With companies opening network access to remote and mobile workers, customers, partners across myriad, critical applications, the challenge confronting network managers is to keep performance high and response times short.
The typical reaction to slow response is to throw more bandwidth at it, but according to users, it might not solve the problem.
What such a network needs is strict policy management, a little education for the user base and a dash of software in order to keep networks running smoothly and applications seamless.
Peter Owen, A/NZ territory manager for Packeteer, said obtaining and managing bandwidth is typically the largest expense in an IT budget, adding that he always finds surprises on customer networks, and in many instances bandwidth take-up is completely different to what the IT manager thought they were using.
Packeteer's PacketShaper controls bandwidth and application performance by preventing network congestion.
"I have seen instances where customers that thought they had 2meg links actually had a 1.5meg link and they don't like hearing that information if they have been paying for [2meg]; the advent of ADSL technology means everyone has adopted broadband [because] it is cheap," he said. "But the trick is if you have 10 sites with ADSL of 512k, then that times-10 is 2.5meg - it is rare that a head office has the appropriate amount of bandwidth for the branch offices, and this subscription ratio introduces problems," Owen said.
All changes in application and network environments have the potential to wreak havoc on a system, he said.
The problem is that critical applications are not necessarily the ones that get the most access to extra capacity: it is usually the less urgent, bandwidth-hungry applications that monopolize the increased bandwidth.
However, according to Ilias Kolovos, senior solutions and technology architect, 3com Australia, a network manager should not consider relinquishing control of the network through the use of autonomous or 'automagic' software.
Kolovos said effective policy management, a little user education and a dash of software is the best method to ensure key traffic management and bandwidth requirements are met.
"With policy management a customer can alter network behaviour relating to peak user times, like between 8am and 2.30pm for better productivity," Kolovos said.
He said organizations should stay away from 'automagic' management tools. "Of course they want complicated tasks simplified but the reality is a network does not behave in a predictable manner - automatic software only makes sense in a small environment or home network.
"A major emphasis behind network management is simply making more the business aware and a big challenge for vendors is [IT managers] want their management tools simple to use without compromising on functionality."