10 Ways to Juice Up Your Network

Courtesy of Networking Pipeline

Computer networks continue to face the problem of being to useful for their own good.

Users are finding increasing uses for computer networks, continuing to make increasing requests for information, files or execution of different applications (which continue to become bigger and more resource intensive themselves). As more capabilities are developed, the networks invariably contain more data, new parts or both.

But this can all lead to a network that becomes too bogged down under its own weight to be very useful. With that in mind, a couple of technology experts offer their top 10 suggestions for juicing up your network, Joshua Feinberg, co-founder of Computer Consulting 101, West Palm Beach, Fla., which provides business development for network consultants and computer consultants for small companies, recommends:

1. Invest in new equipment
Many switches, routers and hubs, primarily at small companies, were added before Y2K and haven't been upgraded since. Performance of this equipment has grown by leaps and bounds the last few years, while prices have fallen sharply, and buying now can boost your network.

"This is where you can get a large boost in network performance for a modest investment," Feinberg says.

Additionally, you may find that a single, relatively inexpensive device can do the work of two or more older devices, speeding up the entire network. This can also simplify network configuration, leading to even more productivity gains.

2. Examine bandwidth availability and pricing
Similarly, the bandwidth provider may not have increased bandwidth or cut prices, even though more bandwidth should be available, meaning lower prices. T-1 lines and even T-3 lines that were prohibitively priced a few years ago are now at a level that medium-sized and many small businesses can afford.

3. Stop being stingy with storage
Storage area networks and network-attached storage devices are big bargains now, and managing them has never been easier. Give your users the storage capacity they need in 2006.

Again, many companies haven't increased their storage since Y2K, despite a dramatic decrease in cost, according to Feinberg. As a result, network users have been instructed to save certain files to their hard drives rather than to an old, small storage device. This slows down use of the user's PC, which can in turn slow down network performance.

Companies can get five to 10 times the storage today for the same price as a few years ago. Offsite storage is also much easier and cheaper, which is important for disaster recovery and also to archive older files that might need to be kept, but are very rarely accessed.

4. Continue to "harden" thenetwork
Spyware, Trojans and worms, oh my! Hackers are continuing to develop new programs to steal data and do other damage, while sapping network performance. Much of the protections available through Windows, Microsoft Office and various anti-virus and anti-spyware programs are worthless if not updated to battle the ever-burgeoning threats. But expecting a human to handle all these updates is unwise. Most can be handled automatically. So systems should be set up to download and install the latest patches as soon as they become available.

Spyware that comes in unblocked by a non-updated anti-virus/anti-spyware program can make a network unusable in as little as two weeks.

5. Employ automated resource monitoring
This can help detect network bottlenecks. Once you know what these bottlenecks are, you'll be able to speed things up.

6. Be proactive with users and managers
Beyond ensuring that their systems are set up to automatically handle all the patches and upgrades, talk to managers and network users about their experiences using the system. They may point to a slow-loading browser page or other easily fixable network glitches that automated monitoring may miss.

7. Consider new applications that reduce data entry
You may also find that some information is being entered multiple times, but adding some inexpensive software or middleware would lead to only having to enter data a single time.

Chuck Foley, president of Tacit Networks, South Plainfield, N.J., a company that provides wide area file services and wide area network optimization applications, adds these recommendations:

8. Employ e-mail consolidation and acceleration technologies
One of the biggest thieves of network performance is e-mail, particularly those with attachments. According to Foley, some 70 percent of e-mail now includes attachments, some as much as 5MB or more.

That not only takes up time and space when it's initially transmitted, but many of these e-mails are forwarded multiple times throughout an organization. One 5MB file forwarded to 20 others in an organization is 100MB of resource use. Do that over 10 days, and you're at a terabyte. What's worse is that 60 percent of these attachments are never even opened, according to Foley.

E-mail consolidation and acceleration technologies download the e-mails, but don't download attachments unless the recipient clicks on the attachment.

9. Use wide area file services
These provide more efficient WAN communication due to enhanced compression and streamlined communications between user and sender. Foley says some analysts have predicted that wide area file services will grow to a billion dollar market very soon as companies attempt to stay connected without negatively affecting network resources.

10. Use data reduction/pattern matching
This enables appliances sitting at different points of the WAN to exchange only the changes in a file (i.e., a Web page with real-time information) rather than entire file. Any unchanged information is stored on the appliance. The less data that needs to be transmitted, the better the network performance.