Editor's note: This Cisco network monitor product overview is part of a series on network performance monitoring. The series also explores the evolution of network monitoring technology, discusses the major use cases, lays out the major purchasing criteria and compares the leading vendors on the market.
Cisco has been in the network and infrastructure monitoring business for nearly two decades. Since that time, the Cisco network monitor has gone through a number of revisions and name changes. The latest network performance monitor (NPM) is known as Cisco Prime. The Prime portfolio has been around for more than five years. And although the road has been bumpy for some early adopters of Prime, Cisco's network performance monitoring tool has really taken shape in recent years -- to the point where it is now one of the better products available.
Cisco offers Prime components as discounted add-ons when customers purchase other Cisco-branded hardware and software. This makes the NPM difficult to pass up -- especially if the infrastructure is mostly comprised of Cisco gear. In fact, Prime integrates incredibly well with other Cisco products, such as the Cisco Wireless LAN Controller or Identity Services Engine. This tight integration provides greater visibility into the underlying infrastructure, as well as the users on the network.
Due to its scalability, Cisco Prime can be used by small and large organizations. The Cisco Prime portfolio of management products consists of two main components: Prime Infrastructure and Prime Network Analysis Module (NAM). Prime Infrastructure can be deployed either as a physical appliance or as a virtual machine, while Prime NAM can be a physical, virtual or a module inserted into a Cisco Catalyst or Nexus switching chassis. While there are other components within the Prime ecosystem, Prime Infrastructure and NAM are the two that focus on enterprise NPM capabilities.
Cisco Prime Infrastructure
Prime Infrastructure is the foundation, and it tracks traffic behavior, as well as infrastructure components and applications. This includes monitoring of wired and wireless devices, along with many security tools. Additionally, Prime Infrastructure can handle reporting, regulatory and compliance checks, configuration management, automated bulk changes and quality-of-service analysis. And all of this is done through a single web GUI management system. In a sense, it's the Swiss army knife for network administrators who want to keep a close watch on network and application performance.
Cisco Prime Network Analysis Module
Prime NAM is a great option if you need to probe more deeply within application flows to troubleshoot and analyze performance problems. This Cisco network monitor module offers a variety of capabilities, from packet flow and capture capabilities to virtual machine and application traffic analysis. The tool even has the intelligence to understand network overlay and bridging technologies -- such as VXLANs and Overlay Transport Virtualization -- found in today's most modern infrastructure architectures. NAM integrates with Prime Infrastructure, which acts as the single point of data monitoring and analysis.
Pricing and support
Cisco network monitor hardware and support are purchased through Cisco Systems' partners, which ultimately set the purchase price. The pricing of Prime will vary widely, depending on the number of devices, whether you want to run virtual or physical appliances and modules, the types of devices and what network monitoring feature sets will be used. Cisco has recently streamlined its Prime licensing model to simplify the ordering process.
Cisco uses standard support contracts for Prime hardware and software. Smart Net support can include phone or email support, remote troubleshooting, firmware upgrades and defective hardware replacement. Smart Net tier pricing depends on hardware replacement service-level agreements.
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