5 data center network management tips from “The Breakfast Club”

Don’t you forget about me. This Simple Minds hit closed out one of the most iconic teen movies of all time and nearly 30 years after its release we still haven’t forgotten about it. While most viewers associate this movie with the obvious themes of rebellion and unlikely bonds between what seem like very different characters, something you probably never thought about is the connection to network management.
Don’t believe me that Bender, Claire and the rest of the gang have a lot to offer for network managers? Check out these five takeaways:

  • Visibility matters. To say Principal Vernon had a lot of trouble with the students would be an understatement. He tried to wrangle them in, but he faced one BIG hurdle: he had no visibility into what was going on. This is often the case for network managers who are facing more complex data centers than ever before thanks to the introduction of cloud computing and virtualization. The massive influx of data volume isn’t helping the situation either. In fact, according to a December 2012 report from IDC, the digital universe will grow from 130 exabytes to 40,000 exabytes from 2005 to 2015. That’s 40 trillion gigabytes in 15 years. It’s crucial for IT to have insight into their data. If network managers can’t see what’s going on, they can’t react to events. The ability to see every conversation on the network ensures that IT knows when things aren’t working right or are ready to go south. Managers must invest in software solutions that enable the organization to optimize the efficiency of network operations and reduce total cost of ownership.
  • Everyone has a different perspective. Emilio Estevez, the jock, sees things entirely different from Judd Nelson, the rebel. Users of the network are the same, especially as it relates to applications. For instance, sometimes performance may seem fine when testing it using “ping” but when someone uses a transaction-based application, even a small increase in latency can make a huge difference. The ability to know which way the user’s application traffic goes is key to effective troubleshooting.Traditional network management does not provide granular visibility down to end-systems, users and applications. Also, most network infrastructure components that are deployed today do not provide data to control or monitor applications – they are typically implemented in such a way that all services and all applications are given equal priority or only very basic prioritization schemes. IT must look at options beyond traditional networks designed to support a static wired access edge with applications running on dedicated physical servers. Those old-school networks are simply not well positioned to support the new computing environment brought with the introduction of cloud and virtualization technologies.
  • When we all work together, life is better. If you haven’t seen the movie then be advised there’s a spoiler alert ahead. By the end of the day the kids learn to work together and actually start enjoying each other’s differences. Well, enjoying may be a stretch, but at least they are working together. In IT it’s the same; when different groups work together, like server, storage and network administrators, everyone’s happy. Rather than looking at each person’s role as a set of individual responsibilities, you must look at network management as a unified job. This means the person managing the hypervisors or servers can see the same screens as the network engineers. Not only does integrated management of virtual servers, storage arrays and the network infrastructure enable the full benefits of a virtual data center, it also helps avoids finger pointing and duplication of efforts.
  • Controls need to be technically enforced. John Bender is put in solitary punishment after he gets caught running through the hallways and playing basketball when he shouldn’t be. While he was told to stay put, it wasn’t technically enforced and he was able to climb out of the room and back to his peers. Many times IT procedures are not enforced and steps can get skipped. I’ve seen situations in the past where servers have gone online before the backups were configured, causing data loss. Even though there was a procedure to set up and test backups before letting something go online, without technical controls, this critical step was skipped. Technical enforcement, by giving the server a restrictive role, stops this from happening.
  • “Without lamps there’d be no light.” And without the network there would be no applications. Infrastructure is often overlooked as not strategic, but without the network nothing else works. That means no email, no ERP and no new development, just to name a few. CIOs need to be strategic, but without IT running smoothly, the executive team or Board will be spend their time discussing outages, performance or costs rather than key business initiatives. It’s critical to make sure that CIOs have their shop in order, before they can help influence other, more strategic, areas of the business.
  • So the next time you find yourself watching an old classic, be on the lookout for new tips and advice on how to better your network.
    Rich Casselberry is director of IT Operations for Enterasys.