Monday, 11 August 2008

Best Practice: Network upgrades bring faster apps and ROI

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How would you identify whether your "high performing" network is actually sitting on future troubles and would go in fumes? Simple: Sluggish applications; Frequent downtime; Inconsistent performance are a few warning signs. Even more compelling reason to upgrade your network infrastructure might be the allure of the shiny new network models beckoning from the showroom floor.
As a rule of thumb, if your switching and routing gear is more than four years old, it's probably not smart enough. - Robert Whiteleyanalyst, Forrester Research Inc.
That's because next-generation networks have intelligent security, mobility, virtualization and acceleration built-in directly. If you're not taking advantage of these benefits, it might be time to make a move.

Network upgrades a top priority for most
Adopting and integrating new network technologies is a top priority for 80% of companies surveyed in a recent report by Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, with 61% of these enterprises planning a transition to IP-based networks within in the next two years. Although technology obsolescence is a driving factor for many, enterprises also believe that centralizing data centers can lead to improved productivity and reduction of telecom spending. "Unified communications, VoIP and other applications are forcing a sea change," said Joe Basili, an Aberdeen research director.

IP and voice technology mean new network demands
Indeed, when voice technology is added, vulnerabilities in a network are exposed. Adding voice requires the support of real-time applications, and even partial-second delays are unacceptable. Instant dial tones and clear audio are basic requirements. When VoIP enters the picture, quality of service is key. Nanometrics Inc., a semiconductor test equipment manufacturer based in Milpitas, Calif., recently grappled with connecting voice to its network infrastructure after a recent merger. Engineers in overseas branches couldn't share information over the network and were unable to pull large technical files from the corporate data center due to slow WAN performance.

To improve workforce productivity with minimal downtime, Nanometrics employed Cisco Systems Inc.'s Wide Area Applications Services, which offered a pre-configured, integrated router and wide area network optimization. Dave Kizer, Nanometrics' IT director, said: "We were able to take multiple IT setups and backup systems and consolidate them. As a result, we no longer needed to replace old hardware that needed to be upgraded. The replacement costs of these data centers alone paid for the solution."

Scalability, not speed, is key criteria
When selecting a network vendor or new network equipment, "speeds and feeds" (the ability to quickly process and manage traffic) is typically on the top of the IT checklist. But today's high-performance products have little variability in this area. Instead, criteria should also include the ability of an upgraded network to grow and add new features. You need to think long-term about what you're going to do. This scalability applies not only to bandwidth, but also to built-in acceleration capabilities and other intelligent features that organizations may need in five or seven years.

Getting your money's worth
ROI is always the Holy Grail of IT expenditures, but measuring ROI from a network infrastructure standpoint is difficult without first looking at overarching business issues. If a network is designed or maintained poorly and introduces performance glitches, for example, then lost productivity can form the basis for ROI. Or if infrastructure enhancements are implemented for new technologies such as VoIP, then ROI can be driven from enhanced network services such as reduced telecommunications expenses. ROI can also be calculated based on bandwidth savings and whether a company avoided increasing the amount of bandwidth it had to buy or deploy. "This is a simple pedestrian ROI, but often is what CIOs go by.

Another way to measure the ROI of a network upgrade is through end-user satisfaction including better overall reliability and application uptime. The network is a shared service that enables a lot of applications. You have to measure the relative value of each application before and after a network upgrade to apply financial metrics to it, and that is an extremely arduous process. So if VoIP, mobile users, service-oriented architecture or remote offices are complicating the network, perhaps now is the time to look at the new, smarter network offerings. After all, a poorly running network is like an old car.
If every month you have to bring it in for work, perhaps it's cheaper to buy a new car.
Source: Article by Cindy Atoji, a Boston-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology

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