I’ve been back on the road visiting file transfer customers and there’s growing concern out there about the ability to track and predict failure against defined service level agreements (SLAs).  In general, I’m seeing most SLAs in our industry cleave to one or more of the following requirements:

1) Application Availability:  Did our service meet the 99.xxx% goal we set?  Most companies I’ve seen track this in minutes per month and year, and some track this by visibility to key customers.  For example, if the file transfer srvice was unexpectedly down at 3am but only 15 customers would have noticed, can we count it as an outage for only those 15?

2) Round-trip Response Time:  Does our service reliably return results from incoming submissions within X time?  This is big at data centers that self-identify as “item processors” or have an “EDI/transmissions” group.  This can also be further specified by class of customer or work (e.g., higher priority transactions) and time of day.

3) Expected Data Within Defined Transfer Window:  Did we receive (or send) the “right” files during the transmissions window from X:XX to Y:YY?  This one can be harder than it looks.  First, you often have “right files” definitions that have dependencies on control or summary files plus specific file formats, names and sizes.   Then there is the additional challenge of predicting which bundles are “running late” and the question of setting up warning alerts with 30 minutes or 15 minutes to go?

Even with these common requirements in the field, the nature of SLAs continues to evolve.   As we see additional trends develop we’ll continue to note them – please expect more information in the coming months.

If your file transfer solution could look into the future and predict 3 things for you, what would they be?

To kick this off, here’s a list of predictive needs I often hear from customers:

1) Am I about to miss my service levels, and which ones are about to cost me the most?

2) If I grow X% next year or bring on body Y of new traffic, what do I need to plan for in terms of system capacity, staffing and related technology?

3) Can I test a new transmissions proposal as if the test items were really coming from real people during real transmissions windows…all without affecting production?

Would these be your top 3 predictors as well?  We’d love to know either way.

I was wandering around various job sites just to see what kinds of network management career opportunities are available. I was looking for job requirements where SLAs are defined as well as what level of experience was required. And while I did find a lot of opportunities where SLAs were defined, another interesting aspect became apparent, which I discuss below.

While the normal requirements for Cisco certifications, VoIP, QoS and routing, server monitoring experience were required, one thing that stood out was the need for experience with network monitoring tools. Of course the big-boys, HP, IBM and CA were mentioned but even more surprising to me was how many positions defined a requirement for experience with WhatsUp Gold.

While I am an Ipswitch employee, it was very interesting to see the number of positions that required WhatsUp experience as a requirement. Below is one job description that was particularly interesting (names have been deleted to protect the innocent):

Dynamic company is currently seeking Telecom VOIP Administrator. Candidate will assist in managing WAN connectivity to 50+ remote sites; participate in 24×7 on-call rotation; manage vendor relations; provide 2nd tier support to helpdesk staff; assist in managing existing Cisco IP Telephony solution and installing solution at new sites; document WAN and LAN, keeping documentation up-to-date.

Technical Experience:
Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Visio, Active Directory, Cisco Networking, EIGRP, BGP, Frame-relay, MPLS, Network Monitoring, WhatsUp Gold, SonicWALL Firewalls, Catalyst 45xx, Cisco IP Telephony, Cisco Call Manager 4.0, Cisco Unity voicemail

CCNA, College Degree (B.S. or B.A.), 3+ years Telecom experience, Cisco VoIP experience

This leads me to ask a question of network administrators/managers out there. Would a certification on WhatsUp Gold be relevant to building your career credentials?

I recently joined Ipswitch in marketing after a hiatus from the enterprise networking space. I come back to find some significant changes and some things that seem to never change.

The things that have changed:

– more devices
– more bandwidth
– enterprise VoIP has arrived (finally)
– firewalls
– 802.11 wireless
– software licensing
– less documentation

Things that have not changed:

– stressed out Network Administrators
– understaffing (do more with less)
– more devices
– software bloat
– incompatible systems
– software licensing
– lack of documentation

Several things have occurred to me over the past few weeks and now even more than ever, is the expectation that the network is a utility and like heat and power and is just expected to work. So heavy is the reliance on network infrastructure, that most companies literally shut down when access to servers and the Internet has been compromised. Reactive management of networks is no longer acceptable and given that a network management professional’s job is at stake every time there is an issue, pro-active or predictive management of this critical asset is essential.

How many network administrators have internal SLAs that they are measured against for services up-time? I’d be interested in hearing from the folks in the trenches about their experiences and how they meet these expectations.

I’ll dig into some of the above changes and not changes over the next few weeks.

CA announced release 6.0 of its eHealth network performance management solution, featuring a robust new Report Center and other enhancements designed to make it easier for enterprises and service providers to achieve their service level objectives with optimum resource efficiency.

eHealth r6.0 provides greater insight into network performance, behaviors and trends by leveraging a powerful reporting engine that allows users to create, schedule, run and customize web-based reports about the health and performance of network resources. These reports can include “what-if” queries to answer specific questions—such as the effect on performance if the number of users in a branch office doubles. They also can document service level agreement (SLA) compliance to line-of-business managers. Service providers can use these same reporting capabilities to document SLA compliance to their customers.

The new release also simplifies eHealth administration by extending its user interface to provide concurrent, multi-user access to capabilities such as managing group lists and web user accounts.

“The new reports we can generate with CA’s eHealth will significantly enhance the way we both manage our network and document our support for the business,” said Chris Perez, senior network technician at Raymond James Financial, one of the largest financial services firms in the U.S. “In addition, the latest user interface enhancements will reduce the time we spend on administration—allowing us to re-allocate resources to more strategic tasks.”

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