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Network headaches to avoid this holiday season

November 30th, 2006

End of the year budgeting decisions, annual network performance reviews, reduced staff-it´s no wonder the holiday season can end up being a great distraction rather than a welcome relief in the eyes of a network administrator. This year check your network list twice and don´t let the second helping of eggnog allow you to make the wrong network decisions. Follow these simple tips from Network Instruments and make it a merry network season.

1. Trying to troubleshoot sporadic network issues without the right equipment

Often the most irksome issues sporadically appear requiring the network administrators to either wait for the problem to reappear or spend hours recreating the issue. With retrospective network analysis solutions, it is possible to eliminate the need to recreate issues. An analyzer with retrospective network analysis capabilities has the capacity to store a long and continuous network capture, allowing the administrator to perform network analysis retrospectively to quickly isolate and resolve the network issue.

2. Failing to baseline network and application performance

It´s been said that you can´t know where you´re going, if you don´t know where you´ve been. The same holds true for network management and capacity planning in the new year. Unless you have an idea of normal and acceptable application and network behavior today, it´s difficult to gauge what is acceptable in the future. Establishing benchmarks and understanding long-term network utilization is key to ensuring effective infrastructure changes.

3. Mistaking a network problem for an application issue

Often users blame the network when operations are running slow on their computer. To be able to quickly pinpoint network issues, it is critical to analyze and isolate problems pertaining to both the network and application performance.

4. Trusting users to secure their systems and applications

Whether it be a user connecting an infected laptop to the network or using unauthorized applications, like P2P or IM, it is important for network administrators to have resources that can identify user activities that can potentially lead to more harmful security breaches.

5. Not taking advantage of critical information already available to you

Own a Cisco switch? Chances are your network is collecting NetFlow data. This information can help you easily track active applications on the network. Aggregate this data into your analyzer so that you can get real-time statistics on application activity and drill down to explore and resolve any problems.

6. Believing new applications just work automatically out of the box

Often network administrators install an application network-wide without understanding its impact on network performance. Without proper testing of the application or assessing the ability of the network to handle the application, issues can result in the middle of deployment or configuration. Always perform a network site survey before rolling out a new application, which allows you to anticipate how the network will respond and resolve issues before they occur. For example, when deploying VoIP, be sure to have a separate QoS solution to ensure proper performance of the application.

7. Trusting equipment vendors to conform to industry standards

Vendors may claim that their network equipment or software supports an industry standard, when in fact what they support is a proprietary version of the standard. As a result, when an administrator tries to connect an appliance or software interface using the standard, it may not function properly or simply fail. Check to see what standards should be supported to ensure your systems will comply.

8. Assuming vendors have fully debugged their network software and equipment

When troubleshooting, if you find that a particular application is the culprit yet you still cannot resolve the issue, consider checking the release notes, support database, for potential or known bugs. It is quite possible that the conflict is a documented bug within the application. Rather than driving around in circles, it´s helpful to stop and ask for help.

9. Failing to implement security policies within your IT department

So many units are tasked with ensuring that security polices are in place across the organization, but what about those within the IT department itself? Make sure you provide your IT staff with the ability to resolve network problems not add more. Consider using your network analyzer to setup role-based permissions on analysis activity, providing different levels of data access for different levels in the organization. Also, ensure the communication between the analysis probe and console is secure or encrypted or your analysis tool could become another point of vulnerability. Make sure you protect company information from your outside IT consulting units by enabling only partial packet captures within your analyzer for those outside entities.

10. Not fully understanding network traffic patterns

Often administrators will only apply analysis tools after the network is already slow or down. Rather than waiting for problems, you should continuously track performance trends and patterns that may be emerging. Active management allows you to spot and limit the impact of performance anomalies and network problems.

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