In a recent Network World article, titled Top 5 Network Management Investments, Ann Bednarz makes a compelling case for how companies ought to prioritize their network performance management investments.
In the article, industry analyst Jim Frey of EMA points out that, "network managers in the past didn't have to worry about rate of change. It's a much more dynamic environment." This is especially true in today's extended network environment, where IT manages an increasing number of geographically distributed applications and infrastructure with so many moving parts that something is nearly always broken or degraded. The widespread adoption of new technologies, such as server virtualization, network attached storage, and cloud computing provide greater flexibility, but new layers of management and complexity are added as well.
It's really a pretty straightforward equation: complexity will increase proportionately to the rate of change in a network. And consequently, these environments require more manpower and resources to manage effectively. While the business expects flawless management of extremely complex environments, IT teams equipped with obsolete, manual tools are losing the battle. As Frey points out: "Network managers need to look at network performance data not in isolation but alongside information about active applications and services, who's using them, and what kind of experience users are getting."
The article goes on to identify five practical strategies to help network managers get the most bang from their network management investment. Here is the prioritized list, along with some notes as to how ExtraHop can support many of these initiatives:
1. Consolidation of network management tools
Forrester analyst Glenn O'Donnell notes that "consolidating tools offers many benefits, including real tool integration, better service perspective, quicker incident resolution and higher service reliability." Our customers have witnessed this benefit first hand. That's not to say that you should go out and dump all of your agents and network performance management tools. Rather, you should carefully evaluate which tools you're really using and only keep those that are providing the most value. It's not uncommon for some larger enterprises to have 100+ tools operating in their environment—and these same environments could probably reduce this by a tenth without making any real compromises. In fact, this leaner approach should have a net positive effect since so much bloat would be removed from the system.
2. Invest in network configuration and change management (NCCM) tools
Frey goes on to say in the article: "getting you the data more quickly about what has changed requires more automated discovery and automated monitoring. You're not going to get that without good, quality tools that have the ability to keep up with that rate of change." The ExtraHop system auto-discovers devices that are present on the monitored networks, inferring device names and roles through real-time traffic analysis. Devices are categorized automatically by role, such as webserver, database, or directory server. This makes the ExtraHop system perfect for network configuration and change management.
3. Increase application awareness
Frey also says: "make sure you have awareness of not just what's in your network but how it's being used to deliver applications and services. It's surprising to me how many shops still don't know what apps are being used on the network, which ones are really driving the use of the network, and which ones oftentimes are the source of problems when there are slowdowns." This of course is where the ExtraHop system truly shines, since it was designed specifically with the application tier in mind. The ExtraHop system performs full-stream reassembly and full content analysis in order to analyze all application transactions in real time and extract meaningful health and performance metrics.
4. Pay for analysis, not monitoring
A good monitoring solution is going to include advanced analytics alongside monitoring capabilities. The ExtraHop system employs a wide array of intelligent protocol modules to inspect and analyze network traffic. These modules understand application wire protocols at the transaction level, extracting valuable health and performance information in real time. The ExtraHop system performs analysis for protocols across the network, web, database, storage, and directory-services tiers, providing IT personnel with the ability to truly understand what's happening across their network and applications.
5. Exploit untapped capabilities in existing toolsets
"Spend a little time, get out the manuals, and figure if there are other features within the tools you own that you're not taking advantage of. There almost always are," says Frey. The ExtraHop system is extremely easy to deploy. It auto-discovers devices that are present on the monitored networks, then delivers rich analytics through a web UI that supports advanced workflows for accelerated troubleshooting. At ExtraHop, we are committed to making our customers successful. If you think you could be getting more out of your ExtraHop system, don't sift through the manual. Just ask us! We're happy to help.
What strategies have you identified to help you maximize your network performance management investment? Tell us in the comments.