Does Your Organization Have a Ticking Time Bomb?
Network performance monitoring and diagnostic tools detect and help resolve hidden network problems that can damage performance and reliability.
Every network manager wants to ensure steady, trouble-free network performance, but many are unaware of the capabilities that network performance monitoring and diagnostic (NPMD) tools can deliver. This is a serious oversight. NPMD products and services can play a crucial role in minimizing downtime, maximizing cost savings and delivering a satisfying experience for end users.
According to Gartner, NPMD tools enable users to understand the performance of applications and infrastructure components via network instrumentation as well as provide insight into the quality of the end user’s experience. Gartner notes that the goal of NPMD products is not only to monitor network components to help resolve outages and minimize degradation, but also to identify ways to optimize performance. Such tasks are conducted through diagnostics, analytics and debugging capabilities.
In April 2017, Gartner estimated the size of the NPMD tools market at $1.6 billion, predicting heavy growth. A rapidly growing number of organizations are coming to appreciate how NPMD solutions can spot and resolve network issues.
Looking for Trouble
At its core, an NPMD solution is designed to answer the basic questions every organization has about network performance. “It tells you what you’re supposed to have available on your network in terms of bandwidth and response time latency versus what you are actually getting and, more importantly, what you’re paying for,” says Greg Schulz, senior adviser at StorageIO, a technology advisory and consulting firm.
NPMD monitoring also establishes a baseline for existing network services, says Destiny Bertucci, “head geek” for network monitoring at SolarWinds. “It tells you what normal is so that when something unusual occurs in terms of network performance or activities, you have something to measure it against.”
NPMD solutions are designed to alert users, via alarms and reports, to a wide range of network abnormalities, allowing network administrators to quickly isolate specific issues, trends or potential trouble spots existing within a network, minimizing downtime. “Ideally, the network monitoring solution should allow the network administrator to be much more proactive than reactive, providing the end user with a much more reliable and efficient network,” says Mark Amick, senior product consultant at Ipswitch. “The best end user experience is where the end user never thinks about their network — it just always works reliably.”
Proactive monitoring, the ability to set thresholds on performance characteristics to identify potential issues, is a key way NPMD solutions minimize downtime and financial damage. “Most problems display warning signs of some sort before becoming critical issues,” Bertucci says. “If you can identify and correct small problems early, before they have a chance to develop into larger problems, your end users will have very few complaints about their systems.”
Besides continuously searching for technical and service-related issues, NPMD tools also automatically generate alerts and reports to identify potential security lapses, allowing organizations to patch vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by attackers. “This can range from denial-of-service attacks on key points in your network to rogue access points attempting to connect to your wireless infrastructure,” Bertucci says.
Once a network fault, deficiency or security issue has been detected, the NPMD solution should be able to guide its user through a straightforward workflow that isolates the problem. “Some solutions may even attempt to resolve the problem for you while providing updates along the way,” Amick says.
Red Alert: Detecting Hidden Network Problems
One of the most common mistakes organizations make when it comes to IT strategy is to take a reactive rather than a proactive approach to network maintenance. Fortunately, network performance monitoring and diagnostic (NPMD) tools allow administrators to uncover lurking network issues before they can become major problems. Here are three common network problems that NPMD solutions can detect at their earliest stages:
Network performance degradation: Network performance can rise and fall for many different reasons. Using a monitoring solution that actively verifies network performance with ping tests will quickly alert staff whenever degradation occurs. A typical monitor uses long-term packet loss and latency averages to create a network performance baseline that’s compared to 15-minute or one-hour values. An alert is triggered whenever the short-term average deviates from the baseline.
Network configuration errors: Network changes are often performed outside of regular business hours to reduce the likelihood of affecting users who rely on access to applications and other network services. Nevertheless, no matter how carefully network engineers plan, configuration mistakes occur. It’s not unusual for end users to arrive at their desks the following morning to discover that they can’t access some or all of their services due to a network change that was pushed through a few hours earlier. The best way to avoid such unnecessary interruptions is by properly validating network changes with an NPMD solution.
Sensor failure: The Internet of Things requires network administrators and staff to keep a close eye on a new crop of network devices. Monitoring servers, PCs and printers is no big deal, but what about point-of-sale terminals, industrial sensors and slot machines? NPMD solutions ensure that all of these network devices, and potentially billions of other “things” yet to come, are functioning at peak efficiency.
Organizations looking to deploy or replace an NPMD solution face a wide range of choices. To meet the needs and preferences of various customers, as well as to differentiate themselves from the competition, solution providers offer numerous NPMD approaches.
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise’s Network Node Manager i (NNMi), for instance, features smart plug-in modules designed to enhance the awareness of specialized network environments, providing network administrators and staff with the information they need to quickly identify and fix problems. Workspaces create purpose-based displays for groups of managed elements, and dashboards create guided workflows through problems.
Rather than provide an all-in-one solution, SolarWinds offers an array of NPMD modules that address specific network monitoring tasks, including Network Performance Monitor, Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack, NetFlow Traffic Analyzer, and VoIP and Network Quality Manager.
WhatsUp Gold software from Ipswitch is designed around easy-to-use and customizable network maps, dashboards and alerts. Users simply click on any device to immediately access a wide range of monitoring settings and reports.
ExtraHop says its platform takes a novel approach to observe and analyze digital interactions. Analyzing everything crossing the network, the NPMD platform turns unstructured data into wire data, creating a source of immediate and comprehensive insight.
Making the Right Choice
While many NPMD providers offer free trial versions of their software, which can be downloaded and installed to verify capabilities, that should not be the only way to evaluate a solution, Amick says. “Take time to fully understand the solution, its capabilities and also the future roadmap for the product.”
Given the NPMD market’s size and diversity, it’s a good idea to work with an experienced external partner who can suggest the best solution matches. “Probably the biggest mistake organizations make is not learning and understanding the full capabilities of the solutions they have purchased or are about to purchase,” Amick says.