Five strategies for managing the distributed enterprise

The distributed enterprise network is only getting more complex with workers demanding anywhere, any-time access to applications and data from a plethora of devices. Fast packet blogger Josh Stephens says managing distributed enterprise networks will mean increased network visibility.

By Josh Stephens

If you spend time in the trade blogosphere, you've read a lot about datacenter consolidation, virtualization and cloud computing. That's all important, but there's something that's just as crucial to us network engineers: the distribution of the enterprise network.

The number of applications, users and devices is growing, and is increasingly dispersed across multiple locations and providers. Remote and home offices are commonplace. Then there's the next generation of offices -- shared space. Take, for example, San Francisco-based NextSpace, a company that provides "co-working space" where several different companies or individuals share offices and IT resources the way that different departments of the same company would.

Networking teams are now responsible for delivering services in environments where we don't even own the network connection at the other end. What's more, we've got to add bandwidth-intensive, latency-sensitive applications for voice and video-over-IP like Apple's FaceTime or Cisco's Telepresence.

In order to accommodate the distributed enterprise, we must question how we monitor and manage application performance and availability of the network amidst all of this complexity. So there are important strategies to consider:

1. Don't restrain users in the distributed enterprise

According to the iPass Mobile Workforce Survey of employees at 3,500 companies, 93 percent of respondents believed mobile technology made them more productive. With the right IT monitoring and management solutions in place to ensure network visibility, companies can support a distributed and highly connected workforce and gain productivity.

2. Understand how your network is used

Learn how your users want to use the network. Know what devices are being used and from where. With devices such as the iPad and iPhone, the Android phone and Cisco's new Cius tablet, it's not just web applications affecting the network. Rich media, including voice and conferencing collaboration applications, must be taken into account.

Network admins must be able to deliver secure and reliable application and data access to users of these devices from diverse and distributed locations. Technologies like NetFlow and IP SLA can provide critical network visibility of the network even as it connects all of these types of users and devices.

3. Ensure application and network visibility across the IT infrastructure

If you can't see it, you can't manage it. When data centers are consolidated, availability and performance of the network is critical. No matter where the application is, it needs to be monitored. While monitoring the availability and performance of the application processes is necessary, it isn't sufficient in today's complex environments. You must also monitor the network, storage, server and virtualization infrastructure that supports the application in order to resolve the most common user complaint, "the application is slow or isn't working."

4: Support mobile IT staff

IT staff can't be effective if they're tethered to a desk all day. Just like mobile and distributed employees, IT staff will be more productive when they are equipped with mobile monitoring solutions that can be accessed from multiple locations and devices.

5: Consider and prepare for the future

As the saying goes, "the only constant is change." Prepare for inevitable technological changes so that you can adapt in the most minimally intrusive way. Capacity planning and forecasting tools can be very helpful in this area. For example, with the availability of Windows 7, there's renewed interest in retooling the desktop infrastructure. Desktop virtualization can create additional stress on the network. Network admins should start thinking about it now and acquire the necessary tools to help with a rollout.

About the author: Josh Stephens is head geek and VP of technology at SolarWinds.

This was last published in October 2010

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