A computer network that can only be monitored and configured by using multiple terminals or workstations.
"A visitor using a corporate Web site may think it's a single, streamlined system, but behind the scenes, people are often manually taking information from one application and entering it into another. Such swivel chair networks, as they have come to be known, are inefficient, slow, and mistake ridden."
John Hagel and John Seely Brown, "Your Next IT Strategy," Harvard Business Review, October 2001
"As they get bigger and more complex, networks are increasingly becoming unmanageable, Passmore says. The situation forces 'the poor network operator to do swivel-chair network management,' switching among multiple network management terminals in order to track activity and problems across various segments of the corporate network, he explains."
Elisabeth Horwitt, "High hopes for enterprise net management," Computerworld, December 25, 1989
Today's phrase evokes the image of a harried (they're always harried) network administrator whirling and twirling on a swivel chair to check first one terminal and then another, with the occasional push off to slide along the floor to check something else. There's no life like it.
Because of this, today's phrase is most often seen as part of a larger phrase swivel-chair network management.
Thanks to subscriber Mike Banks Valentine for alerting me to the Harvard Business Review citation.