Admin Network Technologies

The IT Detecive Agency: FTPs and other things going slow to one part of one location

What happens when you have a slowly festering problem – slow but tolerable performance? Is it a problem when no one complains but you know the numbers don’t feel right? Read on to see what happens in this exciting adventure.

The details
I always felt that one of my locations, let’s call it Scattering, was just hard-to-explain slow. Web site accesses as measured in HP SiteScope was slower than at another site, lets call it Cooper, and the variation seemed larger. You could always chalk it up to the fact that the SiteScope server was in the data center with the good performance, but there seemed more to it than that.

The situation was, apparently, tolerable and people grew accustomed to it. Until one day someone said that it just wasn’t right. Ping times from his site, let’s call it Vanderbilt, looked like this from his desktop:

C:\Users>ping dmz-host
Pinging dmz-host [] with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32 time=80ms TTL=248
Reply from bytes=32 time=107ms TTL=248
Reply from bytes=32 time=74ms TTL=248
Reply from bytes=32 time=78ms TTL=248

And yet, ping times to another piece of equipment in that same physical server room looked much healthier – on order of 22 msec with very little jitter. What the…?

So I started looking around at my equipment. My equipment generally had good response times amongst itself, but when it crossed over to another group’s equipment it started to go up. Finally I saw it – a common denominator. My equipment had its gateway supplied by a different group. PINGing the local gateway gave 15 msec response times, with high jitter! I’ve never seen that before. You normally expect to get response times , 1 msec. Time to turn the problem over to them.

But as a former scientist, I like to have a hypothesis about what might be wrong. I thought a bad cable, because I’ve heard of that. Duplex mis-matches on the port are always a strong possibility. Guess what? It wasn’t any of those things. But it was something about the port on their equipment. What do you suppose it was? Hint: the equipment they were using was leftover stuff that needed to be replaced but hadn’t because it just kept working.

Mystery Resolved
The port was saturated! It was older equipment with 100 mbit ports, the amount of traffic slowly built up on it over time and sort of crept up on us all. I guess finally the demand on it was causing noticeable problems in response times that someone finally complained!

He shifted the gateway to a 1 gbit port and things got much better. Here are those PINGs now:

Pinging with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32 time=24ms TTL=248
Reply from bytes=32 time=23ms TTL=248
Reply from bytes=32 time=23ms TTL=248
Reply from bytes=32 time=23ms TTL=248
Ping statistics for
    Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),
Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:
    Minimum = 23ms, Maximum = 24ms, Average = 23ms

That’s much better!

The HP SiteScope timing are more subtle, but no less important. Users don’t tolerate slow-loading web pages, you know!

I need to make an aside here. Is there no free and widely distributed Linux package to calculate the standard deviation of a set of numbers? I can’t believe it. I had to borrow this guy’s shell script, and it’s pretty lousy because it’s really slow: Anyways, doing a before and after analysis on my URL timing, where I fetched a Google page plus images during the daytime from 10 AM to 4 PM, I find this before and after result:


Number of data points in “sca” = 144
Arithmetic mean (average) = .630548611
Standard Deviation = .225365467
Median number (middle) = .664500000


Number of data points in “sca2” = 144
Arithmetic mean (average) = .349270833
Standard Deviation = .162399076
Median number (middle) = .263000000

Users were very happy after the upgrade.

An old gateway port that maxed out its traffic capacity was to blame for performance problems in one part of a data center. This doesn’t happen too often, but it can happen, obviously.

Linux needs a simple math package to allow to calculate the standard deviation of a set of numbers.