The Case of the Blocked Internet

By David Strom Print this article Print

Network management requires the right combination of skills, tools, and intuition to track down and solve problems.

The Case of the Blocked Internet

Sometimes you don’t realize you have a horror story until you look back and see how bad the situation was. The City of Davenport, Iowa, had a network infrastructure that was a mess—largely because of a poorly evolved Internet filtering solution. The city needed to unblock access for particular users at certain times of the day and to support Citrix terminal users without a lot of configuration.

Here’s what happened, according to John Sparks, the city’s information systems supervisor: “We were using a Web blocking tool and had had configuration problems with it for years. Eventually, we were using three servers: one with the logging software, another one with the blocking feature and the third was a proxy server. It was a bear to explain how to use the tool, I didn’t like its reporting and the whole setup was too confusing to explain to our IT staff. On top of that, we were paying $5,000 to $6,000 per year.”

This setup wasn’t working, especially when it came time to manage the city’s Citrix logins and be able to understand how various employees used Internet bandwidth. In addition, Sparks’ team had to make changes to the filtering policies for employees whose jobs required them for law enforcement and other professional reasons in order to check adult sites or monitor eBay auctions.

“We now pay about half the cost with a Cymphonix solution that we got about a year ago,” Sparks says. “The vendor installed a client on the Citrix servers and redirected the logins so we didn’t need a separate proxy server. Plus, now I have Active Directory groups that are segregated by access policy, so I can just change the group membership, and someone instantly has the appropriate access to do his or her job. It is much easier to maintain and much more flexible.” Sparks also likes the reporting features of Cymphonix.

The Case of the Intermittently Slow Network Response

Ethernet port duplex mismatches have caused a lot of grief over the years, as the following story illustrates. Health-care conglomerate Texas Health Resources (THR) in Arlington, Texas, had a problem with users complaining about slow network connections.

“In theory, most network cards automatically sense the speed and duplex configuration, but that is mostly on PCs,” says Greg Essler, manager of THR’s Network Engineering Infrastructure Group. “We have 36,000 devices on the THR network, and about 60 percent of them are clinical patient-care devices, such as IV pumps, medical scanners, monitors and other equipment that doesn’t run any typical PC-based operating system.

“With that many devices spread across 300 miles over our WAN, which connects 13 hospitals and 140 clinics and offices, it is a lot for just 10 people on my staff to cover. We have to maintain more than 3,100 switches, routers and wireless controllers, and that adds up to a lot of ports. Until about a year ago, we monitored the system using manual methods and a lot of legwork.

“Then we got Netcordia’s NetMRI and were able to more efficiently manage our network infrastructure. We now are able to build configuration templates that can be pushed out automatically rather than touching every switch. Plus, we can easily find the one or two missed configurations that always pop up and troubleshoot the little things that impact applications or device performance. It has created a lot of efficiency in our department.”

These horror stories make it clear that network management requires the right combination of skills, tools, and intuition to track down and solve problems.

This article was originally published on 2008-10-30
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