The evolution of technologies is inevitable. Yet, the enterprise network performance monitoring market has undergone huge changes in just a few short years. The network performance monitoring tools of the past provide only a fraction of what today’s tools can accomplish with the help of new data sources, methods and the use of AI. In fact, the advancements are so compelling that many vendors are replacing the term NPM to describe their products with new marketing designations that include network analytics and AI for IT operations, or AIOps.
While some vendors still choose to target smaller businesses with their traditional NPM tools, most are evolving to address the problems larger businesses now face due to an increased demand for reliable network services. The NPM evolution is also bringing new performance monitoring and analytics competition to a market that ranges from startups providing unique capabilities on custom platforms to services from traditional vendors.
How has the NPM market evolved?
The first generation of network performance monitoring tools focused solely on adding visibility into corporate networks and their associated server components. This included traditional monitoring methods, like Internet Control Message Protocol ping, Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), NetFlow/IPFIX, basic agent and agentless network server and appliance monitoring tools. At the time, these technologies provided network pros with the right balance of visibility and alerting capabilities for most corporate wired and wireless LANs (WLANs), WANs and privately managed data centers.
But, as advancements in virtualization, IaaS, hybrid cloud computing and WAN connectivity options — including 5G — moved forward, it became obvious the data sources and methods used to provide network health status information had visibility gaps. As a result, new network performance monitoring tools began to incorporate far more advanced deep packet inspection (DPI) and streaming network telemetry data collection and analysis capabilities as part of their overall platforms.
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Simply tracking the operation of network components is no longer enough. Instead, organizations today require a larger, holistic view of the health and performance of a wide variety of end devices, applications and SaaS-deployed services. Since these monitoring tasks all begin and end with the health of the network, the job of monitoring all devices, applications and service flows has ultimately fallen to the network team to manage. This means many of the monitoring capabilities of application performance monitoring have crept into NPM platforms, thus weaving together functions that were previously considered separate.
The adoption of IoT technologies, meanwhile, has forced a tighter integration between performance and security monitoring with network performance monitoring tools becoming more sophisticated. IT departments must now monitor and manage the performance and security health of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of autonomous IoT sensors that connect to corporate and noncorporate managed networks across the globe. Collecting data from multiple sources, including directly from the network, is the best way to gain visibility into the health of these devices.
Finally, modern network performance platforms are beginning to use machine learning and AI by analyzing collected data from multiple sources to automate the identification, root cause analysis and remediation steps deemed necessary to fix performance-related and even security issues. This predictive analysis helps enterprises significantly cut down the amount of time needed to identify and resolve problems. This additional level of functionality also reflects how the term network performance monitoring no longer fully encapsulates the capabilities of today’s advanced and more comprehensive performance analytics platforms. Let’s examine a few of these monitoring platforms to find out more about what they offer.
Cisco DNA Analytics and Assurance
Cisco has several platforms that fall under the performance monitoring umbrella. These include the decade-old Prime Performance Manager and the newer ACI with AppDynamics integration. Cisco’s Digital Network Architecture (DNA) initiative, however, appears to be the framework under which the vendor has underpinned its future network and device monitoring strategy. DNA consists of a collection of major building blocks used in Cisco’s advanced Intent-based networking architecture. One of those building blocks is the network, service and device monitoring product called Cisco DNA Analytics and Assurance.
DNA Analytics and Assurance taps into streaming network telemetry hooks built inside the firmware of a variety of Cisco Assurance-capable switches, routers and WLAN controllers. The tool can also collect telemetry information from non-Cisco endpoints, devices and applications. Getting the most benefit out of DNA, however, requires an end-to-end Cisco infrastructure.
The monitoring platform is based on three core stages, named visibility, insight and action. Visibility comes from collecting and analyzing data from various sources on the network. Dashboard views illuminate network, application and client health in a single tool. Insight is the ability to use AI to make sense of the data to highlight various performance-related issues. The final action stage is where Cisco DNA Analytics and Assurance again uses AI and machine learning to determine what changes must be made to fix the issue.
Purchasing and licensing options
All Cisco products are available through partner resellers. From a licensing standpoint, a DNA Center appliance is required at minimum to get the Analytics and Assurance features. Customers can purchase Assurance licenses through one of three software-based subscriptions. The DNA Essentials license provides basic monitoring and automation. The DNA Advantage license adds the deep analytics and intelligence component. Finally, the DNA Premier license provides all the features of DNA Advantage with added Cisco network security tool integrations.
Juniper Mist WLAN and Contrail SD-WAN
Like Cisco, Juniper has a couple of monitoring platforms in its product portfolio, including the Junos Space Network Management and AppFormix platforms. Its acquisition of Mist brought WLAN performance analytics into the mix. According to Juniper CEO Rami Rahim, one reason Juniper wanted to buy Mist was to “take the AI for IT engine that Mist has developed and make it work across the broad portfolio that Juniper offers.” Juniper’s cloud-based Contrail SD-WAN, which was released earlier in 2019, was the vendor’s first non-WLAN product to incorporate Mist’s technology.
The Mist WLAN platform is a cloud service that enables customers to monitor Mist access points (APs) regardless of where they are deployed. For locations that require on-premises management due to internet bandwidth constraints, the Mist Edge product can resolve this dilemma. The Mist platform offers deep visibility into Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) performance, while also using AI to correlate wireless anomalies with automated root cause analysis and remediation steps. Contrail SD-WAN uses some of the same technologies to track the performance of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) links and provides automated root cause analysis and remediation in the event of service disruptions.
Purchasing and licensing options
Juniper hardware, software and licensing is available for purchase through a partner reseller. Mist WLAN is currently offered as a subscription-based service to customers. Hardware options include proprietary wireless APs and edge gateway products centrally managed by Mist.
Broadcom DX NetOps
Broadcom’s 2018 acquisition of CA Technologies is finally beginning to take shape. From a performance monitoring perspective, Broadcom has bundled several stand-alone CA monitoring, analytics and alerting tools into a single package, dubbed DX NetOps — with DX standing for digital transformation. The product consolidation should help simplify the purchase process from an end-customer perspective. The tools now under the DX NetOps banner include CA Performance Management, CA Spectrum, CA Network Flow Analysis, CA Mediation Manager and CA Virtual Network Assurance products, all of which were previously sold individually.
Data collection methods built into DX NetOps capture critical performance metrics in modern network infrastructures, including SNMP, NetFlow, REST, streaming telemetry, and other network and application measures. NetOps AI controllers analyze the collected information and display the health of LAN, WLAN, SD-WAN, software-defined data centers and cloud services. The product is particularly suited for multivendor networks equipped with legacy and modern network components and designs.
Purchasing and licensing options
All Broadcom products and services are available through its authorized distributor program. In some cases, companies can even create direct purchasing agreements. Hardware and licensing costs depend on two primary factors: first, whether DX NetOps is deployed as a physical appliance or VM; and second, the number of devices on the network that need to be monitored and analyzed.
LiveAction is a longtime pure play vendor in the network monitoring and performance analytics space. Its LiveNX product is a viable option for network administrators who use a multivendor architecture across LAN, WAN, WLAN and cloud.
The LiveNX product was one of the first to unify data flows stemming from sources such as SNMP, NetFlow, DPI, Wi-Fi controllers and other data extracted from prebuilt API hooks. LiveNX also expanded historical network telemetry data to offer data collection of endpoints and end-user performance experience.
Unlike some other vendor-agnostic products, LiveAction forms partnerships with major network vendors so it can better integrate its monitoring and analysis software into vendor products. This helps with long-term compatibility and lessens the chance for bugs to occur during network component firmware upgrades.
Purchasing and licensing options
LiveAction sells its software, licenses and maintenance contracts directly and through its reseller partner program as well. The LiveNX platform uses a flexible license model depending on the number of devices customers want to manage and what monitoring and analytics features they desire.