Distributed Networks: Best Practices for Selecting Your Analysis Options

Distributed networks, which include pretty much any corporate network today, require distributed analysis, the collection of network data across multiple key points in the network, 24/7. This is in stark contrast with the portable analysis approach where you capture data only after a problem has been reported, and do so by moving around to different points in the network with a laptop or other mobile device running network analysis software. With today’s high speed and highly distributed networks, this approach is often too little too late, though it does remain a viable option in some smaller wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructures.

Nobody’s network is the same, and the topology depends on many factors, but most networks have similar characteristics which can be used to help you plan for a holistic solution that will best monitor and analyze your entire distributed environment. Below are several common network characteristics in distributed environments, and the network analysis solutions best suited for each situation.

The Heart of Your Network: The Network Operations Center (NOC)

Though not necessarily located in the center of your corporate campus, it is typically the center of your network, and is therefore a key point to monitor. The NOC typically includes most of the core routing resources, and acts as the hub for network traffic, especially traffic between users and key resources like application servers and data centers. The NOC is essentially a wired environment, so no need for wireless monitoring and analysis. But you will certainly have 1G and 10G network links in the NOC, so employing a network analysis solution specifically designed and optimized for 10G is a must, like TimeLine. And it’s highly recommended that you have a solution that allows for storing detailed network data (packets) over time, providing a complete record of your network transactions. As we’ve been known to say, “packets don’t lie.” At 10G, the last thing you want to do is try to reproduce spurious issues – it’s a whole lot easier to just play the packets back and analyze the original report. Plan for as large an appliance (in terms of disk storage) as you can so you can maximize the historical record you can save.

Where Virtualization Lies: Server Farms

In server farms you often find virtual servers with virtualized applications and data storage. It’s critical to have a solution in place that is able to see the traffic that is traversing within the virtual server, sometimes referred to as “hidden traffic” since it never traverses a physical NIC. These solutions can be software only (like WildPackets OmniVirtual), but may also include additional hardware if you wish to tap into the virtual data for multiple purposes.

Where Wireless Technologies Come Into Play: Remote Offices and Widespread Campuses

Remote offices and campuses have different networking requirements. Remote offices can often get by with wireless-only solutions, especially with the new 802.11n speeds, offering significant savings over wired networks. But keep in mind that all wireless data eventually becomes wired network traffic, with all data being sent back to the corporate data center, so wired network monitoring and analysis is often also required. Given that the max wired network speed at a remote office is likely to be 1Gbps or less, you can usually get away with a less expensive wired analysis solution, like our Omnipliance Edge.

Widespread campuses, with universities being excellent examples, demand mobility with very dense yet ephemeral usage, so wireless again becomes an excellent choice. Capturing wireless data requires a “point of presence”, typically within a 300ft radius of the problem. But this does not mean you need to be physically located within 300ft. Remote sensors, like a WildPackets OmniEngine with wireless adapters, or usage of access points themselves as remote packet collection devices, is very effective in performing remote wireless analysis.

Most importantly, you need to have visibility into all key areas of your network, whether local, remote, or virtual, and to leverage the best technologies on the market to keep your network running smoothly.

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