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A 'real-time enterprise' needs a fast network

A Gartner analyst says there are advantages to speeding up business processes, but don't ignore the impact on the network. To become a real-time enterprise, a company may need to adopt new packet-shaping, prioritization and queuing methods.

The concept of the real-time enterprise -- the speeding up of business processes to allow for more nimble decision-making -- has been generating a lot of buzz lately, but what does it mean to be a real-time enterprise? What are the benefits? And what kind of demands will it place on your network? Debra Curtis, research director with the Stamford, Conn., research firm Gartner Inc., recently authored a commentary on the topic, and here she shares her insights. What is the real-time enterprise?
Curtis: It allows companies to compete by using up-to-date information, removing delays to the management and execution of critical business processes. Real-time data filters through the whole organization, not just the IT department. But the real-time enterprise can also be pushed to the extreme, where it is counterproductive. Businesses need to focus on real-time information that helps them improve business practices. What is driving it?
Curtis: The economic downturn has been a factor. If you have access to accurate, up-to-date information, you can make better business decisions. Businesses are also pushing decision making lower in the organization. Which industries are making the move to the real-time enterprise?
Curtis: The financial services industry has been drawn to it because there is a clear link between revenue and the IT infrastructure. There is a direct link between doing something faster and more accurately and generating revenue. I've also seen some manufacturing facilities drawn to it, especially those with very automated shops. What kinds of new requirements does the push towards real-time information put on networks?
Curtis: It is important to reduce latency. In some cases, network mangers will need to increase capacity or provide bandwidth on demand. What kinds of tools best address those needs?
Curtis: Network administrators do not need more real-time data about their networks. What they need to do is filter that data in an intelligent way that helps them correlate the network performance with business priorities. If there are problems with the network, then they need to determine which element is the most important to fix first, based on the business process it is impacting. What tools are available to help build this correlation?
Curtis: These are emerging tools. They are most appropriate for early adopters and include IBM Corp.'s Tivoli Business Systems Manager, Managed Objects' Formula, Micromuse Inc.'s NetCool and System Management Arts Inc.'s InCharge. How will the real-time enterprise drive changes in network architecture and technology?
Curtis: As enterprises become more dependent on real-time information, networks will become more ubiquitous. Remote offices will be tied into the main office more regularly. Wireless connectivity will play a larger role. Rather than simply adding more bandwidth, companies will start to adopt packet-shaping, prioritization and queuing methods. What kinds of costs are likely to be associated with managing networks for real-time enterprises?
Curtis: It depends on the caliber of the infrastructure. For companies with a great WAN backbone and excess bandwidth in place, it may not require much. But for those that have intermittent connections and low service levels with limited access at the edge, it is going to be a significant investment. You can't go from zero to real-time enterprise in a month or even a year. It is a multi-step approach toward that goal. So for some companies this may take a while to roll out?
Curtis: This is one of those things that the CEO sees in a magazine on his way back from a trip and says, 'I want one of those real-time enterprises.' But you need to make sure you have the business drivers to justify it, because it has implications throughout the company, not just with IT infrastructure. It is not something that you can approach from the top down.


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