The scenario is typical: The lights on the network management consoles are a soothing shade of green, but a top revenue-generating application is crawling. Business users have swamped the help desk with calls and trouble tickets. Everyone there is calling the network team to figure out the problem.
"The network is the lowest common denominator everyone points to when there's a problem," says Michael Morris, a network engineer for a US$3 billion high-tech company.
"We have one application that as soon as it goes bad, the application team assumes it must be a network problem. [The team] even configured software so that when there's a problem, a message pops up telling the user that the error that has occurred is probably a network issue and to contact the help desk," Morris says.
The same phenomenon plagues the American Heart Association (AHA), says Josh Hinkle, manager of network management and security at the organization. "It always falls back on us. Somebody will say, 'There's a big sinkhole in front of the building' - and everyone will think, 'Oh, it must be the network,'" he jokes.
Four cool network optimization startups
Pointing fingers at the network is no laughing matter, however. Application performance - especially in today's world of service-oriented applications and virtualized desktops, servers and storage - is a factor of a company's technology as a whole. More often than not, performance degradation can be traced to causes at many different infrastructure layers: server, application, database, desktop, middleware and so on.
"Ninety per cent of the problems these days aren't network problems," says Tracy Corbo, a senior analyst for network and service management at IDC. "It's probably something about the application, maybe how it's accessing the database, or maybe a piece of the database is down. There might be three or four people who need to be involved in that discussion to figure it out," she says.
Such complexity puts siloed IT infrastructures at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to ensuring, supporting and troubleshooting application performance end to end. Rather than relying on the server team to keep the servers up, the database team to handle the databases, and the security and network teams to make sure their pieces work as promised, all the pieces - and staff - need to work together seamlessly.