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Because most application networking products are delivered as appliances, implementation tends to be simple--up to a point.
"Plugging in the box was easy," says Southco's Middleton. "Deciding on the rollout of the project--and trying to decipher what the sales guy had to sell us versus what we really needed--was not."
Middleton's team ran the number of its employees and locations through the formula Riverbed provided for planning purposes, but it found that the projections didn't match Southco's actual environment, which included few multimedia applications and a Telnet-based business system with lean bandwidth requirements. "If we had followed the information they gave us in the beginning, we probably would have spent twice as much," he says.
Once installed, the appliances proved fairly simple to operate. "There's very little that can break," says Middleton. So far, Southco's IT staff hasn't needed to write a lot of custom rules to run on the appliance. The only exception was for one Lotus Domino database backup routine that was encrypted in such a way that it wasn't helped by the appliance's compression. "So the rule basically said, 'Don't mess with this port, this IP,'" he says.
Cindy Berry, a systems programming specialist at American Century Investments, says her company started using F5's BigIP appliances to improve the performance of its public Web site and gradually broadened its use to encompass internal applications and to execute more sophisticated rules. For instance, the devices periodically check one Java servlet on the company's IBM WebSphere application servers to verify that each server is operating properly. If the servlet doesn't respond, the load balancer stops sending traffic to that server until the problem is corrected.
"We have built in intelligence so we're able to see that not only is the application responding, but it's responding the way we expect it to," Berry says. Recently, American Century has started working with a performance monitoring product from F5 partner Symphoniq, which she hopes will provide a fuller picture of the performance experienced by users so her team can continue to improve on it.
There is a definite learning curve involved in using these devices to their fullest potential, Berry says, particularly in understanding the options for compression and caching and when it's appropriate to use them.
Gartner's Skorupa says CIOs must ensure that the right people are assigned to implement and manage these systems. "This isn't the traditional network plumbing," he points out. "It's more closely tied to applications than it is to switches and routers. So it needs to be assigned to application management groups, not the traditional switching and router guys.
"One of my clients has been complaining about this. He says, 'Senior management keeps giving me requisitions for network engineers, who are of little use to me. I can't hire the right people because it's the wrong requisition and the wrong salary grade.'
"The people assigned to these systems need to have broad backgrounds, including security and application performance management. And they have to be innately curious, because the market is developing so rapidly."
Ask your IT team: Do we have the right people on staff to manage this type of application networking infrastructure? Do we have application people who know enough about networking--or networking people who know enough about application requirements--to grow into this role?
Ask your technology evaluation team: Have we assessed where this technology will make the most difference and how much we need to spend on it?