Enterprise networks are getting larger and more powerful every year. In fact, BBC Research predicts that the enterprise networking market will grow to $63.7 billion dollars by 2023 and the enterprise WLAN market showed continued growth in 2018.
However, IT and NetOps' ability to monitor the remote parts of their networks has not always kept pace with that growth. As networks incorporate new technologies like software-defined networking (SDN) and public and private clouds, network visibility becomes a significant challenge if IT doesn't have tools designed for a hybrid network environment. That lack of visibility can lead to major problems at network edge locations that frustrate users, reduce worker productivity and cost the business money.
What are some of the visibility challenges facing these modern networks?
IT issues that occur at the edge of the network are much more difficult to troubleshoot without visibility into that part of the network. Remote offices, which often have lower bandwidth due to supporting fewer staff, are especially prone to this. In practice, these locations often have slower network speeds that cause an increase in trouble tickets and frustrated employees. But since they are far away from the central office where IT has the most visibility into traffic (and the most resources), these issues are much more difficult to resolve.
Other locations on the network edge, like R&D offices or remote job sites like oil pipelines or offshore drilling platforms, tend to have higher network speeds and submit fewer trouble tickets. But IT admins will still struggle to troubleshoot the issues they do have simply because they can't get enough information from those networks. The usual solution is to send out a network engineer or IT administrator to troubleshoot in person, which has an enormous cost in travel and lost time.
Putting a network monitoring appliance in each remote location is another option, but these appliances are typically designed for enterprise use and are too expensive to purchase for dozens or hundreds of locations. But cost-effective, scalable monitoring and troubleshooting appliances do exist, and this is definitely the most economical approach.
No Voice and VoIP Visibility
Voice traffic is especially problematic at the network edge since this traffic is so sensitive. Jitter, latency, minor network outages or network configuration errors can all cause poor call quality. Without visibility into the network edge, IT can't determine which issue is the culprit when they start getting complaints. Even worse, IT can't proactively notice and fix VoIP problems before customers notice.
Network Traffic Bypassing the Data Center
As remote employees or teams increasingly use cloud and SaaS apps like Office 365 or Salesforce, that traffic goes from the network edge through the internet to a public or private cloud. With the data center eliminated from the path, how does IT effectively monitor and manage the performance of these critical application in real-time? If a problem does occur, is it the cloud provider or the corporate WAN?
Wireless Network Issues
Troubleshooting wireless networking within a remote location is also extremely difficult for an IT administrator to do remotely. Wireless issues, like being unable to connect to Wi-Fi, dropped packets and general slow speeds can have many causes, such as outdated Wi-Fi clients, poor Wi-Fi design or RF interference. These issues can cause serious productivity issues, but without adequate network visibility IT is flying blind when it tries to fix them.
All of these issues can be incredibly frustrating for an organization. But the cost of poor network visibility isn't just associated with productivity – it has a hard cost to the business as well. Flying IT or network administrators out to remote sites to troubleshoot is expensive. Even worse, network issues left unsolved could cause a critical network service or application – like a PoS terminal at a retail location – to fail and cost the business a significant amount of money in lost sales, reputation and more.
Also, enterprises could be overpaying for the network speeds they're contracting for at remote locations. Are you having PoS issues at your stores because of configuration issues with the terminals, or are your network speeds fluctuating below an SLA? Without visibility into that network, a time-consuming audit, or an expensive visit to do a site survey, you won't know. This lack of long-term data also makes it nearly impossible for capacity planning or making educated decisions about investing in SD-WANs.
The good news is that there are modern Network Performance Monitoring and Diagnostics (NPMD) platforms designed for hybrid networks that give organizations better visibility into the network edge. This allows IT to solve most of the issues listed above without needing to take expensive visits to each individual site. Here are some best practices for using these new NPMD solutions.
■ Look for solutions with advanced alerting capabilities that will monitor all the flows at each remote location for specific criteria that indicate problems. For example, IT might set an alert that lets them know when utilization for any single user goes above 10 Mbps, or when the latency for any flow exceeds half a second.
■ Some solutions offer inexpensive hardware or software appliances that can be installed at remote locations to monitor traffic and report back to a central server. This can be extremely helpful with troubleshooting as well as tracking network usage data at those sites over time.
■ If possible, save packet data locally to help with troubleshooting problematic flows that can't be resolved using metadata. For example, looking at packet data could allow IT to see if a latency issue just happened once or repeatedly, if it happened for a specific application, or a specific user, and much more.
■ Powerful network visualization that let IT follow a flow from hop to hop are extremely useful. For example, if every flow that goes through a specific cloud application immediately has latency issues, IT knows where to start looking for the problem.
Actionable network visibility that uses these best practices used to be a luxury reserved for major enterprises with massive IT teams, but it's quickly becoming a business necessity for organizations of all sizes. As networks continue to evolve and become even more essential to the business, IT needs to ensure they have the ability to monitor all parts of those networks to proactively solve technical issues, save money, and keep employees and the business running at maximum efficiency.