If you're involved in networking somehow, then you'll have no problems agreeing that networking has never faced as many challenges as it does today. A growing number of services, new locations, equipment upgrades, business re-organization, security tools, etc... are some of the things that network administrators must deal with while attempting to run a smooth, efficient network. This article details the challenges that go into running a network and suggests that companies should spend some time looking at network modeling technologies to assist with these challenges.

›› Business Needs vs. Network Performance: Critical Challenges Facing Network Managers

Amichai Lesser

Networking is getting tougher. Networks must deliver a growing range of services, from ERP, CRM and email to VoIP and web services applications, each of which has its own idiosyncrasies and requirements. Each new service introduced onto the network contends for available resources with every other service, impacting the network's ability to support the business.

Meanwhile, the network itself is constantly changing. New locations are added - some of which may be in another country or on another continent. Equipment is upgraded and/or re-configured. New management and/or security tools may themselves impact service performance. Decisions about data center consolidation and business re-organization also affect the network in different ways. All of this makes the network a highly dynamic environment where even subtle changes can have a major, unforeseen impact on application performance and availability.

Yet business users expect this complex environment to be as reliable as electricity - despite the fact that networking budgets are not being increased in proportion to these growing challenges. So network managers can't simply over-provision network infrastructure to make sure every service has all the bandwidth it needs. Moreover, over provisioning may not even solve the problem and/or ensure the required level of performance.

That's why network managers are facing many challenges, including:

  1. Pinpointing potential network performance issues early in the development lifecycle
  2. Ideally, the impact of the network on a new application or service should be dealt with from the very beginning of the development process - when potential problems are much easier and less expensive to fix. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Problems with an application's "networkability" are typically discovered only after its roll-out into the production environment is initiated. At that point, it's usually too late to make any significant changes in the application's design. So the problem gets pushed onto the shoulders of the networking team. That's why, in '05, smart network managers will focus on nipping these problems in the bud.

  3. Validating new or modified applications and infrastructure before they are deployed in production
  4. As the network becomes more complex and more critical to the day-to-day-operation of the business, network performance related risks associated with application and infrastructure change are continuing to rise. In fact, some of the worst business interruptions that companies have historically experienced have not been the result of unexpected equipment failure. They've been the unexpected consequence of a planned modification. Networking teams must therefore implement change management best practices in '05 that prevent them from having to put out fires that they accidentally started themselves.

  5. Improved troubleshooting of intermittent/transient network problems
  6. One of the most frustrating things for a network manager is dealing with a problem that keeps disappearing before it can be adequately understood and remedied. However, as the business's tolerance for network interruptions continues to drop, these intermittent problems will become a bigger management issue. So this year, network management teams need to develop more effective methods for capturing transient network conditions and discovering the root causes of these problems.

  7. Accelerated time-to-benefit for new and/or upgraded applications
  8. When C-level executives decide to make investments in new applications and services, they want to see those investments pay off quickly. That's why the slow, staged production roll-outs of the past won't cut it anymore. Instead, networking teams need to be able to quickly deploy new applications across the enterprise. This can only happen if caution and uncertainty about the actual behavior of these applications in the production environment is replaced by confidence and certainty in '05.

  9. More intelligent planning for and support of business growth
  10. Network managers constantly have to cope with change. They have to determine how increases in network utilization will affect application performance. They have to decide how to best engineer the network to support business expansion, re-organization or mergers and acquisitions. However, they can only do so if they have an effective means of performing capacity planning tasks and assessing a full range of "what-if" scenarios. Such scenarios are also critical for formulating realistic contingency plans that can ensure business continuity under a variety of possible conditions.

Looking at these challenges, it quickly becomes evident that conventional production network management tools alone are no longer sufficient for today's networking teams. These tools are great for monitoring the production network and discovering certain types of problems - but they don't enable network managers to validate new technologies and applications before they're deployed on the production network. They also force network managers to solve problems that should have been addressed in application design.

Conventional tools aren't very helpful for troubleshooting intermittent and/or transient network problems either, since they don't provide a means of reconstructing and analyzing such intermittent conditions. Nor do they help accelerate production roll-outs, facilitate experimentation with "what-if" scenarios, or support formulation of network contingency plans.

So what's an overworked, under-resourced network manager to do? The answer is to look at network modeling technologies. These technologies provide an environment in which new applications, technologies and problem-solving strategies can be safely and thoroughly evaluated. Because they allow an application's network behavior to be fully validated before it's deployed in the production environment, these technologies also empower network managers to perform more rapid, glitch-free roll-outs. Plus, modeling technologies are uniquely able to provide insight into any number of "what-if" scenarios - so network managers can make plans for growth, corporate re-structuring and/or disaster recovery.

"Empirical" modeling solutions offer today's network management teams particularly excellent business value, because of their accuracy and relative ease of implementation. This accuracy and ease is achieved by running the actual applications against a model that uses captured conditions from the production environment. The result is a clear understanding of the user experience well ahead of deployment.

To learn more, visit Shunra empowers enterprise organizations and technology vendors to eliminate the risks associated with rolling out complex, distributed, applications and services. The Shunra Virtual Enterprise (Shunra VE) solution provides accurate, highly granular insight into how networked applications will function, perform and scale for remote end-users. It creates an exact replica of the production network environment, allowing users to safely develop, test and experiment with applications and infrastructure in a lab environment before deployment in production.

About The Author

Amichai Lesser

Shunra provides network simulation software that creates a replica of the production network environment and shows you the actual end-user experience. This network model allows you to see how modifications to your applications or infrastructure will impact performance across your organization. Shunra specializes in a number of areas relating to network simulation, including data center relocation, VoIP testing, and WAN emulation.

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