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Networking / November 15, 2021

What Is Network Optimization (and Why Is It Important)?

Updated November 24, 2021.

At its most basic, a network is a system made up of two or more computers sharing resources, data, and communications, with the goal of more quickly and effectively accomplishing essential tasks. A network is more than just the sum of its parts; it’s an essential kind of infrastructure that facilitates everything from interoffice hardware solutions (such as being able to share and access a wireless printer) to the very existence of the internet (which is itself a massive network comprising hundreds of millions of smaller networks, all sharing information and resources).

Simply put, networks are a vital part of how we conduct business in the modern world. As such, optimizing network performance should be a major goal for any modern business.

What Is Network Optimization?

Network optimization is an umbrella term that refers to a range of tools, strategies, and best practices for monitoring, managing, and improving network performance.

In today’s highly competitive, dynamic business environment, it’s not enough for essential networks to perform adequately. As we move further into the digital age, the world depends more and more on reliable, fast, safe, available, 24/7 data transfer. Unfortunately, outdated or under-dimensioned hardware or suboptimal software can limit available bandwidth and introduce increased latency. Obsolete or underutilized network security options can negatively impact performance and leave systems unprotected. Sudden surges or spikes in traffic can overwhelm essential network functions and slow down response times. And the list goes on, creating potentially hundreds of mounting issues capable of deteriorating the end-user experience.

The primary goal of network optimization is to ensure the best possible network design and performance at the lowest cost structure. The network must promote increased productivity and usability and allow data to be exchanged effectively and efficiently. And this is achieved by managing network latency, traffic volume, network bandwidth, and traffic direction.

What Metrics Impact Network Performance?

When it comes to your network, optimizing can only happen once the current state has been fully assessed. However, if you want to get a clear picture of networking performance within your organization, you will find that there are a significant number of parameters and components that are involved. In the interest of helping you get started, targeting the most relevant areas, here are five essential factors to consider when measuring your network operations:

Latency

Latency describes the time it takes for data to travel between two locations (such as between two computers on a network), with lower latency indicating a faster, more responsive network. This delay in data transmission may only amount to a few milliseconds at each individual point in the journey, but when combined can add up to a noticeable amount of network lag.

Although the absolute upper limit of data transmission speed is the speed of light, certain limiting factors, such as the inherent qualities of WAN routers or fiber optic cables, will always introduce some amount of latency. Other causes may include increased data payloads, retransmission of duplicate packets, the extensive array of inline security tools, proxies, switches, firewalls, and other network elements analyzing and adding to network traffic, and retrieving stored data.

Availability

Availability is a measure of how often relevant network hardware and software function properly. The flip side of availability is downtime, where the systems in question are not performing to the desired specifications. Optimal availability means that no hardware or software downtime is negatively impacting network performance.

Network availability can be easily calculated by dividing the uptime by the total time in any period, with the most obvious goal being 100 percent availability and 0 percent downtime. That said, it is not uncommon for complex systems (such as networks) to occasionally experience problems, so 100 percent availability is not something any business is likely to achieve. On the other hand, striving for this lofty standard is an essential aspect of network optimization. Achieving “five nines” (99.999 percent) or better for availability is paramount.

Packet Loss

A network packet is a small segment of data that may be transmitted from one point to another within a network. Complete messages, files, or other types of information are broken down into packets which are then individually sent and recombined to reconstruct the original file at the destination. In the event that a packet fails to arrive intact, the origin will need to resend only the lost packet, instead of resending the entire file.

Although the occasional lost packet is seldom cause for concern, a large number of lost packets can disrupt important business functions and may be an indication of larger network-related problems. Packet loss is quantifiable by monitoring traffic at both ends of the data transmission, then comparing the number of sent packets to the number of packets received.

Network Jitter

Jitter is used to describe the amount of inconsistency in latency across the network, while latency measures the time it takes for data to reach its destination and ultimately make a round trip. When delays between data packets are inconsistent, it can affect a network’s ability to deliver real-time, and especially two-way, communication. This can create issues with video conferences, IP security cameras, VoIP phone systems, and more. Network jitter is symptomatic of network congestion, lack of packet delivery prioritization, outdated hardware, and overburdened network equipment. Other causes may include a poor internet connection or using lower-quality wireless networks.

Because network jitter may result in lost packets, dropped connections, network congestion, and poor user experience — especially audio, voice, and video feeds — it is an important consideration for network optimization.

Utilization

Generally speaking, whenever a component of the network is more than 70 percent utilized, slowdowns will occur due to buffering of packets, switch port head-of-line blocking issues, and their backplanes being overwhelmed. If the component is highly utilized for long periods of time, the slowdowns turn into serious delays. The connection to the internet can become a bottleneck when the number of simultaneous interactions involving internet provider-based applications and services exceeds what service allows for. Measuring utilization provides a big-picture view of your network to determine which sections are seeing what amounts of traffic and what times peak traffic is most likely to occur. Correctly measured, utilization can give you insight into which networks are carrying the largest load, where the loads are coming from, and whether utilization is too high in certain areas.

In terms of measurement, traffic usage may be represented as a ratio between current network traffic and the peak amounts networks are designed to carry, represented as a percentage.

What Are the Benefits of Network Optimization?

Managed effectively, network optimization is capable of helping organizations build more effective and efficient internal and external networks. This carries with it a number of distinct advantages, including the following:

Increased Network Throughput

Network optimization removes the hurdles that stand in the way of optimal data transmission speeds. This means decreased latency and jitter, faster response times, and a better-connected IT ecosystem, and, as a result, increased throughput.

Enhanced Employee Productivity

Latency, packet loss, and downtime in internal networks prevent employees from being able to access and use vital tools and information when and how they need them most. Network optimization keeps data flowing properly, so your workforce doesn’t have to sit on its hands waiting for your network to catch up.

Improved Analytics and Security Posture

An important element of network analytics and security is traffic visibility. By keeping a close eye on what traffic is moving through your network, where it’s going, and what it’s doing, you’ll gain the benefit of being able to more quickly identify and respond to threats, and track various crucial metrics, including those outlined above.

Armed with this information, organizations using network performance monitoring and diagnostic (NPMD), application performance monitoring (APM), and security tools can analyze captured data and turn it into valuable, actionable insights. These tools can be further enhanced with advanced metadata, including attributes from the application layer, to solve more advanced use cases. Network analytics can likewise be employed in predictive modeling, providing accurate forecasts of future network usage.

Enriched Customer Experience

Customer-facing networks likewise benefit from network optimization, with faster, more available services. When customers enjoy full functionality without having to wait longer than expected, they are more likely to want to continue doing business with your company.

Greater Overall Network Performance

Obviously, the overall goal of network optimization is to optimize your network’s operation. This means better performance across the board and improved returns from any and all services and systems that rely on network performance.

Gigamon for Effective Network Optimization

Gigamon, the leader in network visibility solutions for the hybrid cloud, is an essential partner in enabling effective network optimization. Gigamon gives you the power to put your network and all of your network traffic under a microscope. You can acquire all relevant workload traffic and, using NPMD, APM, and security tools, identify which network elements and applications are consuming the most bandwidth or operating in a compromised manner. And that’s only the beginning. With Gigamon, you can help ensure clear, comprehensive visibility and control across your hybrid cloud deployments.

Gigamon Hawk, the hybrid cloud visibility and analytics fabric, provides a next-generation network packet brokering solution that is essential to ensuring your security and network performance monitoring tools can assist you in getting the most out of the networks you and your customers depend on, and take network optimization further than you ever thought possible.

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