Network complexity poses performance challenge
Federal agencies are finding it more and more challenging to maintain high levels of network performance.
The challenge is twofold. On the one hand, the networks themselves are becoming increasingly complex, with both a higher volume and broader variety of traffic. On the other hand, budgets are getting tighter, forcing IT managers to look for more cost-effective ways to deliver services without compromising on performance.
In a recent survey of government IT professionals, the average annual increase in network traffic was 37 percent. That trend is likely to continue, in part because of the rising use of video and audio streaming. The survey, conducted by the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, found that in two years as much as 53 percent of agency traffic will come from high-definition telepresence or real-time IP video conferencing.
These shifts in traffic patterns can take their toll on the network infrastructure, which has not escaped the notice of IT managers. Given the volume of traffic hitting the infrastructure these days, it doesn’t take long for a small hiccup to turn into a big problem.
So it should come as no surprise that 82 percent of respondents said that they were looking to do a better job of identifying and heading off potential network bottlenecks (see chart).
Additionally, 59 percent said one of the top priorities was obtaining better tools for improving quality of service.
Analysts at the Aberdeen Group, a market research and consulting firm, emphasize the importance of real-time network monitoring. Some tools use data found in network logs or stored in network analytic tools.
“While this can be valuable from a broad network understanding point of view, it can be disastrous when it comes to building quick and effective platforms that find and address network issues before they become a major problem,” wrote Jim Rapoza, a senior research analyst for network and application performance at Aberdeen, in a report titled “Network on a Wire Update: Real-Time Live Network Data Boosts Performance and Network Satisfaction,” published in January 2014.
But better network management itself is not enough. Security remains a high concern, with 66 percent of government IT professionals saying they were looking to provide better security for data-in-transit without compromising network performance.
However, despite these pressing demands, IT managers still need to be mindful of budget constraints. All told, 59 percent of respondents also said they were very concerned with trimming the cost of their network operations and management.
One of the more disruptive shifts underway in the network infrastructure involves mobility. Many agencies are still working out their mobility strategies, including the possibility of a bring-your-own-device policy. Nonetheless, IT managers recognize that, sooner or later, mobile technology will play a major role in their agencies.
For example, 65 percent of respondents said their agencies were moving to a “wireless by default/wired by exception” paradigm. And this is not just a matter of supporting teleworkers and frequent travelers: 52 percent said their agencies provided campus-wide wireless access, with another 35 percent planning to support it within a year.
But for the foreseeable future, it won’t be a matter of wireless vs. wired networking. Instead, the focus is on achieving a seamless integration of the two networking environments. From an infrastructure perspective, the work is well underway: 50 percent of respondents said their agencies had created an integrated infrastructure, while another 37 percent plan to do so in the next year.
The cloud also could play a pivotal role. Forrester Research expects more and more enterprises to take what they call a mobile-back-end-as-a-service (MBaaS) approach, relying on the cloud to deliver applications and data to their mobile users, rather than connecting mobile apps to the data center.
So far, a lot of organizations have not taken this approach, but many likely will reconsider as their mobile population grows, according to James Staten, a Forrester analyst focused on infrastructure and operations.
“We still see too many enterprises bypassing MBaaS and trying to connect the mobile app to their web tier or right to the back office,” Staten wrote in a recent blog post. “This burdens mobile applications unnecessarily and inhibits their agility while potentially pounding the backend as mobile becomes the primary system of engagement.”