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Comparing the top network performance tools on the market

Choosing among network performance tools can be difficult. In this article, expert Andrew Froehlich breaks down the differences among the top products on the market.

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When it comes to selecting a network performance monitor for your organization, you literally have dozens of products to choose from. But instead of drinking directly from the fire hose, it's better to come to the product investigation and evaluation stage of the purchasing process with a good idea of what specific features within an NPM application matter to you most.

In this article, we are going to highlight some real-world scenarios and show which specific network performance tools provide the most value in that category. The NPM tools we will be evaluating in each purchasing category are:

Current state of your infrastructure

  • Riverbed SteelCentral
  • SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor
  • NetScout (Fluke) Visual TruView

Integration with existing network support tools

  • Cisco Prime Network Analysis Module
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Network Node Manager i (NNMi)
  • ScienceLogic EM7

Needs/opportunities for network optimization and troubleshooting analysis

  • Viavi Solutions Observer Analyzer
  • Cisco Prime Network Analysis Module
  • NetScout (Fluke) Visual TruView

Scalability and ease of implementation

  • SevOne Cluster
  • Infosim StableNet
  • ScienceLogic EM7

Reporting capabilities

  • Infosim StableNet
  • SevOne Cluster
  • CA Technologies Application Performance Management

We will go through each of these categories and point out why one vendor's product might be the better choice based on business need.

Current state of your infrastructure

When you look at the current state of your infrastructure, you can really boil everything down to three basic factors. First is the overall size of the network. Next is whether the network is largely centralized in one physical location or if it consists of multiple, distributed sites. Lastly, you have to look at the current complexity of the infrastructure from a virtualization standpoint. The more virtualized you are, the more you need specialized tools that have the capability to gain visibility into those virtual layers.

Suppose, for example, that you are managing a medium-sized network that is mostly centralized with mix of virtualized and nonvirtualized servers in your data center. In cases such as this, a product such as SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor would likely be appropriate. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is easy to deploy and it provides just the right amount of virtualization and application monitoring tools to get most customers what they need without going overboard.

Riverbed's SteelCentral platform, on the other hand, is better suited for large networks that are highly distributed. SteelCentral is one of the most robust platforms available today and it excels at the analysis of application performance from end-to-end across WAN connections that use optimizer appliances such as its SteelHead product.

Lastly, if complexity is more focused on optimizing specific applications, network performance tools such as NetScout's Visual TruView might be a good fit. Visual TruView offers advanced application analysis, and it has specific capabilities for monitoring the performance of voice and video data streams.

Integration with existing network support tools

When you have existing network and IT support tools, it would be nice if your network performance monitor could interoperate with it for added functionality. ScienceLogic, for example has many strategic partnerships certifying that products integrate well with one another. For example, its EM7 app integrates with popular IT service desk management and ticketing system, ServiceNow.

If you manage a network infrastructure that predominantly consists of Cisco hardware and software, then its Prime line of network performance tools is an obvious choice. The Cisco Prime software leverages built-in and proprietary technology on specific Cisco networking gear to create a distributed monitoring and collection approach with a lower overall cost of implementation.

Finally, if you're looking for integration from a network automation point of view, take a close look at HPE's NNMi platform. If you combine NNMi with HPE's Network automation management tool, you suddenly have the ability to manage configurations, updates and backups for a large number of multivendor network infrastructure products.

Network optimization and troubleshooting analysis

Both the needs and opportunities for network optimization vary greatly from one network to the next. It really depends on the type of infrastructure you are managing and what applications are running. You have to weigh the benefits gained in optimization against the added level of complexity. Fortunately, there are vendor products for both situations.

If you require a deep application analysis of data in order to identify problems and ultimately fine-tune the performance of a network, Viavi Solutions Observer Analyzer should be on your short list. The Observer GigaStor packet capture appliance is thought to be one of the best in the industry.

Cisco's Prime Network Analysis Module, on the other hand, trades deep inspection capabilities for more simplified and summarized performance reports that are easier to understand by less experienced network administrators.

Real-time data flows such as voice and video applications can gain the most out of a proper NPM application. If your organization relies heavily on streaming data than NetScout's Visual TruView gets another nod. Visual TruView has advanced  voice and video path selection and performance troubleshooting capabilities to ensure that this data is taking the fastest possible path from one end of the network to the other.

Scalability and ease of implementation

A substantial amount of time and effort is needed to properly implement enterprise-class network performance tools. Your choice of vendor product plays a critical factor as some NPM tools are easier to deploy than others. Additionally, it's important to verify that the software will scale properly to meet future needs. When it comes to ease of deployment and scalability, few can match SevOne's cluster architecture. SevOne uses an appliance-based, peer-to-peer architecture. You simply deploy the proper number of appliances required and add additional appliances if more are needed. Each appliance communicates with one another and acts in a distributed manner with a single pane of glass for management.

Other companies offer uniquely different products depending on the size of the network they will be deployed in. InfoSim's StableNet product, for example, comes in two different models: telco and enterprise. The primary differences are in the fact that the telco version offers more modules and service provider-related monitoring tools. Additionally, the telco version scales to much larger sizes. So, if you think your infrastructure may go through exponential growth, you need to consider it when choosing the right NPM.

Another way to prepare for future growth and to simplify implementation is to deploy the various NPM features over a period of time. ScienceLogic's flexible pricing model is a benefit here. EM7 NPM uses a tiered model based on the number of devices you want to monitor. For example, if you want to first roll out availability monitoring on 100 devices, you simply buy the base license and add a 100-device monitoring license. Then, once you are ready to track more devices, you can purchase additional licenses to fit your needs.

Reporting capabilities

NPM reports are a growing necessity. Many IT shops use them to identify data flow trends and to verify certain compliance and service-level agreements. If you need reporting capabilities but don't want to spend time creating your own from scratch, InfoSim's StableNet NPM features a wide variety of standard reporting templates.

CA Technologies' Application Performance Management is widely considered to be one of the more flexible NPMs in terms of reporting capabilities. For example, if IT administrators and managers want the ability to create their own reports, the Application Performance Management tool can be used to create and manage individual user accounts. The privilege level of each account can be adjusted to control what reports can or cannot be created. Reports can also be generated in a wide array of format types, such as PDF, XML, Microsoft Word and Excel. This is useful for importing and combining data from other monitoring tools to create a single, unified report.

Finally, if you require the need for highly granular historical reporting using raw data, as opposed to aggregate data that spits out an average, you should definitely take a look at SevOne. This NPM maintains raw data for up to a year. This allows you to run very specific historical reports that represent what actually happened on the network at any point in time.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you found this purchasing criteria exercise useful to your personal pursuit for the ideal NPM. But don't forget, we are simply looking at a sample of the network performance tools you can choose from. We chose to focus on the 10 products that are considered by a variety of sources to be some of the best tools available today for a variety of implementation scenarios.

Next Steps

Learn how to enhance the usability of network monitoring tools.

Read about how log analytics tools integrate with network monitoring.

Check out our evaluation criteria for network management tools.

This was last published in June 2016
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A comprehensive review of network performance monitors
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