Today's network architect has more choices than ever before for communications components: cables, cellular technology, wireless and satellite as carriers, an ever-increasing array of communications standards to run over those links, and a handful of new communications methods that promise better and faster business. Many have a mix of technologies and protocols in their organisations but few architects can throw out what they have and start again. Even fewer can predict accurately what network technologies will still be around in five years.
What is certain is that network performance will directly affect business service just as it does today, and understanding how and why can go a very long way to maximising investment in technology. Mission-critical applications such as e-business installations, ERP packages and CRM tools will still share bandwidth with less critical applications. Voice and multimedia over IP must also be considered. But these technologies have different requirements on network resources. Users might not complain about a couple of minutes delay in receiving e-mail but they will complain if a VOIP conversation is lagged by more than 50 ms or a critical ERP transaction seems slow. Therefore, not only must network performance be managed but it must also be linked to the kind of application to which it is delivering the service.
The relationship between the network and applications
Identifying misbehaving devices on a network and fixing or replacing them is straightforward. Identifying the cause of poor system performance is much harder. The problem can be any one of the IT components in the business process, each of which could have different teams responsible. IT staff must spend a great deal of time trying to discover whether the problem is the network, the systems, the applications or unexpected user behaviour. For global performance issues, managing the network in isolation is not enough. Understanding the relationships and interaction between the network, the users, applications and systems is what helps to solve performance problems quickly.
Application-centric networks and ACNM
Application-centric network management (ACNM) assures business availability by managing the network from an application perspective, no matter what combination of wired, wireless, cellular or satellite is installed. ACNM is part of software giant BMC's arsenal of tools that brings network-aware intelligence to enterprise management. ACNM provides an holistic view of information systems, showing managers the interactions between users, networks, applications and systems. With it, network managers can see how different users and applications affect network performance, how the network affects applications, how to plan for acceptable levels of service and, last but not least, how to justify investments in network technologies. For instance users may complain that they cannot access the CR database. ACNM analysis can show that a single user has congested the network path by requesting a download of the entire database, which prevents other users from accessing the application. ACNM can also drill down into your infrastructure and see that poor response times are caused, for example, by congestion on a wide area link.
The payback from ACNM can be considerable. Under-utilised wide-area links can be renegotiated on price and equipment upgrades can be avoided or, if unavoidable, an optimum solution can be chosen. Quantifiable savings are always the result when network managers can invest in the right resources and equipment at the right place. ACNM also helps keep the hidden costs down by ensuring a productive network operations department and satisfied network users.
Business service management
ACNM is one of the key components of business service management, an automated way of aligning your IT components with your business. Understanding and being able to predict the impact of technology changes on the business means improved business performance and reduced costs and complexity of the infrastructure - no matter what the next big wave of networking technology turns out to be.
Muhammed Omar, product manager, African Legend Indigo