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Buyer's Handbook:

Navigating the network analytics software buying process

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Evaluate top network analysis tools to find the right fit

Before selecting a network analytics tool, determine which devices and vendors make up your organization's network and what problems you hope to solve by deploying this product.

Network analytics shouldn't be perceived as simply another new item in the network administrator's toolbox. Indeed, network analysis tools -- properly selected and deployed -- can completely replace several network monitoring and troubleshooting products currently in use. If the correct network analytics software is selected, the associated advancements in monitoring accuracy, detailed root cause analysis and automated remediation capabilities will quickly prove the tool's value.

Choosing the right network analytics tool for your enterprise revolves around two key considerations. The first applies to the devices and vendors that make up your overall network. The second relates to the problems your organization hopes to solve by using network analytics. Let's highlight this two-tier decision-making process through four different scenarios that reveal when some network analysis tools would be a better fit than others.

Scenario 1: End-to-end coverage in a single-vendor network

The features, functionality and ease of implementation when using network analytics tools sold by the major network vendors -- among them Cisco, Extreme Networks and Juniper -- are bolstered even further when the underlying network components come from that same vendor.

A single-supplier approach enables the use of proprietary data-gathering methods -- such as collecting specialized network telemetry data from routers and switches or turning wireless access points into specialized sensors -- that aren't possible in a mixed-vendor environment.

This extra visibility goes a long way and gives a single-vendor network analytics platform a tremendous advantage in these types of situations.

Another consideration is technical support. In a mixed-vendor environment, troubleshooting can be cumbersome, as network administrators constantly have to bounce back and forth among different vendors to resolve an issue. This can lead to finger-pointing, which can waste time and resources. Yet, if the network analytics tool and underlying network are from the same supplier, all support goes through a single channel. Thus, problems can be resolved much more quickly.

If your network is primarily composed of Cisco hardware and software, it makes sense to consider the company's DNA Analytics and Assurance network analytics platform. Not only does it provide additional functionality based on proprietary integrations, its single support channel reduces troubleshooting headaches. The same can be said for companies that run infrastructures based on gear from Extreme and Juniper Networks. Both the ExtremeAnalytics and Juniper AppFormix platforms, respectively, offer single-vendor benefits similar to Cisco's.

Scenario 2: End-to-end coverage in a multi-vendor network

Using products from multiple vendors means the proprietary benefits gained with a single-vendor deployment are all but eliminated. Here is where a pure-play network analytics software developer will likely be more capable and willing to support a wide range of vendor products and telemetry streams. This category includes network analysis tools from companies such as CA Technologies (CA Performance Management), ExtraHop (ExtraHop Performance) LiveAction (LiveNX) and Nyansa (Voyance).

But make sure to verify how well a network analytics platform supports the variety of equipment you may have in place. This step is crucial. If you implement a network analytics tool that doesn't fully support all of your network components, blind spots can form in critical segments. This means the platform's monitoring, analytics and root cause analysis capabilities will be significantly reduced. As a result, selecting the right pure-play network analytics provider in a multi-vendor environment takes more time than it does in other scenarios.

Scenario 3: Focus on a specific network segment

There are plenty of situations in which an IT department can't justify purchasing an end-to-end network analytics tool. For one thing, the overall network simply may not be considered business-critical. However, if there's a portion of the network that's more important than another, a network analytics tool that specializes in specific network segments may be necessary. For example, organizations with large IoT deployments should consider products such as Nyansa Voyance or Aruba Networks NetInsight. These products offer unique IoT analytics features to better manage the performance and security of IoT sensors. Alternatively, businesses with customer-facing Wi-Fi may find the wireless-centric network analytics platform from Mist Systems can provide an improved user experience while also offering valuable insights in the form of deep analytics.

Network analytics has become so popular in part because administrators are seeking ways to reclaim the loss of visibility that occurs when monitoring networks within public clouds.

Another reason to apply network analytics in a specific segment is to gain experience before deploying and supporting a fully functioning end-to-end product. Setting up Simple Network Management Protocol polling, syslog event logging, streaming network telemetry and other data sources is going to be far easier to accomplish when working with a smaller portion of the network, such as the WAN, wireless LAN or the data center. Using analytics in a portion of the network doesn't merely produce improved insight in a critical area; it also gives the business the expertise to deploy a larger and more complex end-to-end analytics product in the future.

Scenario 4: Network analytics within a hybrid or multi-cloud architecture

One primary reason network analytics has become so popular is because network administrators are seeking ways to reclaim the visibility lost when monitoring networks within public cloud environments. As such, it's essential that current and future cloud computing instances be included in the product selection process. No two clouds are managed and monitored the same; therefore, most network analytics vendors will only guarantee compatibility with certain cloud providers.

For example, if your cloud presence is only within AWS, you may want to consider the Riverbed SteelCentral network performance monitoring platform, where AWS is fully supported. If, however, you use AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud in a multi-cloud architecture, other network analysis tools -- such as LiveAction NX, Juniper AppFormix or Extreme Networks ExtremeAnalytics -- are fully interoperable among all three. If you manage a hybrid cloud with a single cloud service provider, it's not much of a challenge to research which network analytics software will provide the visibility you need. Yet, in multi-cloud environments, this task becomes far more difficult. Thus, you may find yourself choosing a network analytics platform based solely on its ability to function in the multiple public cloud infrastructures you operate within.

Other considerations for selecting network analytics software

Once you've narrowed your product choices based on network composition and the visibility reach required, additional factors must be considered. For instance, does your site prefer an on-premises or a cloud-managed product? In situations where internet connectivity is limited or unreliable, it makes sense to select a network analytics tool that's fully operational on premises. That way, you aren't solely reliant on the internet to use the platform. An on-premises architecture is also appealing if there are significant data security or regulatory compliance concerns that prevent network telemetry data from being uploaded, processed and stored in a third-party cloud.

If you aren't subject to issues like these, cloud-managed network analytics platforms offer a wealth of benefits. This is especially true for networks that span large geographic regions. Instead of backhauling network telemetry information across expensive WAN links to an on-premises network analytics data collector, this information can simply be transmitted using the closest internet connection to the cloud-managed data collector. Thus, a cloud-managed platform could reduce data flow complexities as well as ease WAN bandwidth requirements.

Cloud-managed network analysis tools include Nyansa Voyance, Aruba NetInsight and Mist Systems. Note that some of these vendors -- including Nyansa -- also offer on-premises deployment options. All other vendors profiled here offer fully on-premises deployments that can be implemented as a virtual machine or hardware appliance.

The type of support offered by vendors is another consideration. IT departments that manage large, global networks will require a vendor that supports their products 24/7. Companies like these will likely gravitate toward the bigger vendors that can better satisfy their strict support requirements. Cisco, for example, is considered to be the global leader in terms of product support. Yet, for small or medium-sized networks that may not require around-the-clock response or immediate attention, support becomes far less of an issue. These companies may wish to consider smaller pure-play vendors, such as LiveAction or Nyansa.

Editor's note: Using extensive research into the network analytics market, TechTarget editors focused this article series on 10 products that address monitoring all or part of a corporate network or hybrid/multi-cloud environment using advanced data collection, data pooling and analytics. Our research included data from TechTarget surveys and reports from other well-respected research firms.

No discussion about purchasing network analysis tools is complete without considering the costs associated with ongoing support and licensing. Because the network analytics market consists of both well-established vendors and pure-play startups, pricing can vary greatly. Smaller vendors that are trying to establish a foothold in the market may be willing to negotiate pricing. Alternatively, if your organization has a long-established affiliation with a larger networking vendor, that supplier may also be willing to offer price reductions to maintain the relationship. But don't purchase a network analytics product based on price alone; rather, make cost a final consideration once you've narrowed the field based on the more important factors.

Lastly, it's important to keep an eye on future trends when choosing a network analysis tool. Analytics and machine learning are the next major steps in IT networking. In the years to come, network analytics tools will no longer be deployed as stand-alone monitoring platforms, as they often are today. Instead, analytics will be fully integrated into next-gen software-defined or intent-based network architectures. This means the network analytics tools you implement today will be an important cornerstone of the more advanced and fully integrated intelligent networks of the future. So choose wisely.

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