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Making sense of performance management products

The network seems fine, but Oracle keeps timing out and your CRM package is extremely sluggish. Application performance problems plague many networks, but can be difficult to diagnose.

The good news is that there are a multitude of vendors offering products to remedy the problem, as well as the many other network conundrums that admins face. Unfortunately, the choices are so numerous and varied that they can boggle the mind of the network manager attempting to evaluate products.

Sue Fogarty
Sue Fogarty

For instance, ClearSight Networks Inc. bridges the gap between traditional "sniffers" and full-blown application-monitoring systems; SeaNet Technologies Inc. measures the end-user experience with a high level of granularity; Quantiva Inc. strives to automate performance analysis for Web applications; ProActiveNet Inc. uses analytics to maintain the performance guaranteed in service-level agreements; Packeteer Inc. uses compression to increase network speeds; and F5 Networks Inc. manages traffic to improve availability while automating interaction between applications and the network.

These are only a few examples of the many products flooding the market. According to Peter Sevcik, president of NetForecast, a Charlottesville, Va., consultancy, there are more than 150 vendors currently selling network performance software and devices.

Sevcik's selection tips

Peter Sevcik recommends examining the following criteria to determine what type of performance management product your network needs:

Objective: Why do we need to change the system?

Constraints: Where can we change it?

Function: What is the peformance effect?

Applications: Who or what will be affected?

Benefit: How well does a solution work with our requirements?

"The problem," said Sevcik, "and what makes this space so confusing for enterprises, is that each of these vendors has a different definition of 'performance.'"

In a session at Networld+Interop, Sevcik outlined a framework that enterprises can follow to narrow down the choices. The methodology allows networking professionals to recognize exactly what their networks need and then match that need to appropriate products.

The first step in Sevcik's framework is to identify the objective. This will fall into one of three approaches: to measure, control or extend the network. Some enterprises will simply want to watch the network and identify where problems are occurring. Others may strive to maintain certain performance levels at all times. And some enterprises may be at a place where they are ready to improve network behavior and deliver applications closer to end users.

The network pro must then identify network constraints. This is determined by how much of the network is private versus how much is public, and where it is possible to place devices and have complete control over the environment.

Function is the third criteria that Sevcik outlines. He breaks function into the two camps: asset management and experience management. An enterprise whose network functions in the asset-management mode is most concerned with realizing the best efficiency of its internal infrastructure, both in terms of reliability and cost. Those focused on experience management are more concerned with accessibility and managing the user experience.

Sevcik also recommends that networking professionals create a list of applications and sort them into groups, including real time, streaming, transactional and bulk-data applications.

After the main criteria are identified, Sevcik's framework uses metrics to assign a numeric score to each element. Networking professionals are left with a clear picture of which criteria are most important to them. They can then easily match up product attributes with the results, and predict how beneficial certain implementations would be for their organizations.

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"This is not a way to get to the only vendor that will solve your problems," said Sevcik, "but it is a way to get to the short list. Instead of the more than 200 products on the market, you might be able to funnel it down to three that do exactly what you need."

Sevcik predicts that the market for performance tools will consolidate, making choosing products a bit easier in the future. "I guarantee there won't be 150 vendors in this space a year from now," he said.

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