Seven Resolutions for Network Management in 2010

Keeping Your Edge in the New Year

The last few weeks have seen many “top ten lists” for the past year and decade as well as predictions for the coming year. After reading my forty-seventh such list, I’m left feeling a little unfulfilled. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and predictions invariably come with so many disclaimers that you’re left wondering what you can do with them in the first place. So how can you really make a difference? What is really actionable about all those lists and predictions? Here are some suggestions for “resolutions” when you get back to work on Monday after the holiday weekend, and are looking forward to the road ahead in 2010: 1. Build an understanding of IP video conferencing. It’s big, it’s bad, and it’s going to change your life, especially when desktop video conferencing starts to catch on. Video conferencing is real-time, requires priority QoS, low latency and many times more bandwidth than VoIP. If you had to shake a few skeletons out of the wiring closet when you rolled out VoIP, you better be ready for a lot more skeletons. Start by finding out what type of video conferencing is being used or is planned for your workforce, and figure out how much load this will create on your network before it starts a viral ramp-up. 2. Become more application-aware. How can you really be in tune with the business or organization you are supporting if you don’t know where and how well the really important apps and services are running? And in the converse, how can you understand if the loads your network is carrying are even relevant or just so much streaming audio keeping remote office workers entertained during the business day? Look to NetFlow (or similar) data or packet-based monitoring tools to give you this perspective. 3. Start tracking user experience. Even if you love the thrill of firefighting and troubleshooting gnarly performance issues across distributed, n-tier architectures, the greatest satisfaction (and kudos) can be gained by recognizing a problem before calls start coming in to the help desk. And the first line of defense here is understanding what motivates users to call the help desk – their experience in using (or trying to use) the applications and services which IT provides. User quality of experience data can be gained via on-client agents, synthetic traffic generators (whether internally managed or externally subscribed), or by passively monitoring traffic and comparing request/response patterns. Best practices employ a mix of these, but any one is better than none. 4. Think proactive/preventative. Similar to #3, but more broadly speaking, an ounce of problem prevention is worth at least a pound of frantic troubleshooting cure. And there are lots of options here. One of the most effective is to get better change control in place, thus preventing the “oops” moments when the upgrade you roll out breaks something else (or a lot of other things). Others include using service mapping and assessing health and risk on a sustained basis, or using predictive analytics tools to help you sniff out the important early warning signs of pending issues hidden in all of that performance monitoring data you’ve been collecting. 5. Make friends with the system admins and app support guys. Ok, maybe that’s two resolutions, but it’s all about getting along better. Unless you are in the minority, your cross-organization working relationships usually look more like a Big Fat Greek Wedding than one big happy family. Take advantage of the fact that you can help to measure IT service delivery in a way that the other guys can’t – in context with everything else that is going across the wire – and share that data openly and freely. Many times, network-facing data can be the most effective place to start the triage process when no one else is able to get to the root of a problem. 6. Embrace automation. With the onslaught of virtualization (a.k.a. “server hide and seek”), mobility (a.k.a. “client hide and seek”) and composite web applications (a.k.a. you guessed it – “application hide and seek”) you won’t be able to keep up with all of the moving parts without automating discovery and upkeep of relationship recognition and modeling. Automation is also available for responding to well-known event scenarios with pre-scripted actions, change management for configuration roll-backs, compliance auditing, and predictive analytics. 7. Figure out how to leverage virtualization. One of the more interesting evolutions of management technology is the growth in the number of hypervisor platforms in place around your network. What started purely as a computing system concept has rapidly spread to network equipment, so you can now deploy management tools to new places as virtual images or virtual appliances quickly and easily. Keep these in mind when you are trying to work out how to achieve better distribution of management tools and instrumentation. So – good luck to all in 2010, and good luck keeping those resolutions!!

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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