SolarWinds adds DPI to network monitoring application

SolarWinds adds software-based deep packet inspection to flagship network monitoring application.

SolarWinds added deep packet inspection (DPI) to its flagship network monitoring application to help enterprises troubleshoot application performance problems.

Network Performance Monitor (NPM) 11.0, available now, can track the performance of more than 1,200 applications -- including Skype and Microsoft Lync apps that can trip up standard standalone flow-based monitoring. It's done through the use of software sensors that monitor traffic, latency, availability and other factors, said Francois Caron, SolarWinds' product management director, network management.

Enterprises are demanding more from their network monitoring platforms to determine the source of performance glitches and whether they come from the network or the application itself. Tools such as Simple Network Monitoring Protocol and NetFlow are helpful, but packet data is the "true source" of network performance, said Jonah Kowall, research director at Gartner Inc.

"When analyzing packets, you can not only do a deeper job of classification, but you [can also] capture the ever-important measurement of latency. Latency is a key element when measuring network performance. Hence, by using other data sources without [DPI] you are missing a key element," he said.

William Luther, network operations center analyst at ISP and telecommunications provider GVTC Communications in New Braunfels, Texas, said his company is determining how it will exploit DPI as it upgrades to NPM 11.0.

"In our testing, we see this new feature as a major enhancement, allowing us to identify even more potential problems before they get too bad," he said. "Hopefully, NPM's new functionality will provide us greater visibility into security risks, allowing us to identify and effectively remediate those risks before they can do more harm."

GVTC uses NPM to monitor numerous devices and services -- such as cellular backhaul, uplinks and fiber-to-the-home equipment -- as it delivers cable, phone and Internet access to more than 70,000 customers, Luther said. "[NPM's] built-in alerts make it easy to notify the proper personnel when the wrong things break."

Shedding more light on what causes problems

"We hear from our customers that tools they had used are increasingly failing to help them and the reason for that is because you see applications using more exotic techniques that make NetFlow [and other flow-based monitoring applications] blind," SolarWinds' Caron said. "NetFlow was never designed to [measure] latency, and since we are talking Quality of Experience, we are mostly talking about latency. NetFlow isn't the answer to that question. Offering DPI is a very exciting move for us."

Caron said the packet inspection takes place via a series of software agents; the software, which has a capture speed of 1 Gbps, can be installed on any Windows server or virtual machine. Results are collected and displayed in charts and graphs.

NPM pricing begins at $2,675, which includes one network packet analysis sensor, 10 server packet analysis sensors and the first year of maintenance.

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