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When a user accesses the Manage Nodes screen, the loading icon spins for a long time. The screen eventually loads, but no nodes are shown and the error object reference not set to an instance of an object is shown.
Despite the fact that object reference not set to an instance of an object is often caused by a missing resource or broken link, in this case (when it occurs after a long time with the Manage Nodes screen loading) the error is caused by a timeout when querying the SQL server.
This can be resolved by simply addressing the bottleneck which is occurring either from the end to end network connection to the SQL server or the delay in response when processing the SQL query itself.