WAN monitoring: Should you outsource?

In-house WAN monitoring offers direct control and visibility, but outsourced network monitoring can offer certain economies of scale. It’s your call.

Wide area network (WAN) monitoring tools can shed light on what were formerly black holes, such as low WAN traffic visibility in network activity. The tools can also end the finger pointing that happens when service issues arise. However, many enterprises lack the capital budget to deploy a robust WAN monitoring product. Others lack the in-house expertise to get the most out of the technology. In these situations, an enterprise can improve network visibility and its response to network trouble by outsourcing WAN monitoring and management to its WAN service provider.

Many vendors, particularly WAN optimization vendors such as Blue Coat Systems, Cisco Systems, Ipanema and Riverbed Technology, offer complementary WAN monitoring and management tools. These products collect information on usage and interdependencies between devices, including routers, switches and other hardware. WAN monitoring tools use packet inspection to drill down on statistics, such as how much bandwidth a particular application is using. WAN monitoring tools can also pick up on traffic anomalies that indicate potential security breaches. Using the collected traffic statistics, WAN monitoring tools can help organizations predict future capacity requirements.

WAN monitoring tools can nail down the root cause of a service problem quickly, something that Eric Mermelstein, enterprise infrastructure architect with Columbian Chemicals, a manufacturer of carbon black additives for plastic, rubber and liquid products, is well aware of. He deployed Riverbed’s WAN monitoring product Cascade to improve root cause analysis of WAN performance issues.

“More often than not, [the service issue] wasn’t the network at all, but we had no visibility into what was happening,” Mermelstein said. This changed with the addition of Cascade, which he uses in conjunction with Riverbed Steelheed WAN optimization appliances to get a better handle on application traffic traversing Columbian Chemical’s WAN.

Buy or subscribe to WAN monitoring

Enterprises have the option to either monitor and manage their WAN links themselves using appliances from vendors or rely on managed services from their service provider for monitoring and reporting. Though Columbian Chemicals outsources the management of its day-to-day IT operations to a third party, the company monitors its WAN, which connects 20 locations on four continents, in-house with Riverbed.

When Columbian Chemicals first began researching WAN optimization and monitoring solutions, carrier-delivered solutions were relatively limited, Mermelstein said. Also, his company’s provider of remote management support lacked the tools to monitor and analyze the collected information, so the company chose to buy the Riverbed Steelhead and Cascade products and manage them with internal resources. The WAN optimization and monitoring technology was essential to optimizing WAN circuits as the company consolidated its server infrastructure from a branch office to a regional structure.

Today carrier-supplied WAN monitoring and management options are plentiful from service providers. BT Global Services, for instance, uses technology partnerships from vendors including Ipanema and Riverbed to provide managed services for application performance monitoring and management.

By outsourcing WAN monitoring and management to a trusted third party, an enterprise can eliminate the hardware maintenance and support staff costs associated with having on-premises technology.

The managed service provider can also take advantage of economies of scale to use the most sophisticated WAN monitoring and management products on the market and employ people with the expertise to more effectively assess the data collected from these products.

This skill set qualifies a carrier to resolve any trouble spots, accurately forecast future capacity requirements and identify possible denial of service attacks before they wreak havoc. These services can also be bundled in with transport and other managed services.

Establish trust with providers of outsource WAN monitoring and management

An enterprise will need to find a provider of WAN monitoring that it can trust. Businesses need to be confident their provider has the expertise to analyze the information and make the appropriate changes.

Organizations that have already bought and deployed their own WAN monitoring technology want to maintain some control over the functions the solutions support. Yet even some of these businesses are willing to turn over the monitoring and management of their WAN to a trusted third-party provider.

Columbian Chemicals is in this position. Mermelstein said the Riverbed Cascade solution is not difficult to manage and use, but he knows the company isn’t tapping into all the solution’s features.

“We could be getting even more value from [Riverbed Cascade] including functions like more proactive network management,” Mermelstein said.

To that end, Mermelstein said that in any RFPs for managed services, Columbian Chemicals will emphasize the importance of that provider’s ability to both monitor its circuits and address performance problems, using capabilities like those in Cascade.


About the author: Amy Larsen DeCarlo is a principal analyst at Current Analysis, where her research focuses on assessing managed and cloud-based data center and security services.

This was last published in November 2011

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