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Practices for monitoring a network's performance

What are some good management practices for monitoring a network's performance?

"Best Practices" have a short half-life in our industry. The biggest problem I see with today's management techniques and tools is that they grew up in the client/server era and haven't evolved to serve today's realities.

In the old world...

  • you owned or controlled most of the networks your key applications depended on
  • you could predict where critical traffic would flow
  • complex, long-deployment, agent-based systems were approved for deployment because the problems client/server created were new, acute and very scary
  • you dealt with a dog's breakfast of vendor-specific protocols

    In today's world...

  • you depend on networks you do not own or control (ISP, ASP, customer, supplier, etc.)
  • you can't predict where tomorrow's traffic will flow or what will break next
  • there is less (no?) time and money for deployment or maintenance of big, complex network management systems
  • it's "IP everything/everywhere"

    So what should "best practices" look like?
    I'll save the long version for a proper whitepaper (due out June 2003 from www.jaalam.com/wp/). But the short version might go like this:

  • Be able to see end-to-end, from the application's view point
  • Be able to deploy "Just in time" network management infrastructure - rapidly, where needed, when needed, on demand
  • Be able to see into and through networks that you don't own
  • Employ monitoring technologies that provide thorough network awareness on an on-going basis, not piece-meal views
  • Rely less on trend analysis and more on real-time assessment
  • Emphasize "effective" over "absolute" - implement management solutions that resolve your most common, most expensive problems most quickly
  • Focus on application performance after the fundamental networking performance aspects have been addressed
  • Use methodologies and technologies that fit your network and needs, not the other way around

    The approach to this might be laid out in two steps:
    1. Continuous monitoring of performance (not just availability) as a essential starting point, ideally at the layer 3 or 4 demarcation point (at a minimum) so you can separate network performance issues from application ones quickly. This has to be end-to-end along all critical paths, and most others of interest, with constant updating.

    2. Rapid response to performance problems that slip through the cracks. That requires a real-time measurement/assessment/problem diagnosis capability that delivers quickly, without pre-deployed infrastructure, and can be used remotely.

This was last published in March 2003

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