NMS data can be openly shared with other business applications (such as SAS) and can support your network’s growth.

What products or services does Entuity offer in the network management market?

Entuity is a leading provider of network management and service delivery solutions. The company’s Eye of the Storm (EYE) software suite automatically discovers and captures unrivalled network data and analytics, and provides integrated fault and performance management capabilities that help businesses reduce network downtime, commit to, deliver and prove service level commitments, and ensure network configuration compliance.

Additionally, the EYE InSight Center helps customers manage complicated IT configurations with fewer resources to minimize wasted energy across the network and provides an intelligent network management solution that rates and identifies power consumption of physical and virtual devices to effectively allocate resources.