Unclog Network Pipes - InformationWeek

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03:35 PM
David Ewalt
David Ewalt

Unclog Network Pipes

NetScout's nGenius product lets Johnson Controls observe and analyze traffic and speed up the applications it runs globally

Managing a global network isn't easy, particularly when you're seeing massive increases in the demand for bandwidth. For many companies, any network slowdown or drop in service means lost business. But automotive supplier Johnson Controls Inc. has found a way to improve application performance and keep its network fast and reliable.

The company does 75% of its business in the automotive industry, selling car batteries, seats, and interior components. Last year, it pulled in $22 billion in sales. It's a global, multinational business and has to deal with the challenges of managing a global network with ever-increasing bandwidth demands.

Johnson centralized apps, increasing bandwidth usage, VP Schoeppel says.

Johnson runs a frame relay WAN provided as a managed service through MCI to connect more than 600 locations around the world. In recent years, the ordinary course of operations was starting to strain the infrastructure. "We're following a trend where we are centralizing more," says Mark Schoeppel, VP of global IT infrastructure. Applications needed globally are run out of a particular office: PeopleSoft Inc. and Oracle applications are provided from an office in Milwaukee, and SAP financial apps are run from an office in Germany.

As a result, Johnson has been forced to increase dramatically the bandwidth it uses. "We figure we've increased in excess of 50% year over year," Schoeppel says.

But widening the pipe wasn't enough. Johnson needed to address how each program flowing through that pipe was performing to make sure the company wasn't using more bandwidth than it needed. "We hadn't been able to see what was happening, which particular applications were consuming bandwidth," he says. "If we had performance issues with a particular application, we had no way of knowing."

Johnson initially went to MCI for the right tool. "We thought that they would be in the best position to have the lowest-cost approach," Schoeppel says. But the service provider had only custom-crafted products that were too expensive.

So Johnson went with the nGenius Performance Management product from NetScout Systems Inc. It's a combination of a rack-mounted monitoring device and Web-based software that lets users observe and analyze traffic on their networks.

The software also shows how programs are behaving, identifies what part of the network is clogging up, and helps managers figure out what components they can optimize to improve performance. "We use it not so much as a network-management tool, but to help us get application transparency," Schoeppel says. "We can break traffic down into its component parts...It's been an incredibly powerful tool."

By using the system, Johnson is able to speed up the applications it runs globally. It also identifies potential problems before they become actual ones, preventing downtime and data loss. It's paid for itself by reducing the amount of time IT staffers spend on network problems and the need for more bandwidth.

Other customers use the product for a variety of purposes, including ensuring quality of service for IP telephony applications, improving the performance of storage area networks, and finding instances of network misuse such as file-sharing applications. The Mohegan Sun casino in central Connecticut has used the system to isolate problems among its networked slot machines. Previously, when a network problem took down a bank of slot machines, it required four hours to figure out the problem and get them back up, while the casino lost around $100,000 per hour in revenue. With the nGenius system, Mohegan has cut downtime to an hour.

NGenius deployments vary in price, depending on the network, the number of ports involved, and how many apps a customer wants to analyze. Base price is $50,000, and a new customer with a beginning setup will spend around $75,000.

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