Chris LaPoint SolarWinds

Defense IT

With a Sherlockian approach, detecting network threats can be elementary

If you've ever read the “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you're probably familiar with some of the plot contrivances. They usually entail a highly complex scheme that involves many different machinations, takes several twists and turns, and requires the astute skills of none other than The World's Greatest Detective to solve.

Today's government networks are a bit like a Holmes story, or any well-written mystery. They involve many moving parts, sometimes comprising new and old elements working together. They require all of the pieces to work seamlessly, lest the entire operation should fall apart. And they are the central nervous system of any IT application or data center infrastructure environment – on premise, hosted, or in the cloud.

They're also exceedingly complex, and if one part of the network breaks, the whole thing could go down. That's why it's so important for IT pros to be able to quickly identify and resolve problems. But the very complexity of these networks can often make that task a significant challenge.

When that challenge arises, though, it becomes about more than just fixing something that's broken. In reality, it requires skills of a Sherlockian nature to unravel the diabolical mystery surrounding the issue. And, as we know, there's only one Sherlock Holmes (apologies to Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Lee Miller) – just as there's only one person with the skills to uncover where the network problems lie.

That would be you, my dear federal IT professional.

As I'm sure you're well aware, your job has changed significantly over the past couple of years (heck, probably over the past couple of weeks). Yes, you still have to "keep the lights on," as it were, but now you have even greater responsibilities. You've become a more integral, strategic member of your agency, and your skills have become even more highly valued. That's because you're in charge of that complex network lifeblood, the foundation for just about everything that takes place within your organization – and you're the only one who has the ability to keep that lifeblood flowing.

To do that, you need to get a handle on everything taking place within your network, and the best way is through a holistic network monitoring approach.

Holistic network monitoring requires that all components of the network puzzle – including response time, availability, performance and devices -- are analyzed and accounted for. These days, it also means taking into consideration the many applications that are tied together across wireless, LAN, WAN, and cloud networks, not to mention the resources (such as databases, servers, virtualization, storage) they use to function properly.

In short, it's no longer about looking at different components and treating them as if they are their own separate entities. Your IT network now comprises a bunch of different utilities that should be working harmoniously together, whether they are older, legacy software, shiny new virtualization tools, or something in the middle.

Network monitoring and performance optimization solutions help solve the mystery entwined within this diabolical complexity. They can help you identify and pinpoint issues before they become real issues – security threats, such as detection of malware and rogue devices, but also productivity threats, including hiccups that can cause outages and downtime.

And, let's not forget a key perpetrator to poor application performance: network latency. Network monitoring tools can help solve this issue as well, as they allow you to automatically and continuously monitor packets, application traffic, response times and more. Further, they provide you with the ability to respond quickly to potential issues. The ability to do this is absolutely critical; a slow network means a broken app and poor end user experience, which means reduced efficiency and the ability to complete necessary tasks.

As Sherlock said in “A Study in Scarlet,” "there is nothing like first-hand evidence." Network monitoring solutions provide just that – first-hand evidence of issues as they arise, wherever they may take place within the network. As such, implementing a holistic approach to network management can make solving even the biggest IT mysteries elementary.

About the Author

Chris LaPoint is vice president of product management at IT management software provider SolarWinds, based in Austin, Texas.

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