With more than 82 per cent of the adult population now having access to the Internet, IT managers need to be wary of the need to prepare for a potential network overload situation as workers use their company IT resources for everything from multimedia greetings to videoconferencing connections to distant colleagues.
And that’s before we even begin to talk about those organisations that host Web sites in the online retail sector, or process payment card transactions.
Even at the best of times, the Internet is well loaded with Web surfing and general email exchanges, but the current cold snap, combined with the impending holidays – and the fact that many people are taking their annual leave allocation before the year’s end – means that workers are turning to the Internet to ratchet up their work efficiency.
Videoconferencing is definitely in vogue amongst many of the companies we encounter, but the real potential Internet killer is the number of Web site visitors – and the consequential IP traffic that these sessions generate.
The potential overload situation will crank up a few more stops this coming weekend as Thanksgiving starts in the US, and Black Friday-driven online shopping starts in earnest. Amazon has done its bit to get users online with its UK-based Black Friday lightening sales, which has resulted in peak-time page issues with the Amazon.co.uk site.
Whilst Amazon is using all manner of Internet load balancing to ensure that users of its site only have to wait a short while for a page to load at peak times, the fact that the mighty shopping giant’s Web site is exhibiting page loading delays indicates the potential scale of the problem.
So what can IT managers do to stop their Web sites – and the company IT resources – from becoming seriously stretched? The solution lies in careful planning. IT managers and their staff need to start monitoring their systems. The firewall is a good point for monitoring connection rates.
If there are rules that you need to report on, make sure that audit logs are being generated. If you are not recording firewall performance stats, turn them on now – before you need them. Secondly, start looking for anything that can cause an interruption of service due to resource exhaustion. What is your firewall connection table limit? If it was 25,000 last year, it probably should be higher this year.
Managers need to look at what their peak IP traffic was last year and what the peak has been so far this year – you should plan for somewhere between a 20 and 200 per cent increase, depending on your business model. You will also want to ensure you don’t hit your maximum number of IP connections at this time of year.
Most security experts advise setting this number low enough to stop a denial-of-service, but at this time of year we are expecting sudden bursts of connections, so flexibility is the name of the game. It’s also worth printing out some hard copies of performance trends from last year. It is much easier if you already have them handy when you are trying to understand this year’s trends.
Also take a look at all of your disk drives. Logically, do you have plenty of space? Don’t forget to physically walk to your firewalls and make sure there are no failed drives with the little red lights on. With firewalls tucked away in data centres, and drives in RAID, we all sometimes forget to look for faults on devices, like a failed drive in a RAID mirror set.
Finally, don’t forget the cloud. If, like many organisations you are running a hybrid data centre configuration, ensure that your cloud service provider has sufficient spare and on-demand capacity to support a surge in peak time demand. Using these recommendations, IT managers can develop a good risk analysis strategy that they can update on a regular basis.
As your IT resource grows and diversifies, your IT security planning will then not get left behind. Then, if the worst really does happen, you’ll be as prepared as possible.