Network Pros Increasingly Can't Locate Problems, Study Says

Complexity has become the enemy of IT network managers, who are spending more of their time just trying to track down problems, according to a study released by Network Instruments on March 31.

The company's second annual "State of the Network Global Study" surveyed 592 CIOs, network engineers and IT managers from around the world. The survey tracked opinions about various troubleshooting issues over a one-month period from January to February 2008.

A majority (75 percent) of network professionals surveyed indicated that "identifying the source of a problem" was their biggest troubleshooting concern. That figure is up by 25 percent when compared with the responses in last year's study.

IT personnel responding to the survey lost a considerable amount of time chasing performance problems. More than two-thirds of respondents indicated that they spend at least 25 days per year trying to determine such matters.

Solving application issues consumes the largest amount of time for network professionals, according to Charles Thompson, manager of systems engineering for Network Instruments, in an interview with Enterprise Systems.

"The problem is that networks are so complex. Newer technologies such as virtualization only add to the problem," he noted.

The study bears this out: 30 percent of network professionals spent from 26 to 50 days annually replicating network issues. Another 41 percent spent up to 25 days per year doing the same.

"That's a lot of time wasted just trying to figure out what the problem is, which explains why retrospective network analysis is gaining popularity, since it helps you pinpoint the conditions that occurred when a problem arose," Thompson said.

Thompson added, "One thing I'd recommend to reduce troubleshooting time is to take a baseline of the environment during 'normal' operations. It's critical to have that measurement so you'll have a better handle on how things should be."

The study found that 31 percent of network professionals lacked troubleshooting information. Over one-third cited bandwidth consumption issues as the greatest application performance headache. Application latency and delay issues represented the second most common culprit according to 32 percent of respondents. Also, security and compliance were deemed as continuing problem areas, according to three in four respondents.

The study also surveyed voice-over-IP (VoIP) implementation, finding that 66 percent of organizations have implemented or may implement VoIP "within the next 12 months." That finding represents a five percent increase over last year's survey result.

Quality of service and the impact of VoIP on other applications were the largest concerns cited in the study. In 2007, reliability was the top issue. One-fourth of this year's participants were completely confident in their VoIP system vs.13 percent in the 2007 survey.

Migration to multiprotocol label switching (MPLS)-based networks appeared to be steady, although most organizations are still kicking the tires of the technology. The survey found that "35 percent of respondents will have migrated to MPLS networks in the next year," but 55 percent don't have such migration plans.

The study found a somewhat low adoption rate for 10 Gigabit (10 Gb) networks, with 24 percent of organizations planning to implement them within the next 12 months. That figure contrasts with 71 percent of organizations indicating no such plans.

Thompson noted that the adoption rate for 10 Gb networks is "still a strong number, in part because costs are declining." He cited the lower costs of interfaces for servers as an example.

"In fact, many shops are replacing Fibre Channel with NAS using 10 Gb to take advantage of the lower costs," he added.

About the Author

This article is courtesy of Enterprise Systems. James E. Powell is editorial director of