Human error, not software, the main cause of network failure

Unauthorised changes or errors in configuration files are the primary reason for networks failing, networking experts warned this...

Unauthorised changes or errors in configuration files are the primary reason for networks failing, networking experts warned this week.

Stan Hulme, group IT manager at retail insurance broker and financial services company Bland Bankart, said, "Human error is now the primary cause of network downtime, whether or not the industry is prepared to admit it."

Hulme said contemporary network operating systems, served applications and client systems are, for the most part, inherently stable. Software and hardware providers have made significant advances in all aspects of systems availability, with uptime being a central performance metric publicised in most new product releases.

"Downtime in a modern networked environment is most likely caused as a result of a poor change management process. In particular, failures within, or even non-existence of offline test procedures, prior to modification of a production environment," said Hulme.

He pointed out that every change made to a network operating environment contained a degree of risk. "Good planning incorporating impact analysis, training, testing, sign-off controls and a contingency scenario will reduce network downtime," he said.

Steve Broadhead, director at independent network testing lab Broadband-Testing, concurred with Hulme's assessment. He said, "Most of the problems I have encountered at end-user organisations have been as a result of misconfigured devices - human error in other words."

In Broadhead's experience, no one in the IT department wanted to admit to the failure. "What we need is an automated spy - something which checks configurations changes and reports them immediately. That way you at least know exactly when a change was made, and to what," he said.

Alan Lawson, research analyst at Butler Group, said the problem of network errors was due to the complexity of modern networks, which need to balance quality of service between several applications. Lawson said this complexity made network administration prone to error.

One supplier which hopes to address the problem of human error is Intelliden. The company has taken what it describes as a model-based approach to network management. Its approach attempts to provide a holistic view of network management, where configuration changes to network devices can be centralised and configuration can thus be automated.

Ravi Pather, Intelliden's vice-president for Europe, said, "Our research has found that one in every three network changes generates an error." He said the Intelliden R-series product tackles this problem by maintaining a knowledge base containing the configuration of all devices on the network.

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