Navigating network gridlock

Matt Bolton, VP of the Network Management Division at Quest Software, suggests best practices for selecting a network management solution in this guest post.

IT teams face a daunting task when it comes to managing increasingly complex network and application environments without a corresponding increase in time or resources.

Every network is like a set of Lego blocks, with interlocked components carefully customized and shaped. While the network may function efficiently in the beginning, over time, it must accommodate new technologies, applications, protocols, and the growing coverage of remote workers, which means even more interlocked pieces. A well-performing network is an absolute requirement for supporting the critical operations of any business, and the primary goal of network management is to ensure that users get the quality of service they expect. The network should be transparent to them - providing the infrastructure needed to conduct business - and should never impair productivity.

Good network management means having the capability to quickly detect, diagnose, and resolve network performance issues before they turn into costly downtime. Attempting to manage a complicated network using multiple tools only causes finger pointing and slows problem resolution. This drives up both costs and user complaints, so, below, I've provided some key considerations for achieving effective network management, along with best practices for choosing a comprehensive network management solution.

First, let's talk about detecting and diagnosing problems. You need to know whether a problem is caused by a system degradation, or if it's the result of slow network traffic, which also can make it difficult to identify the cause of a degradation. To detect and diagnose problems before end users are affected requires continuous real-time monitoring of key performance indicators like CPU, traffic, packet loss and event logs. This is critical to pinpointing the root cause of a network problem. To identify network bottlenecks quickly, your network management strategy should include traffic analysis that captures data for any device on the network, including routers, switches, servers, and desktops. An effective network management strategy also should include the capability to receive alerts to problems in the network. If network stakeholders are notified immediately of network outages, device failures, or performance degradations, these problems can be resolved faster and IT can avoid expensive reactive bridge calls that waste time and take teams away from proactive tasks. If you have a network management solution that triggers automatic remediation, restarting failed applications and services when it sends notification of a network failure, your network is even better off. Finally, effective network management is contingent upon the ability to resolve the root cause of the problem - not just the surface incident in front of you - before an end user has to call the help desk. A deep, clear view of your network is your best ally here. This view should show you not just the individual pieces of the network, but also the relationships that exist between end users, business services, IT resources, and critical infrastructure components such as applications and databases. If you can see exactly what is causing the gridlock on your network, the better your chances of fixing it before it turns into the costly downtime that causes end users the most frustration.

Network management is essential for the optimal performance of your network. Monitoring the network in a way that alerts you to any potential problems is critical to ensuring the network is functioning, and that all devices linked to the network are available and performing well. Your network can be managed manually using basic network management principals and technologies, but implementing a comprehensive network management solution will both simplify the job and free up IT resources for other tasks. Such a solution can proactively alert you when issues are detected, and some can even automatically remedy the problem.

Here are some best practices for selecting a network management solution. Choose one that will:

  • Provide a central location for real-time monitoring of routers, switches and servers in the network.
  • Address real-time application monitoring, provide the ability to receive alerts when applications reach a critical state, and attempt to automatically remediate application failures by restarting services or servers.
  • Collect and analyze traffic flow information from all network devices to show exactly how the network is being used, and include a database where historical network behavior can be collected and stored for trend analysis and capacity planning.
  • Support all your devices, regardless of vendor or product family, as well as critical applications; all storage units; physical and virtual servers; and bandwidth management.
  • Monitor the performance and usage of virtual servers while it monitors the same information on physical servers.

As divisional vice president of the Network Management Division at Quest Software, Inc., Matt Bolton is responsible for product vision and direction. He was co-founder and vice president of products at PacketTrap Networks before its acquisition by Quest in 2009. Matt is a recognized speaker for IT infrastructure solutions, and has over 12 years of experience building businesses in Silicon Valley.