If you are considering adding network monitoring to your IT system, or currently have a system in place, you may be asked to define its value from time to time. When looking at determining the value of network monitoring for enterprise networks and data centers, one needs to consider several factors with upfront and ongoing cost of the software and its value over time, being two major concerns. The natural first response may be “Let’s look at the data.” However, there are many soft factors to consider, and these are more subjective and difficult to quantify. So, while data is helpful, there’s no simple way to quantify the return on investment (ROI) for network monitoring. Take things a step further and look at other benefits to give you a broader, more complete picture.
Determining the value and ROI of network monitoring is a challenge, but there is tremendous value in going through the exercise. Naturally, the “hard costs” are easier to identify than the soft ones. These can include things like licensing and hardware costs, implementation costs, upgrades and module costs, and service and maintenance fees. There are also the more incremental costs of additional modules and add-ons, and potentially, the need to purchase new software to monitor new technologies.
Finally, you have to remember the costs of salary and benefits for the IT staff. How does network monitoring help with these costs? A network monitoring tool can help you to quickly and easily determine which versions of software and hardware that you have so that you can keep everything updated with the latest version, which helps overall efficiency. It can also help you to assess in advance what add-on modules you might need (or not need) helping you to spend more carefully, rather than buying addition modules too quickly that might end up not being needed after all. Additionally, monitoring is a watchful set of eyes that works 24/7, helping IT to eliminate things like split shifts and “on-call” hours.
Painful Numbers: The Cost Of Downtime
A more significant — and painful — factor can be the cost of network downtime and failures. You may ask yourself “What damage (and costs) occur if a mail server or an e-commerce site crashes?” or “How much does two hours of network downtime cost our company?” It is virtually impossible to give an exact number — an outage at an online retailer during the holiday seasons is substantially more damaging than an outage on a Friday afternoon in August. But while exactitudes are illusive, industry experts have made estimates that convey the harsh truth — downtime can have staggering costs.
A number of firms have done studies on the impact of downtime. For example in 2014, Gartner estimated the average costs of network downtime to be $5,600 per minute, which means approximately $300,000 per hour. A study by Avaya estimates the range for the cost of downtime to be between $140,000 and $540,000 per hour. The takeaway here is that the cost of downtime can be significant. For some, that kind of data would be enough to convince them of the importance of network monitoring and its role in preventing downtime and failures. But there are more things to look at to determine the true value of network monitoring.
Don’t Forget About Soft Costs
Some other “soft” factors that are more difficult (or even impossible) to quantify include things like customer support being unavailable due to a network outage. How many customers and how much revenue is lost when online chat support or email support is not available, or the VoIP-based phone system that the customer service department uses is not working? When a customer can’t reach customer support, do they complain about the company on social media? Do they take their business to a competitor, never to return again? These things are hard to estimate, but the potential negative impact can have lasting effects.
Another example is if a website is unavailable. Depending on the website and how it is used, it can have different impacts and costs. For a web-based or online-only company, it may be more concrete and measurable — that may be there one (and only) channel for generating revenue. For a branding or image-focused website, there is lost marketing value or brand damage that could result from an outage.
These are external factors, but there are also soft costs internally that can have a negative effect on employee productivity and morale. An early-morning email server outage on a Friday may cost an entire workday, while poor network performance during the workday creates additional frustration for employees, lowering morale and, in some cases, making them look for new opportunities. It may seem rash, but if an employee can’t get their job done because the network is freezing and crashing, they are not going to be happy.
Long-Term Strategic Benefits: Reduced Workload, Time Savings
Beyond the costs and failures, there are other more strategic, long-term benefits of network monitoring in the enterprise. First, reducing the workload of IT staff and making them more efficient is an important benefit. The automation and intelligence of network monitoring tools enable an IT staff to spend less time searching for the source of smaller outages, and this time savings can add up over the course of a year. If an IT administrator spent an average of four hours a week looking for smaller outages that amount to 10% of their work time, this means 10% of their annual salary too. Think of the time and money saved (or better used). When troubleshooting a network issue, most of the time is spent trying to find where the problem is vs. actually fixing the problem. Network monitoring helps IT to find where the problem is faster so that things can get fixed faster, leading to better network uptime and a more efficient IT staff.
A survey by network monitoring firm Paessler polled 648 of its customers in 2015, and 64% reported saving “significant” to “exceptional” amounts of time using network monitoring, while 24% reported saving “some” work time. Also, 87% reported network monitoring increased the general reliability of their IT system.
Along with the time savings and efficiency of IT spending less time on troubleshooting minor issues, there is the benefit of long-term IT optimization. An IT department that is not spending time on routine problems can now spend more time on strategic projects that can make a positive impact on the business. For example, maybe a new ERP upgrade takes four months instead of six months because IT staff is not spending as much time on smaller issues. Think of the positive impact to a business to have a major upgrade or implementation completed two months faster than normal. At the same time, IT staffers may be more satisfied with their work when they are spending less time on routine troubleshooting and more time on strategic projects. This satisfaction may lead to better employee retention and help to attract new IT talent as well.
In addition, network monitoring allows you to do long-term data collection to analyze how and where hardware and bandwidth resources are being utilized, so in the future routers, switches, servers, and other hardware can be acquired and used to meet exact requirements, helping to avoid excess costs due to unused resources. For example, rather than having a server running at 10% of capacity, you may be able to virtualize it to use more of its available capacity and get a better utilization. Or you could do continuous monitoring of a hard drive to predict when the capacity of the drive will be used up, allowing you to proactively plan for a replacement.
In all, while the numbers are often impressive, don’t just look at the numbers. Look beyond and factor in your own experience with outages that could have been prevented with network monitoring. Look at the “hard to quantify” benefits but see the value in their quality, as well as the long-term benefits of using resources better and being more efficient. This will help you to develop a more complete picture of the benefits of network monitoring.