Energy Boosters for your Network

PCQ Bureau
New Update

Life is not easy for the IT manager, given all the complaints he has to handle everyday on the network. Users can create noise about the smallest of things, and there's a perpetual list of small network problems that keep cropping up throughout the day.


It's the good old 80-20 rule of 'vital few and trivial many', where 80% of the problems are trivial, and 20% are vital. So, if the IT manager is not careful, he could spend his entire life resolving the trivial issues, and never get the time to look at the vital ones. Some vital problems have been around for many years, though the causes of those problems have changed over time.

Then, of course, there are some new problems that have surfaced only recently, and a few buzzwords are floating in the market to resolve them. In the story, we'll focus on solutions to these vital few problems. 

The most common network problem that has always plagued IT managers is the ever-increasing traffic on the network. Things have gone far beyond managing broadcast traffic, which was the biggest challenge for network administrators in the past. The more troublesome addition is the growing amount of spam mail and the new mass-mailing worms. They can chew up your network bandwidth in just a few minutes, even if you're on a 100 Mbps switched network. The good thing is that this very trait of these threats also gives them away. For this you need to know what tools to use, some of which are freely available, and be quick enough to act upon them. Spam, for instance, should be tackled at the mail-server level itself. For this, check with your ISP on the kind of spam protection being offered. Most of them today use anti-spam tools, which can easily identify and tag most incoming spam. All your users would need to do then is to create a filter that would move the tagged spam to a separate 'junk' folder on the server itself. The mass-mailing worms can be detected using some basic packet-capturing utilities such as Ethereal. We've covered how to

do this in more detail later in this story. 


The other most common problem faced by IT managers is deploying new applications and technologies on the network. Flash back to the good old days, and the primary application found then was the file and print server, accompanied by perhaps an RDBMS like Oracle. Today, the number of applications has gone through the roof. Every organization would have a multitude of applications running on its network, and there would always be demand to install more. For instance, today an organization might have a mail server, but tomorrow it may feel the need to upgrade it to a messaging and collaboration application. This would go beyond basic e-mail to include things such as application sharing, white boarding or even video conferencing. An organization running a basic accounting package may feel the need to enhance it to include billing and payroll. Or perhaps there might be a need to automate all business processes, for which an ERP implementation is required.

There are no doubts on the intention to deploy these new applications and technologies, because that's not the point. An organization may strongly feel the need for deploying a new application or technology, and would have the business justification to do so. What's important here is to know how it will impact your network. Will it generate a lot of traffic that would hamper the performance of other applications? Is the network ready to take on the additional load, or do you need to add some more equipment to handle it? This study should be done before actually deploying the new application. We've explained this by taking the example of how to integrate VoIP into an existing network later on in this story. 

The next major trouble that arises after deploying new applications is performance tuning. Many times, you might be blaming your network or the server hardware for the slow performance, while the trouble might be with a mis-configured application. Performance tuning is therefore a hot area today, which a lot of vendors are also trying to address. Consider it as the new buzzword that you need to be aware of and do something about. You may not necessarily need additional tools for doing performance tuning. Just keep a watch on your existing applications and have the right skills to keep them running smoothly. 

If you don't, well, help is now easily at hand.

Growing number of users has always been a problem in networks. When the structured cabling was laid out for your network, you might have kept some future expansion in mind, but what do you do when that also runs out? Do you add more network points? Or perhaps deploying Wireless LAN technology is a better option? Speaking of wireless, the growing number of mobile users also poses a major security problem for network administrators. That's because you never know where all have they taken and plugged in their laptops. One infected laptop entering your network could cause havoc. Therefore, you may like to take extra safety measures for these mobile users. More on these measures and how to tackle network expansion later in this story. 

Lastly, before you proceed to read the rest of this story, where we've covered most of these problems in greater depth, we'll leave you with a few new buzzwords to think about. These are making rounds in the networking arena today, and you need to assess whether they can apply to your network. Besides performance tuning that we just discussed, a few others you'll hear of include network-configuration management, capacity optimization, server consolidation and storage virtualization.