Eliminating the network bottlenecks for good

Network faults and issues are commonplace in the increasingly connected working environment of the enterprise.

The result is that people and staff become less productive, more frustrated, and prone to laying the blame at the IT department’s door.

These “network bottlenecks” – places in your network where the smooth continuous flow of data suddenly stops, and your network becomes a “notwork” – are time consuming, inconvenient and disruptive to the everyday rhythm of office work. They come about either because of the volume or the type of traffic wasn’t fully understood in the first place, or simply because the use of the network has changed.

After all, the way in which networks are used now is significantly different to the way in which they were used five years ago. With employees using laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi and mobiles to work today, networks need to be up to date, need to be able to support employees across all devices, and need to be ready for new technological advances.

So, where do we start in proactively ironing out the network bottlenecks?

Monitoring

The key to finding and fixing these bottlenecks is to monitor the network – the old saying “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” applies perfectly. Ideally, the network should be proactively managed, with performance analytics measuring both trends and user experience against an agreed benchmark.

This constant monitoring is essential because the bottlenecks will not always be triggered by the same factors or occur at the same points in a network. For example, the growth of cloud adoption will often shift the propensity for bottlenecks from the Local Area Network (LAN) to the Wide Area Network (WAN). 24/7/365 analysis is therefore essential to keep up with how the evolution of the IT estate is affecting when and where the bottlenecks occur, and to help determine whether how – or even if – the resultant performance degradation will be rectified.

Working with a partner who has core expertise and access to advanced monitoring and management tools can be a very good starting point in determining the health, wellbeing and likely lifespan of your network, bottlenecks or not. Trust and assurance are key to reducing risks within your network.

Listen to your users

Users will typically only complain when there is a real issue that blocks their access completely. Low level dissatisfaction, especially when caused by the employees’ changing needs, are issues that are not always raised. The attitude to network problem detection therefore needs to be altered within the workplace – users should be encouraged to flag all network issues, no matter how small. With this heightened scrutiny, bottlenecks can be detected and dealt with before they grow into bigger issues

Moving applications can also exacerbate bottlenecks. One example is the move from Microsoft Exchange to Microsoft Office 365. Exchange uses private network links, whereas Office 365 uses Internet access. Moving from one to the other and driving volumes of megabytes of traffic to new systems can cause problems. This raises the question – is your network adequate for this? Your service provider should be able to tell you, but you must also be aware if the changes are not working for your business, and ask the users’ opinion of the suitability of newly adopted applications.

Testing your network

The biggest cause of network changes will be the -increasing transition to the cloud, and the introduction of widespread unified communications (UC). Both will disrupt and alter the service that you’re working with, especially if you make both transitions at the same time.

Most employees are equipped with two devices each, each with voice and video capabilities, and therefore have far greater data transfer and storage requirements than they did when the network was first designed. This burden can very easily become the straw that breaks the network’s back. Performing checks before, during and after the implementation of any new tools, devices or changes to infrastructure will enable the best network choices to be made.

Furthermore, monitoring not just the volume but also the type of traffic flow across your network is crucial. Testing different types of web traffic and monitoring devices for regular access to inappropriate or unnecessary websites such as Facebook will help mitigate against bottlenecks and also allow for easier problem resolution.

In essence, the simple steps towards eliminating bottlenecks are similar to hiring new staff, and just as essential to overall productivity – scope the requirements accurately from the outset, employ ongoing management and monitoring, listen for feedback, schedule regular performance reviews especially when requirements change, and monitor the type of work of being done.

David Groves, Director of Product Management, Azzurri Communications