How to Plan a Network for Corporate Performance Management

Posted 2008-02-06

How to Plan a Network for Corporate Performance Management

By: Sanjay Beri

Most senior executives can remember a time when performance management meant reviewing a thick stack of financials once a month, then heading down to sales or the shop floor for some hard-nosed problem solving. Those days are gone forever. Today's corporate performance issues crop up:

Everywhere-no longer the domain of headquarters offices, opportunities and constraints emerge from deep inside customer-facing application servers, or in branch offices nine time zones away.

All the time-monthly or even daily reports show where a business has been, often too late to influence where it's going.

From every source-financials remain essential, but careful managers keep an eye on supply chain throughput, employee absenteeism, lead-to-order conversion and a hundred other metrics of their company's performance.

Faced with challenges like these, lightning-fast competitive assaults and new regulatory demands, companies are arming themselves with CPM (Corporate Performance Management) solutions-whole-company quantitative management systems that combine the rigor of financial analytics, the precision of operational dashboards and the scope and speed of electronic networks.

CPM links departments and locations throughout planning, execution and assessment cycles to keep strategies aligned and put business intelligence and decision-making capabilities where the business needs them.

Yet be warned, these CPM systems can tax the capabilities of networks designed for a simpler time. By definition, these solutions span the organization from the shop floor and IT server farm to the most distant mobile worker. The scope, scale and sensitivity of the information they manage places new demands on networks for:

Breadth and integration-corporate intelligence and decision making connects headquarters and branch offices, including temporary connections by customers, mobile workers, partners and consultants, auditors and more. CPM means what it says; any exceptions to universal coverage fall short.

Flexibility and scalability-growth and change are universals, too. CPM, and the networks that support it, must accommodate restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, and changes in personnel and partnerships, along with major rollouts to support new markets and initiatives.

Availability and performance-information-driven organizations require enormous volumes of data, available around the world any time of the day or night. Service interruptions are unacceptable, and performance bottlenecks that throttle the flow of vital information are little better.

Security-CPM exists to put business-critical information on corporate networks. It goes without saying that those networks must have unassailable security. Today's porous networks, with temporary connections by partners, contractors and visitors present a significant challenge but one that must be met.

None of these challenges should stop, or even delay, implementation of a company's planned CPM initiatives, because the alternatives are worse.

Poorly informed business processes raise costs and risks, alienate employees and customers, and stifle innovation and competitiveness. Instead, managers implementing or considering CPM solutions for their company should include network planning and a thorough review of network security as early in the cycle as possible. Networks designed to the stringent requirements of CPM provide a single view of enterprise status and direction to every location and stakeholder, and build a solid foundation for IT and business excellence.

Just as no CPM solution is right for every business, no network infrastructure is right for every solution. But with early, careful attention to network requirements, companies can build a high-performance network infrastructure that avoids many predictable CPM project crises and delays, as well as executive and end-user disappointment in project deliverables. The following elements from the world of Network Planning have the greatest impact on the success of CPM initiatives:

Data Center and Server Consolidation

Consolidating, organizing and distributing enterprise information assets in a disciplined CPM program is enough of a challenge without the burden of collecting those assets from around the globe with every new request. Among the many excellent reasons for consolidating application servers, ease of implementing CPM ranks with data security and cost-reduction in the top tier. Consolidating applications simplifies CPM implementation dramatically, by reducing the scale of data collection and management.

But the network implications of consolidation are significant. After consolidation, information users outside headquarters once accessed locally is now available only across a WAN (Wide-Area Network). Higher traffic across a poorly designed or implemented network increases latency and creates resource contentions, which combine to cut users' productivity and capabilities for collaboration. Worse, poor network performance raises demands for local control and "ownership" of information that can stymie CPM in its earliest stages.

Overbuilding data centers and networks is a solution, but rarely a cost-effective one. Instead, organizations use application acceleration technologies to combine data compression, "creating" bandwidth by eliminating redundant information before transmission, and implement QoS (quality-of-service) controls to prioritize mission-critical and time-sensitive information. Application acceleration increases the network's information capacity and keeps a spike in e-mail traffic, for example, from delaying mission-critical transactions or disrupting VOIP (Voice over IP) phone calls.

The best application acceleration technologies target major network traffic offenders for further gains. The Internet's TCP and UDP, and the Web's HTTP protocols require multiple transmission acknowledgements that increase network traffic, and can introduce significant delays-with frequent timeouts when information travels long distances or through satellite links. Microsoft's file services and Exchange add to this "chatter" by breaking transmissions into small blocks of data that clutter network links and slow application performance. Application-aware acceleration optimizes such traffic to near wire speed, improving effective bandwidth and quality of service without modifying the individual applications.

Remote Office Performance and Availability

Every year, more enterprise employees work from remote offices, at home or on the road-as many as 90 percent, according to Nemertes Research. The consequences for CPM are significant: unless an enterprise resorts to obsolete command-and-control management, most of its information-and the majority of its decision-making-will take place far from headquarters. Employees, managers and executives at every location need pertinent, timely information on how their performance metrics perform against enterprise standards and goals, and the primary goal of CPM is to get it to them.

The proliferation of branch and remote offices defines the extended enterprise, and requires a WAN that meets LAN (Local Area Network) standards of performance and availability. Application server consolidation, together with the growth of VOIP and Internet video traffic make fast, stable network connection between headquarters and remote offices a business imperative.

To avoid business delays and disruptions, enterprises need remote-office solutions with fast, consistent response for centralized business applications and resources. Today's solutions-and tomorrow's-demand performance at full enterprise scale, with the capability to scale or adapt quickly to the networking requirements of reorganization and expansion, with rapid, full recovery from network and business interruption at any time, on any scale.

A critical requirement-too often overlooked in planning a major initiative like CPM-is for network designs that minimize the need for scarce and costly skilled resources at remote locations. This is really two requirements-first, that network operations be simplified wherever possible for remote non-specialists, and second, that they be centralized wherever simplification conflicts with performance, availability or security requirements.

Maintaining open-network standards is an important step toward meeting both requirements. Vendor-proprietary and local standards can create network islands of incompatible processes and technologies that frustrate any truly corporate attempt at performance management. Network infrastructure based on open standards improves an organization's ability to recruit, train and manage local staff and relieves corporate specialists of the burden of managing multiple incompatible network legs.

Security Everywhere, All the Time

A remote mobile work force; network boundaries punctuated for access by contractors and partners; and CPM initiatives that distribute more valuable corporate information to more employees at more locations-it sounds like a disaster in the making. How can an enterprise balance accessibility of critical corporate performance information with their business requirement-and legal obligation-to keep those assets secure?

There is no single answer. Network security requires protection at multiple locations and levels, by technologies such as stateful firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention, anti-virus capabilities, anti-spam and Web filtering, virtual security zones, access controls, and more. Integrated security-built in, not added on-helps avoid both risky gaps and performance-sapping overlaps.

For organizations deploying or considering CPM initiatives, two technologies are particularly important:

Secure Socket Layer (SSL) VPN-these secure gateways offer deeply-encrypted access to corporate networks from remote locations, even over public broadband and dial-in connections. This approach does not require installation and management of security software on connecting clients, making it not only easier to implement, but more acceptable to partners, contractors and other third parties.

Network Access Control with Endpoint Protection-identity-based access controls are fundamental to IT security. Intelligent endpoint management allows enterprises to monitor and control access according to pre-defined policies, for example, by screening a contractor's laptop for viruses and spyware before granting access to internal networks.

To get the most out of a CPM solution, what's essential is a high-performance network infrastructure that creates a responsive, trusted environment for accelerating the secure deployment of services, applications and information. High-performance networks help protect and recover services and applications, and support operational improvements that reduce administrative, training, customer care and labor costs.

And don't forget… high-performance networks designed to meet the stringent requirements of CPM can provide a single view of status and direction across an enterprise to every location and stakeholder. That builds a solid foundation for IT and sets everyone up for business excellence.

For more on the virtual work force, click here.

How to Plan a Network for Corporate Performance Management

image}Sanjay Beri, vice president, Access Solutions Business Unit has more than 10 years of experience in the high-tech industry including key roles at such companies as Microsoft, Newbridge Networks (now Alcatel) and McAfee. Beri currently leads Juniper's Access Solutions Business Unit and is responsible for driving Juniper Networks' Layer 4-7 and application security strategy and products in the network.  Prior to Juniper, he was a co-founder of Ingrian Networks, a leader in providing solutions to secure data in transit and storage. Beri holds a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, and an MBA from Berkeley.

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