Why You Should Consider Layer 7

By
Bob Carr , Chairman and CEO

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Your operational network—the computer systems, telecommu­nications components and various links that support running the business—is not a trendy or glamorous topic. How­ever, using the most modern network technology available can solve a heck of a lot of problems that are not going away anytime soon. In fact, network reliabil­ity, security and bandwidth issues will continue to grow until you are forced to do something more in keeping with the needs of your business.

Operators are increasingly running into a common set of problems around the use of their operational networks. Two issues rise to the surface in our discussions with store operators about their networks. The first is the need to better use existing bandwidth, and the second is the need to gain improved visibility of all the operationally impor­tant components connected by their network.

Several trends in technology are adding stress to the store’s operational network bandwidth. Cloud computing, for example, allows operators to run software to make their operations more efficient without a heavy investment in on-site server hardware. Unfortunately, however, cloud computing also creates a need for constant access to the Internet with sufficient bandwidth to perform effectively.

When these cloud-based services and applications have to contend with other traffic on your network, responsiveness of the applications decreases, users get frustrated and data loss may occur. Another source of resource contention on your network originates from a Wi-Fi network. Free public Wi-Fi services may attract customers to a store, but tools are needed to ensure the Internet traf­fic generated from customers doesn’t become the cause of your network’s lack of performance.

Be More Aware

The idea that all of the traffic trans­mitting across your network is not of equal importance is the concept behind “application layer” or “Layer 7” Quality of Service (QoS) management, some­times referred to as “network awareness.” (See sidebar for more details.)

Examples of how application layer/ Layer 7 network management benefits your operations:

  • Tracks activity on the network that might be a threat to security;
  • Delivers views of the business net­work elements that are being used, and when;
  • Provides the tools to limit network use coming from unwanted or unauthor­ized users;
  • Drives the visibility and access to manage remote devices and applications that save time and money in operations; and
  • Enables secure third-party access (based on two-factor authentication) to allow low-cost remote maintenance.

Operators frequently experience the need to add new technologies to manage their operations more efficiently and with increasing scale, especially as they add new products and services to exist­ing locations and expand to new sites. Complex environments that include ATMs, refrigeration monitoring, secu­rity DVR systems, digital safes, digital price signs and fuel or product inventory systems place demands on the capacity of your network. Add the proliferation of cloud computing applications, and network broadband becomes a critical resource for your business.

A byproduct of this growing com­plexity is the lack of a complete view of the various technologies, devices and applications in the c-store environment. In these cases, operators will benefit from implementing and maintaining a neutral dashboard that integrates all in-store technologies, delivering a com­plete view of the information sources on your network that are needed to run the business on a daily basis. These neutral dashboards offer views that help define what traffic is critical and can be cus­tomized to maximize their usefulness to each operator.

Operating without the means to efficiently manage and easily view the traffic on your network places your business at risk. Efficient use of your broadband bandwidth helps keep costs low and makes it possible to support more devices and applications on a single DSL or other broadband circuit without limiting the performance of the critical elements you depend on to run the business. Having a clear view of your network, the devices connected to your network and the applications that are operating on your network gives you the chance to improve operations, under­stand how technology tools are being used and change the way you deploy your resources.

These same network tools can be the foundation of systems that pro­tect you from risk. No retailer is ever completely safe from the bad guys and the users that create drag on network resources, but having the right network tools can help keep them under control.

More on Layer 7

With proper Layer 7 visibility, applications can be automatically identified and reported. Administrators can distinguish legitimate traffic generated by business applications from traffic generated by non-business applications such as BitTorrent or YouTube. Administrators achieve unprecedented visibility into the use of network resources and can make real-time decisions that give preference to business-critical traffic.

Device fingerprinting, using the Layer 7 search capability, allows administrators to easily find and identify individual users, iPads, Androids and other devices. Searching for devices across an entire network may help retailers pinpoint the location of devices, no matter where they are connected.

Layer 7 QoS network technology can determine when it is more important to prioritize network bandwidth for your cloud-based POS or retail information system traffic over a customer’s video download without frustrating either the user of your cloud-based application or your customer. It also delivers the tools that detect patterns. For example, it illuminates unauthorized employee use of the network or habitual visitors who abuse your public Wi-Fi network, and enables administrators to take actions that improve network performance and keep costs down.

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