Because network performance monitoring systems consist of a fairly wide range of monitoring, optimization, troubleshooting and reporting tools, it's crucial that network administrators understand and prioritize the specific tools that are most important to their organization. By doing so, they will develop a better understanding of which vendors and products will best suit a specific network infrastructure. Vendor products each have strengths and weaknesses for each component that must be considered.
Current state of your infrastructure
One of the first things to consider when looking for a network performance monitor is the current state of your network. Some vendors specialize in very large networks consisting of thousands of network infrastructure components in highly advanced data centers. Other vendors focus their energy on providing smaller, easier-to-manage products for the small and medium-sized business market.
Another factor to consider is the amount of virtualization within your network. Whether it's server virtualization using hypervisors or containers, network overlays or even the beginnings of software-defined networking, network performance monitors differ in their ability to provide visibility inside virtualized environments.
At the same time, make sure you understand a network performance monitor vendor's capabilities as they relate to your WAN and cloud environments. In terms of the cloud, a service provider may obscure the visibility needed by the vendor to monitor devices and collect statistics. In other cases, that limitation doesn't exist. It really depends on the type of cloud you are using and what the service provider allows. Some performance monitoring vendors are better than others when it relates to analyzing remote site and cloud performance. If this is important to you, make sure it's high on your priority list.
Integration with existing network support tools
You may find yourself in the position where you already have -- and want to keep -- certain network performance monitoring tools. Many production applications have already been heavily customized, and their capabilities would be difficult to replicate with new tools. Yet, at the same time, you may be in the market for a network performance monitor that offers more advanced optimization, troubleshooting and reporting. In situations like this, it's important to know how the performance monitoring software would integrate with existing tools. While this combination likely won't be as seamless as a single unified approach, performance monitoring products are capable of troubleshooting and analysis by tapping log data and other sources.
Opportunities for network optimization and troubleshooting analysis
One way to understand how a network performance monitor will be best used on your network is to think about the challenges you have today. Are certain applications on your network performing sluggishly for some unknown reason? Do you find that your network operations staff is consistently spending time investigating complex performance issues to prove or disprove that the problem resides within the network? These are the types of questions you should be asking when considering the level of optimization and troubleshooting you need from a vendor's product. Some products are easier to use, but may not provide the level of detail that more complex tools provide.
Performance monitoring products differ greatly in the collecting of packets for deep packet inspection, as well as the methods and types of flow data collected. Some methods used distributed software to collect much of this data, while others use hardware probes or leverage network hardware itself to do the collecting. Each method has varying levels of data-collection detail that you'll want to investigate, depending on your specific needs.
Scalability and ease of implementation
You should also consider the anticipated amount of growth, as well as issues that might obstruct the deployment of a network performance monitor. Monitoring products vary in both scalability and implementation. Several products excel at scaling easily, while others are far more challenging. Additionally, some vendors offer different products depending on the size of your network. Make sure you understand your requirements so you don't run into a situation where you quickly outgrow a product and need to perform a forklift replacement with a version that better fits your network.
Difficulty of implementing various network performance monitors can also be a major factor. While some challenges may be related to the current maturity of your network -- such as whether network time protocol and centralized logging are configured -- some performance tracking products are simply more difficult to set up and fine-tune compared with others. Another factor: Do you want to roll out all monitoring features simultaneously, or are you evaluating a phased approach over the course of several months or years? Depending on your network architecture, you may not be able to use every feature today, but you may have anticipated the need for these features in the future. One example would be the use of monitoring virtualized servers and network overlays. You may not have these technologies in production at this moment, but you might expect to roll them out at some point in the future.
Some performance monitoring tools include both standard and customizable reports. If reports are important for your organization, this is an important feature. Yet, if you do value the benefits of reports, you may already have a reporting tool that you and upper management prefer to use. If you find yourself in this situation, then in-product reporting tools may not be all that important. Instead, you should explore performance monitoring applications that can send analytics data to the reporting tool you rely on. Make sure the tools are compatible and that they provide the level of detail required.
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