Application performance: Knowing when to hold'em

Today's stakes are too high for a gamble on application optimization

Like veteran poker players, network executives have long depended on a mix of skill, instincts and just plain luck to predict application performance. With business success hanging in the balance, however, today's stakes are too high for a gamble on application optimization.

Fortunately, today's network executives can deliver optimized application performance across local- and wide-area networks using a variety of technologies, and can spot slowdowns in real time using tactical tools. In fact, when planning their New Data Center infrastructure, network executives must incorporate application optimization technologies. The challenge is collecting the right mix of technologies and tools for a winning hand.

"Application management software is great when you are working with a constrained pipe. But if you are dealing with application traffic on the Internet, it becomes a whole new game," says Bruce Meyer, senior network engineer at ProMedica Health System.

Meyer invested in a Nortel Application Switch 2208 to get a better view of the application traffic consuming bandwidth among some 9,000 users at 209 healthcare facilities. He couples it with an open source, Linux-based reporting tool to get stats on top talkers and bandwidth consumption. The application switch, deployed between a gateway router and the firewall, can classify more than 90 percent of network and application traffic and apply predefined use policies to guarantee that critical application traffic, such as radiology services, gets priority over traffic such as peer-to-peer chats, he says.

"If you know what's traveling over your network, you can better control application flows and offer higher availability and better performance for business applications," Meyer says. "No one has told me about the business need for iTunes yet."

Meyer certainly is not alone in his quest to better understand applications better. Across enterprises, the urgency of that task continues to multiply as data center consolidation thrives, telecommuting grows and complex distributed applications flourish. Whether used on their own or in concert with others, the tools available today should in one way or another tell network executives how to design their networks for applications and instrument applications for their particular networks. "There is a lot more intelligence available today about how the application uses the network and how the network can make the application more responsive, robust and reliable," says Joe Skorupa, a research director at Gartner.

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