21/08/2015

By Karl Campbell, Regional Vice President, UK and South Africa at Riverbed Technology


The Vuelta a España is undoubtedly one of the largest and most famous bicycle races in the world with millions of fans following and analysing the performance of the riders. If you look closely, there are quite a few similarities between professional cycling teams and modern businesses. A cycling team is a hybrid organisation comprised of mechanics, caregivers, doctors, team leaders and nutritional experts, who all contribute to the success of the riders. While most teams have a central office, many of them are working from different locations.

All employees - and riders - are obviously dependent on optimal information. The same applies to companies that work with branches and offices spread across remote locations. This could be a sales office, production facility or a country residence. In all these locations, it is important that the overall IT landscape - from infrastructure to applications - is working at an optimal level and provides the highest possible availability in order to gain a competitive advantage in the market. This requires visibility, optimisation and control.

Visibility

Often an IT department doesn’t know when a network performance problem occurs and only realises when an end-user mentions it. This suggests a major lack of understanding of the status of the network. Ideally, the IT department needs to be aware of any performance issues before the end-user is affected and with the right tools in place, it is possible to gain that visibility into the network. For example, such a tool may indicate that the server is more taxed on Mondays because employees check their email from the weekend. Without the right tools to detect such patterns and without a good understanding of the condition of the infrastructure, the consequences can be quite substantial: unhappy customers, lost sales and lower employee satisfaction.

Compare it with the coaching staff of the cycling team, who want to know as much about the condition of the riders to develop the best exercise routine and as the leader of a cycling team, to be aware of the stages within the ride. For example, a mountain stage may require protective clothing; poor road surfaces may require special tyres; and a sunny day may require additional hydration. Mitigating these circumstances ensures riders can focus on optimum performance.

Optimisation

The next step is to optimise the performance of the infrastructure and applications. This this is not a luxury – while performance of common applications such as Microsoft Office, Exchange and SharePoint are usually fine on a local area network (LAN) – the same is not true when applied to side area networks (WANs).

This can be prevented in various ways by a number of WAN optimisation technologies. By duplicating the data, the network is less loaded with redundant data. Commonly used data is not continuously sent back and forth between locations, but rather stored locally in an intelligent way and merged with new data when needed.

With this technology, the aim is to make data transportation more efficient, with information sent back and forth less frequently, reducing WAN traffic by up to 98 per cent.

Control

Businesses should find ways to increase the efficiency of their network, so that they can reduce the total cost of ownership and bring the performance of applications in line with their business goals. Additionally, reducing network bottlenecks is particularly important for the finance and sales departments, which must have sufficient bandwidth to make the final sprint.

Applications can be grouped according to type or business use case so that business-critical applications can run on their own, faster and more secure network, whereas other applications that are less critical and inexpensive can run over the public Internet. As a result, applications can be delivered to end-users depending on the priorities that have been put in place to meet business needs.

In cycling terms, the management team knows the route of each stage and therefore has the right tools at hand for optimal performance cyclists. They get food before hunger strikes or, the rainwear is waiting in the trailers, by following the weather forecasts closely.

As a cycling network wins the coveted red jersey through visibility, optimisation and control, so too does the modern, hybrid enterprise.