A new approach to monitoring

Today, organisations are increasingly dependent on the performance of their business applications

Tags: Fluke Networks
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A new approach to monitoring Roger Holder, EMEA Field Marketing Manager Fluke Networks.
By  Roger Holder Published  June 24, 2014

Applications and networks have traditionally been managed separately, using different systems run by different teams. However, their increasing interdependency make this ineffective, and trying to ascertain who owns a problem when all groups are reporting green KPIs is becoming increasingly difficult and time-consuming.

The issue is now becoming a major concern for networking professionals. Research carried out by Fluke Networks among approximately 3,000 network professionals found that 82% of respondents ranked network and application performance problems as a concern or critical issue.

A recent survey by Aberdeen Group showed similar results. They asked companies to list the top challenges they face when understanding and managing network performance. While the top two were around over-stressed networks that lack the ability to grow (both of concern to 36% of respondents), almost as important were the lack of tools to resolve network events  (35% of respondents) and lack of visibility into network activities (34% of respondents).

It is no longer enough to use a discrete tool and say that it’s not the network or, “my servers are fine”.  IT teams need to work together using correlated data to find root cause and solve issues quickly before they impact the business.

A new acronym has been defined for the solutions that address this space: application-aware network performance management (AANPM). Gartner has now begun tracking it as a new sector, which it has termed network performance monitoring and diagnostics, and has developed a Magic Quadrant on the solutions available.

AANPM is a method of monitoring, analysing and troubleshooting both networks and applications. It takes an application-centric view of everything happening across the network, providing end-to-end visibility of the network and applications and their interdependencies, and enabling engineers to monitor and optimise the end-user experience. It does not look at applications from a coding perspective, but in terms of how they are deployed and how they are performing.

By leveraging data points from both application and network performance methodologies, AANPM helps all branches of IT work together to ensure optimal performance of applications and network. It helps engineers overcome the visibility challenges presented by virtualisation, bring your own device (BYOD) and cloud-based services and identify problems anywhere along the network path. It also provides application performance data to identify when a user is experiencing poor response times and which application component is contributing to the delay.

AANPM addresses LAN, WAN and data centre, including all tiers of the server and application environments and some solutions extend to remote locations, providing comprehensive visibility from user device to data centre.

AANPM provides a number of tangible benefits. These include end-to-end infrastructure visibility; faster problem-solving; improved user experience; enhanced productivity; and cost savings.

Additionally, Gartner advise that, because poor network and application performance impacts infrastructure costs as well as productivity, organisations need to focus on the user experience and capture data that enables them to fix the ‘right’ problem first – which AANPM can enable them to do.

Improved infrastructure optimisation is also a benefit — AANPM enables engineers to identify poor performance and prioritise projects such as server upgrades, make the business case for approval and verify the results. It also provides data to support capacity planning. Finally, AANPM provides better business understanding of IT — it helps executives understand the cost of running critical applications and the impact if they go offline, as well as the dependencies between critical applications and the supporting infrastructure.

The key features of an AANPM system
AANPM provides performance data from both network and applications, including stream-to-disk packet storage, application response time analytics, IPFIX (NetFlow) and SNMP. A performance map enables users to watch over the entire enterprise network and isolate individual elements, transactions or even packets, either real time or back in time.

Data is shown on a single dashboard so everyone can see network and application performance metrics. Users can customise the dashboard to suit their individual responsibilities, but they can also see adjacent areas, so cross-functional teams can work together to solve problems and know that they are all seeing the same information.

The faster the engineer can see what is going on in the network, the faster he or she can get to root cause. So if a link has errors or high utilisation, they can use a mouse to dive deeper into the transaction and find out why it might be introducing latency to all the upstream transactions. Every device in the path can be analysed. Simple logical workflows enable the user to isolate a problem down to the individual network element, transaction or even packet behind any performance event — real time or historic.

For example, perhaps the network has low utilisation and no errors. In the past, the network team might simply say, “It’s not us!” and pass it on to another team. With AANPM, everyone gets an unbiased view of the network and application structure, so it is easier for teams to work together to find root cause and resolve the problem.

An AANPM system stores all data flows, transactions and packets, so engineers can reconstruct events, use flow forensics for back-in-time identification of traffic on key links, and even play back VoIP calls and video streams. This can be particularly useful for solving historic problems, which may have only be raised by users long after the initial events occurred.

AANPM will help engineers monitor SLAs, monitor links to the cloud to ensure providers are meeting their SLAs, and assess where extra bandwidth might be needed by showing instant real-time bandwidth usage. They can use AANPM to help manage VoIP QoS by looking at traffic levels and performance before and after rollout, using playback analysis to check call quality remains high and investigate why problems may have arisen.

However organisations choose to implement it, AANPM is something we can all expect to hear a lot more about in 2014.

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