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The job of a network engineer or network administrator is to solve problems; everything from backups to cables to firewalls to viruses. All of these tasks are related to moving data moving across the network in an optimal and efficient manner so that users can do the work that drives the business.

Every network engineer’s job is different but one thing is for sure – with the exploding use of IP-based technologies from VoIP to cloud services, coupled with the corresponding growth in network size and complexity – it isn’t getting any easier.

The challenges associated with keeping today’s overburdened networks secure, predictable and healthy are numerous, but these three related concerns would top most network engineers’ lists:

 

  1. Security
  2. Maintenance and monitoring
  3. Performance management

Security

Practically everyone who uses information technology, let alone IT professionals, is aware that information security is a battle without end. Some specific security threats that are on the rise include malware targeting smartphones and tablets, the “consumerization” of enterprise applications on personal devices, and the need for security to evolve in line with private cloud and virtual desktop infrastructure.

According to Bradford Networks, Business Computing World and other sources, the top network concerns for 2011 revolve around trends towards “more users” (employees and unmanaged users like business partners); “more mobile devices” (managed and unmanaged), and “IP everything” – the exponential growth of IP-based, networked applications and devices from VoIP to virtual desktop infrastructure to IP storage.

More systems, more endpoints and more access over the network means not only more security challenges, but also an intensifying need to monitor the increased traffic and ensure acceptable performance.

Maintenance and Monitoring

Monitoring and managing network traffic is a top concern in any IT department. This is especially the case as monitoring efforts are ubiquitously leveraged as a way to help meet network security and performance goals. However, monitoring and troubleshooting efforts are often hampered by a lack of effective tools and integrated reporting and alerting capabilities. Many network practitioners are likewise challenged by the need to capture, store and analyze vast amounts of monitoring data involving increasingly diverse types of IP-based traffic, from video streaming to SaaS applications.

In short, as more and more organizations leverage various monitoring options to support more users and more services more efficiently, many of the challenges that arise result from a need to cope with increasing – and increasingly diverse – network traffic.

Performance Management

Managing network performance may be the network engineer’s ultimate challenge. The ever-growing diversity and volume of IP-based services that today’s organizations increasingly rely on all in turn depend on adequate network performance. When bandwidth, jitter, packet loss or latency drops even slightly below tolerance thresholds, services quickly collapse. The more traffic the network carries – and the greater the number of hops between users and services – the higher the risk of poor network performance leading to application failure.

To ensure that users can do their jobs, network engineers must be able to:

  • Continuously monitor network performance metrics (jitter, packet loss, bandwidth, latency) in real-time across multiple, distributed sites
  • Troubleshoot VoIP, IP storage, virtual desktops and other IP-based applications
  • Understand what application instances are using what percentage of available bandwidth, and what IP addresses are associated with them
  • Assess the network’s readiness for new services before deploying them

AppNeta’s cloud-based PathView Cloud network performance management solutions provides these capabilities by delivering insight in both directions between your datacenter and your remote sites – through third-party and public networks as well as your own. Delivered as a hosted service, PathView Cloud is both cost-effective and simple to deploy and manage.

Find out more about how AppNeta technology can help network engineers address the performance management challenges they face every day, and sign up for a free trial on your network today!

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Listening to the radio at work used to be just about keeping the volume down. But with the skyrocketing popularity of Pandora, Vevo.com, Shoutcast, SoundCloud and other Internet radio services, the issue has become one of exhausting scarce bandwidth on overtaxed corporate networks.

Employees are accustomed to enjoying Internet radio services at home, and many no doubt access them at work without even thinking about it. But streaming audio over the company network basically amounts to continuously downloading an endlessly large file. To those sessions, add the viewing of YouTube, CNN, ESPN, millions watching the Masters and NCAA tournament online during business hours, plus some Skype online video conference calls, and even the most robust network can take a major performance hit.

If enough people are consuming streams of web-based media, especially at peak times, your business may be maxing out its available Internet bandwidth, leading to lost productivity in the form of desperately slow SaaS applications, dropped VoIP calls and crashing virtual desktops.

It can be difficult to police these bandwidth intensive connections with traditional network tools, because they are going out from inside the firewall. And simply blocking streaming video and/or audio on the network is often not a good solution because employees increasingly need access to these rich media information sources to do their jobs.

How can you know where your bandwidth is going and how your network is performing – not only at the home office but also at remote sites? What’s needed are performance management solutions  that can 1) detect and notify you about network performance degradation and spikes in bandwidth utilization in real-time, and 2) give you visibility into what applications are running on the network and what IP addresses are associated with them. On (hopefully) rare occasions you will also want the capability to automatically capture the packets that are being downloaded, for detailed forensic analysis.

With its recent introduction of the FlowView add-on module to the PathView Cloud service, Apparent Networks now offers the only integrated solution that can cost-effectively gather all this remote performance management data across the distributed enterprise. FlowView enables network engineers to understand who is going where and doing what on the internet in real time. With this insight, there is a complete picture of network traffic and bandwidth consumption causing serious application performance problems and failure.

Enabled by the free, zero administration Pathview microAppliance, the PathView Cloud solution requires no special hardware and uses almost no bandwidth. Its remote analysis interface is simple and secure.

To learn more about remote performance management and the PathView Cloud solution, visit www.apparentnetworks.com.

“Would it help if I connected to the school’s wireless?” asked our guest speaker. “No, that’s even slower than the open wireless” was the response from students in my class, which is why we spent a third of the Creative Director’s presentation time waiting for his commercials to load. My Advertising, Media and Society class was fortunate enough to have a professional ad executive share his expertise with us, but the presentation was hindered by a slow internet connection.

As a student at a top-ranked business school, I often think in business terms. Waiting on a slow internet connection, then, is opportunity cost. Simply put, my time could be spent more productively elsewhere if only the internet worked like it should. My parents are paying a lot of money for my undergraduate education and I expect the network to work 24/7. I admit that I often take the internet for granted because I grew up with it. Because of this, though, I understand how it should work and then become frustrated when it doesn’t.

My frustrations peak when I am on campus and cannot access my school email. To put things into perspective, students at my school send more emails than text messages; you can imagine how much an 18-22 year old texts (hint: a lot). At my school, it is an unwritten rule that you are expected to send and receive emails at any time. For me, not being able to connect to the internet means that I am out of the loop and thus, falling behind on important communications from professors and colleagues.

The issue of internet connectivity is brought up every year as student government elections roll around and then ignored as the semester progresses and students get wrapped up in group projects, papers and presentations. I was reminded of this fact last night as my Facebook page was bombarded with the request: “Vote for me and I promise to fix the internet!” If only my school’s IT team could experience these problems with the same visibly as the students affected, they could really make a difference.

As a pre-sales engineer, I see a lot of interesting network performance management scenarios while working with future customers on product trials.  I’ve seen everything from a managed switch that had a rogue 10-meg port to a problematic WiFi access point, located in the basement of a hospital!

On a recent trial , I was working with a network engineer who works for a video conferencing services provider.  Contrary to what I expected, they were not looking to solve a customer’s problem.  This particular customer was concerned with their own internal Unified Communications platform.  There were three core offices on the east coast, and a remote office in the UK.  Once I heard we were dealing with UC over the WAN between remote offices, I thought “Jackpot! This is PathView Cloud’s forte.”  This is going to be like a Shaquille O’Neal dunk at the Garden.  However, in the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Once we had the PathView Cloud microAppliances deployed in the four various offices, we configured the network paths in a full mesh manner.  The spider web was starting to come together very nicely.  But as I looked the PathView dashboard, I started to see some violations represented by red bubbles on the interface.

Looking more closely at the results of the hop by hop path analysis, it was evident that duplex conflicts everywhere.  Every phone, video camera, even PC in this office was showing a duplex conflict.  “Great!” I thought.  We found the problem.  Change the duplexes. Case closed, let’s go home.

If it were only that easy…

Once we changed the settings, PathView Cloud continued to detect errors.  Some were cable errors, some were limiting errors.  I started to scratch my head – what could this possibly be?  I ran the results by a couple other engineers on my team.  Adam Edwards, Director of Systems Engineers, thought it could be the switch which was bad.

After I shared the findings with the customer, he was a bit hesitant because his SNMP polling device was saying the switch was running as it is supposed to.  To humour me, he swapped out the switch.  As soon as that happened, the performance was drastically better.  We still have not been able to definitively determine what caused the issue, though we are pretty sure it’s something tied to the settings that controlled the RTP/RTCP streams.

During the analysis phase of this, it felt like a twelve round bout with Mike Tyson.  We found duplex conflict, rate limiting, and eventually uncovered that the whole switch was bummed out.  All of this came right through the PathView Cloud interface within minutes of deploying the microAppliances.  PathView Cloud performance was like David Ortiz batting in the bottom 9th. Only he will win.

Part of the support role is to reach out to new customers and provide some general product training – ‘onboarding’ as we like to call it.  It’s not every day that we uncover network issues when providing this training with a client setup but it happens often enough not to phase me.

The other week I was working with a new client whose network was connected to the internet via a T1.  We were casually adding both dual-ended and single-ended WAN paths to demonstrate the differences when we saw data loss!  Yes, we stumbled across a rogue network issue the client had long suspected, but could never quite prove.  What a perfect demo!  We had a look at the dual-ended path and could clearly see loss on the upstream.  Of course, I was getting asked where this loss was being introduced.  Yep, you guessed it – D.I.A.G.N.O.S.T.I.C.! 
One look at the single-ended path diagnostic told me the gateway was introducing the loss.  We actually had to end the call at this point because the client had another meeting but I took a cheeky look later to see if the issue had been resolved.  Indeed it had; I could clearly see a blip where the microAppliance sequencer lost connectivity while network changes were being made, and zero data loss after connectivity was restored.  PathView – 1,  Data Loss – 0! Zing!

Managing remote network sites?

Deploying distributed business services that are critically dependent on predictable network performance?

Caught up in the finger-pointing crossfire of frustrated end users?

For healthcare providers, banks, retailers and many other organizations with remote offices, ensuring the availability of IP-based applications like e-mail, collaboration tools, VoIP, video conferencing, desktop virtualization and remote data storage to distributed sites is absolutely vital.

But, it can be next to impossible to gain visibility into the performance of networked applications that connect remote users to centralized resources. Whether that network is a WAN, remote LAN, VPN, service provider cloud, or web-based, how do you effectively monitor and manage network performance at, and from, your remote sites?

The key thing to recognize is that performance management is a location dependent process. You need to understand the performance of business services from the perspective of your remote sites. That’s a challenge that traditional, SNMP-based, datacenter-centric performance management tools aren’t much help with.  These types of tools have a very hard time seeing “through the cloud” once you run into a network element that you don’t own (e.g. over MPLS or the internet).

To understand what’s happening with business services at remote sites – without having to pay them a visit – you need Remote Performance Management capabilities. Remote Performance Management lets you remotely and continuously monitor performance for any network infrastructure used for the deployment of IP-based services, however they’re hosted. Remote Performance Management enables you to:

  • Continuously monitor overall network performance, Quality of Service and adherence to SLAs (yours and your providers’).
  • Measure jitter, packet loss, bandwidth and latency hop-to-hop, end-to-end – and identify where the problem is located.
  • Proactively troubleshoot network and application performance with tools like packet capture and flow record analysis.
  • Assess the network’s readiness for new services before you deploy them.

Remote Performance Management addresses the challenge of gaining end-to-end visibility into your users’ experience by delivering insight in both directions between your datacenter and your remote sites – through third-party and public networks as well as your own. Delivered as a hosted service, it’s both cost-effective and simple to deploy and administer.

To learn more, visit www.apparentnetworks.com.

We are all witnessing a dramatic shift from traditional network infrastructures to web-based, cloud based hosted services.  A rapidly growing number of organizations are taking the leap:  to hosted email, disaster recovery, exchange,  and CRM. By leveraging economies of scale, cloud based services can offer significant cost savings, versatile capabilities and low maintenance compared to traditional on -premise solutions.

With the growing number of IT services that can now be processed and delivered via the cloud, there is also an increased sense of insecurity within organizations looking to make the move.  The lack of visibility into cloud services and the infrastructure they run on create a level of risk that many organizations are not ready to manage.  However, this also creates a particular niche for service providers and IT resellers who can lead these organizations through the transition, and make a profit in the process! Traditional IT outsourcers and managed service providers are in a unique position to fill this requirement. MSPs have been serving as IT experts and advisors for small to medium sized businesses for some time. And because many companies lack traditional IT departments they a need a cloud services expert to mitigate the transition to cloud based services; doing so by addressing risk and assuring performance.

So, how do you become a provider of remote cloud service performance management?

  1. You need to have the right solutions and capabilities in place: A solution that can remotely manage WAN performance of your customer’s infrastructure is vital to create a scalable managed services business.  Another key feature to look for in a solution is the capability to remotely manage a multitude of customer sites from any location.
  2. You need to have a pricing model and service structure: Organizations looking to utilize Cloud Services do so because of the ease of use and low cost of these services.  To properly price a cloud assurance service, you should follow these same guidelines.  A simple and scalable pricing model that provides a fixed annual cost to your customer works best.  We recommend you create a user-based pricing model; many organizations are accustomed to paying for services on a per user basis. (i.e. software licensing, phone lines, bandwidth). The service structure can be an added line item for continuous monitoring with bundled service hours, or an ‘all you can eat’ service contract (which many MSPs and end users are moving towards.)
  3. You need to beat out your competition: This is all happening NOW. Organizations are starting to research, re-budget and implement cloud-based services while simultaneously moving away from traditional on premise devices and services. You need to bring your service to them first to get the new business and recurring revenue.

Please visit http://www.apparentnetworks.com/partners/build-your-business-with-cloudsmart/ to learn more about implementing a service around Remote Performance Management, or email partners@apparentnetworks.com to set up a call to discuss how to start to implement this service into your business.


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