To the non-technical, network performance management may seem like the activities of a secret society. Just like the alchemists of old, who allegedly transformed base metals into gold, whenever there is an issue with any part of the IT infrastructure, IT pros swoop in and promptly identify and fix the problem. Most users or managers consider these activities a normal part of the IT team's job, and, of course, they are quite correct.

Unfortunately, as technology needs continue to grow, network performance will reach a crisis point that standard optimization techniques can no longer solve without newer technology.

Pulling a Rabbit out of a Hat

"Why is it that, despite the fact businesses are growing increasingly more dependent on technology, we are not budgeting for the ongoing replacement of the equipment and are expecting five- to 10-year-old pieces of kit to keep up with modern business needs?" asks David Rudduck, managing director of Insane Technologies, a Gold Coast, Australia-based IT consultancy that focuses on cybersecurity awareness training, managed IT and security services, and disaster recovery solutions.

So, it's time for an upgrade. But what do we do when IT decision makers veto the implementation plan due to "budgetary constraints"? How can IT pros solve future network performance issues without resorting to magic?

To labor the point, your sysadmin — let's call him Larry Potter (the previously unmentioned half-brother of Harry, who drifted into IT after leaving Hogwarts) — must now ensure all business-critical processes are maintained, but he lacks the necessary tools and equipment to do so. "Damn Muggles," he mutters, as he leaves another fruitless meeting with the executive team.

Motivated to solve the issue despite the lack of additional investment, what can Larry actually achieve without the desired budget?

Reluctance to Change

IT decision makers seem to share a widespread reluctance to acknowledge that IT equipment requires replacement and to accept that an earlier hardware investment will no longer provide a return. When they reject your proposal for new equipment, they'll generally cite budgetary concerns as the reason for their decision. We can take a response of "insufficient budgets" at face value, and in some cases, it may be true. But in others, less obvious reasons may be at play, which may or may not be publicly discussed.

The fact remains that some companies will blatantly ignore the advice of their technical experts.

"You've pitched the idea of replacing your client's $50 router with something a bit more advanced for a number of years, but always got pushback: 'Our internet provider supplied it, so it should work,'" says Rudduck, citing an incident where the client's ISP provided a consumer router without the management tools to evaluate bandwidth usage.

"Maybe it's the way we've always been. You bought a VHS player, or maybe a DVD player, and kept it until you were forced to upgrade — either it died, or something new came out — Blu-ray for example," adds Rudduck.

We Enjoy Better Tech at Home

IT requests relate to network performance management. Whether we're requesting network monitoring tools that allow automation of common tasks or new hardware, our requests are directly related to business needs. They are not motivated by laziness or a desire to experiment with new technology that we would otherwise not have access to.

"Unfortunately, when it comes to computing technology, the amount of bandwidth (CPU processing power, memory usage, hard drive storage, network and internet) is ever increasing. We have more devices connected to our network, with more applications doing more things than ever before, yet we expect old technology to keep up. Old technology that predates many of the devices it's supporting today is trying to keep up," says Rudduck.

The fact remains that U.K. home tech is often superior to that supplied in the workplace, costing U.K. companies millions of working days per year in lost productivity, according to a 2014 ITPro article. It's no surprise BYOD is on the rise; employees' personal smartphones, laptops and tablets are often better than their workplace equivalents. When it comes to IT pros, I can guarantee that their home tech (including available bandwidth per user) is far superior to their workplace tech as many custom-build their PCs to their desired spec (avoiding branded solutions) and provide a stable computing environment for the whole family. The one possible exception is the home printer.

"The reality is that regular upgrades generally cost less than the impact of not upgrading at all. Even a $2,000 computer only amounts to about $13 per week over a 36-month lifetime. It's a relatively small price to pay to ensure your employees have the fastest computing technology available to them. If that employee is impacted even 5 percent in their weekly performance due to a slow or problematic computer, it will cost your business $50-plus per week in wasted staff productivity," explains Rudduck.

No Budget, No Service?

So what do you do when you're forced to work on network performance management and have a restrictive budget? Freeware can help in some instances, but it's only a stopgap solution until funds become available. When your overall bandwidth is maxed out, something has to give in terms of network tasks, and you'll need to secure executive signoff before you implement any changes.

"You may not be able to allow everyone to freely roam on the internet. You may not be able to allow every mobile device to sign on to your wireless network. Maybe you can't offer a free guest wireless network. Maybe you can't have 20 applications open all at once," cautions Rudduck.

IT will thrive in any environment, but if forced to resort to "MacGyver" techniques to keep the network running at maximum performance, can we really be held responsible when business-critical services go down? After all, we did provide early warnings, possibly accompanied by the obligatory colorful pie charts and graphs that executives love. According to Rudduck, it all comes down to a simple choice: "Regularly upgrade your equipment, or don't advance."


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