Don’t Just Monitor Your Applications – Control Them!

How’s Your Productivity?

Businesses spend billions of dollars annually on initiatives to make workers more productive. In fact, ZK Research found that in 2015, organizations spent in aggregate over $12 billion on technology to increase the agility of their organization. The new initiatives are great but what about existing applications? Another interesting data point from ZK Research is that workers claim to be 14% less productive because of poor or unavailable application performance. It’s certainly important to fund digital initiatives but it’s critical to understand that by making the applications that workers are already using run optimally, this itself could net out a double-digit productivity improvement. My advice to CIOs is to ensure that existing applications are being delivered optimally before embarking on new initiatives.

Most network management solutions do an excellent job of monitoring network flows, helping IT understand where congestion points are and which applications are underperforming. While I’m a firm believer that visibility is critical to performance management and security, it doesn’t fully solve the problem. I recently authored a post that discusses the shift from managing performance versus managing faults —the idea is: rather than just trying to “see” what’s happening on the network, the goal should be to use the network to control applications.

This was difficult, if not impossible to do with traditional networks. First, the instrumentation available to control applications was limited. Second, the few tools that did exist needed to be configured one-box-at-a-time through a cryptic command line interface. Luckily, SD-WANs can address application control issues, as these solutions not only typically offer a rich application-visibility dashboard to see what’s going on, but also the necessary knobs and levers required to control your applications.

SD-WAN Increases Application Control & Visibility

SD-WANs are loaded with features that enable businesses to control applications. A few of the key ones are:

  • Tunnel bonding is the process of taking multiple network connections, including virtual ones, and bonding them together to create a single, larger connection. While the physical connections continue to exist, it looks like a single, bigger path to the application. The bonded tunnel will outperform any of the underlying links as the best path can always be used creating a superior single overlay.
  • Dynamic path control provides real-time traffic steering over any network connection, including broadband, MPLS, or Internet connection. In the event of a failure or brownout situation from congestion, path control can automatically fail over to the alternative connection. Many SD-WAN providers do offer path control, but the control is manual; it’s critical with path control that the solution be fully automated so failover is immediate and transparent to the users.
  • Acceleration, or WAN optimization as it is more commonly known, manipulates TCP-based traffic to send less traffic across the wire more efficiently. This technology is ideally suited for chatty applications, such as e-mail, which have to travel over long distances. In addition to making the TCP-based applications run better, the reduction in traffic will improve the performance of all applications. Ideally, the WAN optimization would be integrated into the SD-WAN solution and be “always on”.
  • File replication is something I discussed in this post on disaster recovery planning. While this technology doesn’t actually control applications itself, the speed at which files can be replicated will. Without file replication acceleration, copying traffic over the network can take hours and severely impair the performance of mission-critical applications.
  • Quality of service (QoS) creates dedicated “lanes” for traffic to flow in. This is primarily used for real time traffic like VoIP and video where dedicated bandwidth is required. This is another feature that should have the capability to be fully automated so that when the QoS queue isn’t being fully utilized the remaining bandwidth is consumable by other applications.

I’m a firm believer that application visibility is critical to the success of companies today, as it’s impossible to manage and secure what one can’t see. However, network operations teams should strive to take the next step — implementing an SD-WAN to enable the features that can help control applications. It’s the combination of visibility and control that will make business applications perform optimally.

Thinking years out, an SD-WAN would incorporate Machine Learning (ML) technology and be able to learn and adapt as the environment changes. When an upgrade is needed, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) agent would inform the service provider and fully automate this process. However, we are years away from that. The first step down this path is getting a handle on visibility and control.