The discussion around prioritizing network traffic is often focused on the basics: you should control the amount of resources allocated to recreational traffic like peer-to-peer file sharing and social networking, and improve the performance of business applications. In a nutshell, recreational traffic is bad! Business traffic is good! This oversimplifies the challenge most Network Managers face. The truth is, you have to make trade-off decisions about how to prioritize business traffic as well.

The Challenge

As a network manager in an organization you are constantly faced with challenges that need to be addressed without adversely impacting the business. You control the underlying foundation, the roads, the traffic lights, and essentially control how traffic gets between one point to the other. Without the services you provide the organization cannot function. Similarly, when the services you provide are impaired by either a failure or a roadblock you directly impact the organization and its ability to function. As the underlying foundation for the entire company, your internal and external customer base could be quite vast and include: executives, support centers, production services, development/QA teams, and marketing and sales departments. Each of these groups have different requirements, and a failure in any one part of the network may impact one or more stakeholder groups.

A typical day at your company might look something like this: the CEO needs a predictable network connection for the quarterly conference call with investors, while the 500 employees in customer service need a reliable connection to the CRM system. But it’s quarter end and the Finance team also needs constant access to the billing system to close out the quarter. These are all important requirements, and a failure to provide a predictable experience will have a negative impact on one or more related stakeholder groups.

With each user group stating that they have higher priority than the other, it becomes more and more difficult to manage competing traffic flows and to decide what gets prioritized, and how to make these changes without negatively impacting the network and the business as a whole.

A Framework For Prioritizing Business Traffic

In these types of environments, decisions for change and control are made on the spot using basic business decisions and prioritizing based on the worst impact first. With this in mind, I recommend prioritizing traffic in the following order:

Will a network failure, if not addressed, lead to a negative reputational impact to the company, which could have long term impact?

Example: CEO product demo on the quarterly earnings call.

Revenue Impacting
Will a failure, if not addressed in a timely manner, cause a large negative financial impact in the immediate or short term?

Example: Your POS system goes down during holiday shopping season.

Customer Service
Will this issue impact my customer-facing teams from being able to help and resolve customer service issues?

Example: Can’t access

Internal Project/Strategy
Will this issue affect the ability to deliver key strategic items for the organization?

Example: ERP system traffic.

Why rank reputational as the highest priority over the others? Why not revenue? To start, a large reputational issue impacts your interactions with all of your organization’s stakeholders. For example, if your company website is consistently unavailable, it’s going to impact revenue which negatively impacts your relationship with shareholders. It also will drive calls to your contact center, which will drive up support costs. Internal stakeholders will be impacted since resources will be diverted from strategic projects to deal with the latest fire drill.

At the same time, a large reputational issue also sticks around for a while in the minds of stakeholders. being unavailable is forgotten as soon as it’s back up. The CEO’s product demo going wrong on the conference call won’t be forgotten as quickly.

As the network evolves and more and more business critical applications are placed in the public/private cloud and big data demands keep increasing, network managers are increasingly challenged to ensure that all their customers, whether internal or external, are able to consistently access the services with little to no downtime. Having well-established traffic shaping rules to govern prioritization tiers will enable this.

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What business applications do you need to prioritize?