April 05, 2011

Network “Help” for the Help Desk

It still amazes me that even though we’re evolving many networks to backbones of 40Gb (if not faster), some of the simpler and more fundamental network challenges remain unaddressed. Take for example a typical IT Help Desk, which can be rife with inefficiencies. If only we had a “user aware” network that could immediately identify users … that would bring some sanity to the hopelessly outdated triage function performed as the first step in many diagnostic procedures.

But we actually do have a “user aware” network!  and there is a better way. Let me break it down for you.

The frequently repeated triage process that most IT Help Desks follow in response to common desktop issues is one of the most outdated yet common IT problems. Typically, a user calls the Help Desk and complains about performance of an application or a set of applications. The Help Desk team looks at the NOC view and everything is ‘green’, yet the user is convinced their desktop is slow, and frustration ensues.

Some Help Desk teams may then attempt to remotely connect to the desktop to continue the triage, but many will just dispatch a technician to check out the desktop. The technician arrives at the desk, agrees with the user’s complaint that the machine is performing slowly and after executing basic triage on the desktop they start to consider a connectivity issue. Then the fun begins. The Technician proceeds to look under the desk for the wall-plate or jack number, to write it down on the palm of their hand, walk over to the local wiring closet and start the fun activity of chasing the cable from the jack to the LAN switch. They can now complete the triage from the network perspective and may detect that underruns/overruns on the switch port are being recorded highlighting a failing NIC in the desktop.

This can be an incredibly inefficient process and absolutely valueless to IT, yet it’s the same process we have been following for countless years. In the age of 4G smartphones and tablets with automated everything, there has to be a better way. Fortunately, there is.

Today’s network should understand the identity of a user, not just an IP address or a MAC address on a switch. Understand the user name, the machine credentials that they are using, and other interesting parameters from an IT perspective. After all, the network transports the initial user authentication information, so why shouldn’t it use this information? It can capture the identity of a user from the authentication and then enable the Help Desk to find the user on the network in a far more efficient way than a cable-trace.

This is one way that IT managers can improve the Help Desk process, and do more with less.  I’d like to hear what you are doing to improve the efficiency of a commonly repeated process in your organization.

-Paul

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Extreme Marketing Team

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