Q

What's the best strategy for merging applications management with the management of my network?

What's the best strategy for merging applications management with the management of my network? The apps are draining the network more and more, but there seems no way (besides buying a huge package like OpenView) to sync everything up?
You just asked the million dollar question. And someone is going to cash in with the right answer some day very soon. But for now, you'll have to look amongst the early contenders to figure out who has the best answer so far.

While you're looking, let's consider what is really needed.

Of course, application performance is the key to everything that matters. And yet network performance is where it all starts and stops. You can't have an optimally performing application without considering the network. It's like trying to drive a Ferrari Enzo on a dirt road full of potholes!

So at what point does application performance management include the network? Well, in my humble opinion, OpenView isn't going to be the answer. It may have some of the functionality that is needed, but the overhead for implementation obscures any value it might offer.

The key is to start from the application perspective. Network management systems don't have that. Alternatives to the classical NMS are described in the white paper "Network Performance Infrastructures: Not your father's NMS."

An effective NPI can be built on either a top-down or a bottom-up approach:

  • BOTTOM-UP: You can start with the network, characterize it end-to-end in terms of a range of performance indicators using either passive- or active-probing technologies, and then interpret the measures in terms of an application-specific basis. This allows an effective Layer 3 approach to do the bulk of the application performance work, eliminating the need for nasty merging and integration. In some cases, supplementing the approach with application behaviors (e.g. Web, VoIP, or data transfer) is all that is needed to generate a complete picture.

    Pros: Very flexible, can be resolved by as few as one technologies or products, addresses the network directly, catches the majority of application performance issues, can isolate faults to specific hosts or mid-path devices, can see remote clients and end-stations, network path is identical to application

    Cons: Limited view of an application's behaviors on a particular host, limited view on Layers 4-7 (i.e. host-specific issues such as disk I/O bottlenecks are not easily identified), passive-probing approaches can't scale to high-speed networks and often require hardware (active-probing has trouble scaling to 10G but is keeping up so far)

  • TOP-DOWN: You identify the critical applications that you need to manage, implement either passive- or active-probing technologies that emulate typical application traffic, monitor the critical hosts where the network-based services are resident.

    Pros: Host-specific and application-specific, view is identical to application w.r.t. packet behavior and Layers involved, new application types can be developed as needed

    Cons: Cannot separate Layer 3/network from OS/application Layers, typically can't see specific path out to remote clients/end-station, doesn't adapt to new application types without development

    So what do you do?
    Look at the criteria of adequacy in the whitepaper and start shopping around the new offerings from various start-ups offering critical views on network and application performance. You won't find the answers coming from the same old sources.

    I hope that helps. Let me know how you fare.

  • This was first published in April 2004

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