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Managing the performance of networks and the applications that use them has been one of the greatest challenges faced by both IT departments and the vendors of network management solutions. All too often, network managers must try to resolve problems even though they have little insight or visibility into them, and users are plagued by network slowdowns that seem to go unresolved. Add to this the drive to establish service levels between business units and IT, and the result is often frustration on both sides of the fence.

Network performance management vendors have responded to this challenge in myriad ways, and IT has spent millions of dollars on tools to better understand network performance. However, the complexity and growth of the networks have made measuring network performance a rather daunting challenge. In most cases, IT has come close to achieving its goal, but more work remains. This isn't because IT staff aren't getting performance information. They just aren't getting the right information. They aren't seeing what they need to see.

Why You Need a Detailed Picture

Network performance is often measured with the most rudimentary data available--that coming from the network equipment itself. Because this equipment moves application traffic through the network, it has some basic knowledge of that traffic.

Unfortunately, it knows only the total volume of traffic that has traversed the equipment over a period of time. That's like getting a monthly credit card statement telling you that you owe $2,457.83 and have exceeded your limit, but providing no detail about what you spent your money on, where you spent it or when. You know what you owe, but not why you owe it.

Sadly, this is often how network performance is measured. You know that you moved 3,785,993,277 bytes of traffic and used 89 percent of the available bandwidth. But do you know whether your users are happy with the performance they're getting?

Because credit card companies understand customer requirements, they provide us with an itemized bill. Likewise, solutions exist to provide better network information. However, it all comes down to the quality of the data received. The primary job of network equipment is to move data through the network as quickly and efficiently as possible. Devoting power to analyzing the traffic compromises this core function, a tradeoff that IT and the equipment vendors often hesitate to make.


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