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Posts Tagged ‘Network Monitoring

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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From the largest regional medical centers to small provider offices, today’s healthcare organizations depend on network sensitive applications. Electronic Health Records (EHR), ePrescriptions, web-based clinical records, online medical registries, desktop virtualization, VoIP, IP storage, cloud–based system, Software-as-a-Service — all of these critical applications rely on network performance.

When bandwidth, latency and other key parameters fall below acceptable thresholds, network dependent services abruptly become unusable. This potentially compromises not only business efficiency, but also patient care. Network performance management has thus become one of IT’s most vital functions across the healthcare sector.  As Dr. John Halamka points out in his blog, Life as a Healthcare CIO,“As we all rollout EHRs to small provider offices, often with challenging internet connections, remote monitoring of cloud network performance becomes even more critical.”

Here are five key reasons why every healthcare provider must be able to monitor and manage network performance:

  1. You need to quickly find and fix network performance problems before they impact patient care or confidentiality.
  2. You want to minimize problems associated with unpredictable connectivity to centralized data, which frustrate and compromise the efficiency of overworked clinical and clerical staff whose time is so valuable.
  3. You are charged with ensuring that the migration and consolidation of electronic health records, as well as the rollout of new, network-dependent services like video conferencing, goes smoothly and does not negatively impact existing applications.
  4. You are looking to optimize the performance of an ever-growing number of wireless devices from tablet PCs to smartphones to wearable medical devices like heart monitors.
  5. Any healthcare provider’s ability to successfully leverage cloud computing, IT-as-a-service and similar initiatives depends on its ability to guarantee application service levels from the user’s perspective.

Unfortunately, many network professionals responsible for delivering site-to-site access to clinical data lack visibility into the various WANs, remote LANs and service provider clouds that connects centralized resources to remote offices. How can you achieve the network performance insight you need to ensure service levels across your IP-based application portfolio?

AppNeta’s PathView Cloud suite of network performance management solutions solve this problem by providing remote, end-to-end, bi-directional visibility across all the networks (even those you don’t own) between your datacenters, those of your service providers, and users at clinics and other remote sites. With PathView Cloud you can continuously monitor and troubleshoot network performance “from anywhere to anywhere,” ensure compliance with SLAs, and quickly and accurately assess your network’s readiness for even more IP-based services.

To learn more about how AppNeta technology can give healthcare organizations the insight they need to ensure predictable access to EHR, virtual desktops, IP storage and other business-critical, network-dependent applications, visit www.appneta.com.  Or, sign up for a free trial on your own network here.

The education industry is embracing cloud computing more rapidly than any other sector excluding large enterprises. According to recent studies by IDC and CDW, today more than one-third of higher education IT departments are either implementing or maintaining cloud-based systems.

Among the most compelling benefits that cloud-based services offer educational institutions are:

  • Low-cost, anytime/anywhere accessibility to high-end computing resources
  • The ability to seamlessly scale technology requirements (and costs) dynamically up or down in relation to demand
  • Increased efficiency of service delivery, leading to faster results
  • Simplified sharing of management resources for maximum efficiency at lowest cost

An additional benefit that cloud computing environments offer to educational institutions is flexibility: with cloud it’s easy to develop and deploy new “experimental” services, without the hassle and expense of upgrading systems or purchasing software licenses.

Cloud also meshes well with educational organizations because both are inherently distributed and network-dependent. Users that are spread across campuses, computer labs, dorms and classrooms need secure, reliable connectivity to a huge array of resources — from e-mail, to VoIP, to online classrooms and distance learning programs – over IP networks.

Even before the advent of cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SasS), education network engineers were already well aware of the challenges of delivering IP-based services to thousands of remote users. However, as more and more services are delivered via the network, network health becomes increasingly business-critical.

In any industry, the need to derive maximum business value from cloud computing and other IP-based services, while minimizing the business risks associated with application downtime, makes network performance management increasingly vital. To manage network performance in the cloud, you need to

  • Guarantee service levels from the perspective of your users.
  • Continuously monitor network performance end-to-end between the cloud environment and remote users and back, even over public networks.
  • Quickly identify where network performance has dropped below acceptable thresholds, and why.
  • Verify that cloud, SaaS and other providers are meeting service level commitment

Traditionally it has been difficult or impossible to achieve these capabilities without expensive, administration intensive network instrumentation that is far outside the reach of most college and university IT departments. Now, cost and implementation barriers have fallen away with the advent of AppNeta’s cloud-based, instant-value Pathview Cloud network performance management service

AppNeta recently launched a Higher Education Discount Program that offers colleges and universities up to 70% off pricing. With Pathview Cloud, educational institutions can keep pace with their rapidly evolving user requirements and leverage innovative, cost-effective technology to maintain high-performing network services

Visit www.appneta.com to learn more about how AppNeta technology can maximize the benefits of distributed computing resources for educational organizations.

One of my concerns about the use of public cloud computing services is the tradeoff that IT organizations typically have had to make. On the positive side of the tradeoff, by using a public cloud service companies lower their cost and gain access to functionality that they normally would not have access to. Those are both compelling reasons to use public cloud services. However, on the negative side of the tradeoff, IT organizations typically lose all visibility into the availability and performance of the service that they get from a public cloud provider. I shiver when industry pundits show graphs and charts of some of the major cloud providers to demonstrate that they usually have high availability and totally gloss over the issue of performance. This line of reasoning reminds me of the refrain in that old song that went “don’t worry, be happy.”

I don’t dispute the fact that a best effort approach is totally appropriate for many applications and workloads. That said, I strongly believe that there is a large and growing set of applications and workloads for which a best effort level of support is not appropriate. The successful support of these applications and workloads requires that IT organizations have detailed management insight into their availability and performance.

IT organizations are beginning to demand better management insight from cloud computing service providers (CCSPs). Fortunately, many CCSPs are scrambling to find ways to differentiate themselves in the market. One clear way that CCSPs can differentiate themselves is by offering a performance-based SLA and by making it easier for their customers to monitor the end-to-end availability and performance of the services that they provide. Given that, there is reason to hope that CCSPs will begin to provide more management insight.

One company that is addressing this challenge is AppNeta. AppNeta was recently launched by the team and technology of Apparent Networks. AppNeta’s PathView Cloud Network Performance Management solutions performs non-invasive, end-to-end performance monitoring of bandwidth utilization, delay, jitter, QoS and packet loss on a hop-by-hop basis. AppNeta is supplementing that active network monitoring capability with the capability to perform active performance analysis of applications such as VoIP, video, IP storage and VDI. AppNeta also offers the capabilities to perform packet and traffic capture at remote sites using the PathView appliances, a zero-administration device.

One of the things that I find most appealing about the AppNeta solutions is that they are cloud based and hence bring to the market all of the benefits of cloud based services. This means that whether you want to manage the performance of a cloud based service or of a more traditional service, you can turn on that functionality virtually instantaneously, start getting detailed management data immediately and do all that without a capital expenditure. A big step forward.

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Read Jim Metzler’s recent brief: Cloud Management: Achieving Value of Cloud Services with Cloud Services
Learn more about AppNeta!

Santa Claus.  The Easter Bunny.  Good tasting, fat-free snack foods.  Myths?  Maybe so.

But one absolute myth that is 100% untrue, and that 99% of the vendors of network performance solutions have been perpetrating for years (and whose users have been gobbling up like zero calorie french fries…) is the myth of bandwidth; more specifically, the myths of utilized and available bandwidth.

Before I do my online version of “Myth Busters”, let’s take a minute to define a few key terms, bandwidth and throughput.

Although often used interchangeably (and used differently outside the world of networking…) when it comes to IP networking, these terms refer to two very different things.

  • Bandwidth speaks to the capacity of a given network and
  • Throughput speaks to how many bits per second actually traveled across the network.

Huh?

Ok, think of your network as a water pipe.  At a given fixed water pressure, the diameter of the pipe will determine the maximum amount of water that can flow through the pipe. That is the bandwidth.  A bigger pipe, more capacity (bandwidth) – smaller diameter pipe less bandwidth (capacity).

If we stood at the far end of the pipe and measured how much water arrived, now we know the pipe’s actual throughput.  If the pipe had perfectly consistent diameter along its’ entire length and there are zero leaks, and if the water only had to travel in one direction at the same speed all of the time, then the throughput and the bandwidth of the pipe would be the same.

Of course, even in your homes, there are often small leaks; and changes in the size and back-pressure of the pipes happen all the time as different faucets open and close. Very seldom does any system of pipes (even a small system like in your house…) manage to have the throughput come close to 100% of bandwidth (capacity).  It gets worse with complexity. If we look at municipal water systems across the U.S., the average system loss is 16% (or more than 800 billion gallons a year …) and many larger cities are dealing with losses of 20 to 30% or more. Yikes!

How does this relate to IP networks?

Well, if the bandwidth (capacity) was the exactly the same along the entire length of the network service delivery path (source IP to destination IP), the packets only travel in direction all the time, the distance the packets travel remains constant (no route changes…), and there was no cross traffic to deal with, zero packet loss or other slow downs (including duplex mismatches, MTU misalignment, QoS bits being stripped or remapped, serialization or processing delays, etc), then network throughput and network bandwidth would be the same.

But we all know that on complex WANs (or even a moderately complex LANs or Wireless LANs (WLAN), there are many conditions that prevent throughput from equalling bandwidth (capacity).  Since the primary determining factor of throughput is the actual bandwidth (capacity), getting your arms around this figure is the first step to understanding your actual throughput – and this is where the myth of bandwidth is most often passed along by vendors today.  Solutions that measure the “what is” bits per second (bps) values – regardless of if they get the bps values by asking the network elements themselves via SNMP, WMI or NetFlow or if they perform packet sniffing and count actual packets “on the wire” –  all chart those values against the provisioned (or theoretical…) capacity of the network based on a value the user enters.  Have a GigE network interface on your server? BAM!  Your maximum bandwidth is 1000 Mbps.  Leasing a T3 from your carrier?  Whammo! Your maximum bandwidth is 45 Mbps.  Then the vendors chart the measured “what is” bps values against the user entered total bandwidth values and you in turn get a mythical utilization and available bandwidth result. Lions, tigers and bears – oh my!

There are other commercial and open source solutions that attempt to measure network throughput via packet flooding. However, many of these solutions propagate the reverse myth that throughput equals bandwidth (capacity).  Of course running a packet flooder can only give you an accurate throughput value when the nothing else is running on the network (when is that again?) and these kinds of solutions tend to really annoy the application owners because they completely fill up the network.  But from a pure performance measurement perspective, their throughput results really tell you nothing about bandwidth (capacity) – they tell you the throughput of your water pipes, but you have no idea if the diameter is in fact what you’re paying for.  The myth goes both ways unfortunately.

Yet the biggest danger of the bandwidth myth is that you don’t really have an accurate and timely understanding of the true capacity of your service delivery paths.  If you operate your network (and support the applications that in turn rely on the network…) based on the mythical figures produced by your SNMP tool, you may in fact be operating FAR closer to point of application failure than to you realize. Far worse, you may ALREADY be experiencing application failure or other application delivery quality issues and looked your bandwidth chart and said “Well, I’ve got plenty of available capacity, so that’s not it” when that was PRECISELY the problem which resulted in high loss, or irregular jitter patterns that made your application delivery suffer.   You were the victim of a false negative, which often are hardest things to deal with when troubleshooting.

The path-based technology in PathView Cloud is in fact a real-time myth buster.   Through a patented methodology that measures the true end-to-end service delivery path, we determine the layer 3 network’s true maximum achievable capacity (bandwidth) and the utilized capacity and can therefore paint the true picture of available capacity. This works over any IP-based network be LAN, WAN, Wifi or satellite and you can measure the true network capacity across third-party networks and even into end-points that you have no access to, cloud-based or otherwise.   The best part is that we do this every 60 seconds with such a low touch (around 20 packets per minute…), that your applications won’t even know we’re there standing guard.

On a complex network it’s pretty rare to have bandwidth (capacity) be equal to throughput, in fact I’m pretty sure if such a network does exist, you’ll find the Easter Bunny having a fully immersive video conference with Santa Claus, each watching the other enjoying their delicious zero calorie french fries.

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.

We are often asked how our technologies very from traditional network management tools. While most other tools rely on simple network management protocol (SNMP), we utilize our own technology to perform ‘active’ network monitoring infrastructure.

Around here, we compare SNMP to a car’s dashboard.  You are able to see how much gas is in the tank, what the engine RPMs are, and how hot the engine is running. But if you’re in a hurry to catch a flight out of Logan Airport, what you really want to know about is the traffic on the highway.  How long will it take me to get through Boston?  How many other cars are on the road?  How many lanes does the Massachusetts Turnpike have?  Is there a detour because of the Big Dig?  You need to be able to see roadblocks that hinder performance (and your timely departure!) on the way to   your application’s destination.

SNMP is configurable on most routers, managed switches and other network devices.  The metrics gathered using this protocol are unique, and critical to network performance:  You can see utilization of memory or CPU, and the health of that devices hardware components.  This is all very valuable information that no network engineer should be without, but even a network that is fully instrumented with SNMP cannot answer the fundamental question of how well your network is doing its job, connecting users with information. What happens when the packets leave that device; traverse the network; go through another device, and so on?  Do the application packets, traveling from the service inception point to the service consumption point, face any problems reaching their destination on time?

With all of the packet shaping technologies that are enacted across WAN connections, there is a risk that the performance of a network application can be hindered unintentionally. Traffic shaping and QoS is often set in a vacuum, with settings determined by the intuition of the engineer who may not be aware of all critical applications that are using a WAN connection. To really understand what circumstances these application packets face while traversing the WAN, you need visibility through each and every device the packets encounter to see the cumulative effect of the packet shaping.

PathView Cloud sends ‘network analysis’ packets from the microAppliance to the service consumption end point.  On the way to the destination, any deviation or interruption in the route, such as a point of congestion or point of data loss is revealed and reported back to the cloud reporting server.  All of these metrics are delivered from each hop in the network path, even from devices you don’t manage.  This process fundamentally differs from contemporary SNMP monitoring; Instead of having a management information base (MIB) telling us what’s going on, PathView Cloud is able to find out on its own.

At the end of the day, the network admin needs to weigh the importance between status of devices and the status of the application path.  When it comes down to it, there is not a right or wrong answer, both are needed.  But one thing that is true, end users don’t care if it is the device, the application, or even themselves that is causing application performance degradation, they just want their applications to work!

Happy monitoring!


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