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Achieving fluency in the complex language of Network Performance Management

More and more enterprises are adopting a hybrid enterprise IT model, which incorporates a mix of on-premises and cloud-hosted apps, and of networks comprised of private, public and cloud infrastructure.

With the network and the applications running on it providing the foundation of how every employee actually gets their work done, a hybrid model provides a new approach to running E-mail, SharePoint, VoIP, CRM, ERP and every other custom or off-the-shelf applications that run on your network.

Monitoring applications and network performance is a complex, time-consuming and costly task for IT. Combined with the need to maintain security even as users increasingly access those apps on their mobile devices, and effective monitoring becomes a titanic task, with many icebergs that threaten to sink the ship. Achieving the necessary end-to-end visibility requires implementing a holistic systems-based approach that provides all end-users at all locations with a reliable, secure and cost-efficient network experience. Moreover, determining whether or not you have this level of visibility requires you to first honestly assess your “fluency” in application-aware network performance management.

As the number of systems, devices, applications and endpoints IT manages skyrockets, the old adage remains the same: the best call or email from an end-user is the one that never comes. Users satisfied with performance and availability do not complain, but they won’t hesitate to get IT on the phone as soon as something goes wrong. At the same time, they constantly increase the pressure on IT by demanding instant access and consistent application performance across a wide range of devices and network conditions. These complexities can create serious risks to information security, regulatory compliance and network uptime.

With all these applications running on the network, a network manager should be asking themselves if they have the necessary visibility into their network and if they have what they need to monitor their cloud ecosystems.

Yet according to IDC, organisations simply don’t know the types of applications, number of devices, or traffic sources on their enterprise networks. Overcoming that problem requires implementing a solution that provides multiple unified views of the network, application traffic, and actual end-user experience, and one that also conducts its own discovery, dependency mapping, and behavioural analysis.

The goal is to be able to answer the following:

  • What’s on your network?
  • Who’s using it?
  • How are they using it?
  • Where are they accessing it?
  • When did this all take place?

Answering all of the above questions is a great first step, but another critical factor to consider is whether end-users are being provided with the levels of performance they require. Ensuring applications perform requires an understanding of three key requirements:

1. Virtualisation visibility

Virtualisation introduces layers of abstraction that can hide the details of what’s happening to an application. As physical systems get carved up into logical units, information about the physical system alone is insufficient.

The ability to isolate performance issues within virtualised and physical environments is paramount.

2. Virtualisation of application performance infrastructure

Pervasive virtualisation is at the foundation of the software-defined data centre since it improves efficiency and reduces capital and operating costs.

To maximise efficiency across your data centre, you need virtual application delivery controllers, storage delivery controllers, WAN optimisation controllers, and other application performance infrastructure.

3. API access to application performance infrastructure

In a software-defined world, infrastructure is accessible and configurable through lines of code. That requires all components of the data centre to have APIs, including application performance infrastructure.

APIs allow programmers to define what services are needed in their code, as well as integrate infrastructure with orchestration systems.

These three points all revolve around one word – visibility. The visibility to understand how specific users and events behave in order to ensure performance allows a network manager to quickly locate the root cause of any problem across their network. When the inevitable moment happens when an end-user calls the help desk to report that that the network is slow, he or she won’t be able to help you identify which of any number of factors is hurting network performance.

Network visibility and contextual tools usually reduce the number of calls and always reduce the amount of time to address the situation. Easy-to-use dashboards that clearly identify the source of the problem give network managers fluency in the complicated language of application-aware network performance management.

Fortunately for those managers and the enterprises they work for, there are tools readily available to help them achieve this fluency.

Paul Griffiths, Technical Director, Advanced Technology Group, at Riverbed Technology