As distributed network traffic increases in volume and complexity, IT professionals must focus on network and application performance. How can CIOs gauge whether their networks are supporting business functions optimally? If their network groups are measuring the right performance metrics, CIOs should be able to answer five key questions about network and application performance. These questions are as follows:
Question No. 1: Can you measure how well your mission-critical business services are being delivered?
For instance, how well is SAP performing over the network for your remote users? The question is not just, "Is it available or not?" Measuring service delivery response times across the network is a good first step in understanding how your applications are performing for end users. By knowing how an application performs under normal circumstances, you can then gauge how both planned and unexpected changes impact service delivery.
Your IT group should be able to tell you how quickly applications are getting to end users and where the bottlenecks are. They should have baselines that establish the parameters of normal application performance, taking into account the differences in performance for time of day, day of week and day of month. So, for instance, if you know that the accounting software gets the most usage on the fourth Wednesday of every month, you can be prepared for any performance degradations.
Question No. 2: How much of the traffic on your network is business-related and how much is not?
As streaming applications such as real-time video become more prevalent, the ability to set policies for which types of traffic get priority across your network is imperative. You must know which applications are on the network at any given time, who is using them and when, as well as how much bandwidth each application is consuming.
IT organizations should implement QOS (quality-of-service) policies to ensure that mission-critical applications receive the highest priority when they need to access network resources, and also to ensure that bandwidth-hungry applications like VOIP (voice over IP) do not starve out other applications. Ongoing monitoring with real-time visibility into how QOS is prioritizing network traffic is needed to determine if applications are being classified appropriately.
Question No. 3: Can you regulate compliance initiatives with long-term network traffic storage and playback?
As governments become more involved in technology regulation, IT organizations need to show proof of how the network is being used at any given time. This requires deep packet inspection capabilities with long-term storage so that past application transactions can be easily recounted. The ability to quickly rebuild complete Web pages with graphics and reconstruct e-mails, documents and instant messages is important for forensics, compliance and security auditing.
Question No. 4: Is your network prepared for a convergence of unified communications and data services?
The addition of streaming application services such as VOIP and video can negatively impact the performance of data applications. While not traditional applications, these services can be critical to the day-to-day business activity of end users. Therefore, managing their service delivery across all parts of the infrastructure is a critical step toward verifying that the network architecture is ready for technology convergence.
Question No. 5: Have you established SLAs (service-level agreements) around application delivery (not just availability)?
Implementing SLAs for application performance provides a measuring stick for how your end users receive application services and when performance degrades from normal. SLAs can also help you determine whether your external service providers are living up to their service guarantees.
The answers to these five questions will give CIOs an overall picture of application service delivery at any given time. CIOs who understand how the network is impacting application delivery will be in a better position to ensure that the IT organization is supporting business operations optimally. Taking a performance-first approach is crucial and requires first knowing how applications are being delivered to end users under normal circumstances, understanding how performance is impacted by infrastructure and application changes, and isolating application delivery bottlenecks. Only then can IT organizations make certain that problems are resolved quickly, mitigate risk from planned changes and unexpected events, and take measured steps to optimize application delivery across the network.
Joel's achievements in IT span more than two decades and include numerous positions of leadership and management, most recently with Advanced Micro Devices, UST Computers (where he was the president and CEO of the Austin, Texas-based provider of computer hardware and network services) and HomeSmart, a company that he co-founded in order to provide sales and marketing products for the residential construction industry.
Joel began his career as an officer and instructor/division director at the U.S. Navy's prestigious Naval Nuclear Power School, instructing more than 400 naval officers in thermal sciences and nuclear reactor plant systems. He was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal and the designation of Master Training Specialist before moving on to build products and solutions that would empower clients to solve their long-standing IT problems.
Joel graduated magna cum laude from Louisiana Tech University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He remains a recognized expert in network solutions and large-scale IT systems deployment. He can be reached at JoelTrammell@netqos.com.