Fixing Your Network's Five Worst Bottlenecks - InformationWeek

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11/14/2005
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Fixing Your Network's Five Worst Bottlenecks

Poorly tuned servers, too many appliances, improper segmentation, misbehaving applications, and security problems can slow down your network. Here's what to do about it.

It's so plaintive that it can be heartbreaking: "Why is the network so sloooooowwww?" plead users in just about every organization in North America. The inability of a network to keep up with the expectations and demands of its users seems, at times, to be the defining characteristic of networks.

"Everyone, at some point, complains that the network is too slow," Info-Tech Research analyst Carmi Levy says. "Very often, organizations think that they've outgrown their network, without considering that the real problem is that it's a bottleneck," that is causing the problem.

Indeed, network bottlenecks are so common that they're almost a fact of life. And because of the nature of the problem, many organizations simply fail to address the problem, choosing instead to simply throw money at upgrades and hope for the best. "It's not usually a big-bang problem," Levy says. "Organizations aren't experiencing massive bottlenecks that compromise their ability to do business.

But they are experiencing slowdowns that can often stimulate unnecessary spending, and that can affect the bottom line. "Instead of dealing with the problem, companies often just go out and buy new stuff. That's spending inefficiently because they're not doing a cause analysis."

And without taking a close look of the fundamental causes, the bottlenecks are unlikely to go away, no matter how much money you throw at them. The key to really solving the issue of course, is to know where to look and, although there is a staggering variety of them, some kinds of bottlenecks are both more common and more pressing than others.

1. Poorly Tuned Servers: While it's easy to think of the network solely in terms of the plumbing, it's important to remember that its purpose is to move data around, and where that data reside can be a big source of network slowdowns. "The problem is that servers are being asked to do more than ever before," Levy says. "They're handling all kinds of data and applications and multiple layers of traffic, and they're expected to do it all well."

The key to server performance is to understand just what it is that you expect each server to do, and set them up accordingly. Despite the promises of out-of-the-box performance, the real world is never quite that simple. "You have to configure for optimum performance for every job that every server is supposed to do," Levy says. "It's can be time consuming, particularly is you're running a whole lot of servers, but the network performance gains are worth the effort."

2. Constellations of Appliances: Every network function, it seems, has been condensed into an appliance, and that can be a problem. "There are more devices on networks today than ever," Levy says. "Every time we need some kind of new functionality, we toss new stuff on the pile."

Security appliances, firewalls, Blackberry servers, the Google search appliance: Each appliance that does what used to be managed in software adds processing time to the network signal. "Vendors are selling a solution in a box," Levy says. "That can screw up your network balance. It's worse that it was, and it's only going to get worse."

The solution is to decide what you can do without and what you can leave to servers. Appliances can be very useful and convenient but, Levy says, when the short-term fix contradicts long-terms goals like network performance, you have a problem. "Slipping a best-of breed solution to address tactical issues only make sense if it doesn't run counter to long-term needs," he says. "That's why you have to stop and think 'Do I need this device?'"

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