The secret to troubleshooting performance problems

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Performance problems are among the most difficult to solve, requiring much preparation and well-honed soft skills to undo

In my years in IT, I've seen ridiculous actions taken in the name of improving performance. I've seen hundreds of high-end thin clients sporting more horsepower than a typical PC deployed simply to run a remote desktop client. I've seen a whole blade chassis's worth of servers deployed to do the work of a single server. I've seen video cards designed for gaming installed in desktops to make a line-of-business application work better.

In most of these cases and others like them, unquestionably wasteful decisions were made because of a pervasive fear of one of the worst types of user complaints an IT pro can hear: "It's slow." Those two words issued from the right lips into the right ears can touch off a political disaster that often ends with a pile of wasted time and money. Many times, simply being seen to take any action at all -- regardless of whether it helps -- is more valued than the frequently painstaking process of figuring out what the problem really is (and indeed whether there even is one in the first place).

The real challenge for IT pros faced with a high-profile performance complaint is to quickly and decisively determine where the problem may lie before wasteful measures that serve only to distract from the real issue are forced down our throats. This almost always requires the right tools to be in place ahead of the complaint being made, great communications skills, and in the worst cases, the intellectual curiosity to dig into the weeds in search of a smoking gun.

Here's what you need know about each of these three critical troubleshooting weapons.

Troubleshooting weapon No. 1: Preparation

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