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Combat Network Complexity with a Network Analyzer

So, there you are in the middle of a planning meeting for next year’s budget, when alerts start rolling into your inbox indicating excessive bandwidth usage on one of your subnets. Do you have to excuse yourself from the meeting (in a panic), or can you rest assured that the data you need to troubleshoot the issue is already being collected?

If your first instinct is to jump up and get back to your work area to try to catch the issue while it’s still happening, knowing that if you miss it you’ll be facing the tedious task of trying to recreate the problem on your network, your network monitoring and troubleshooting system is inefficient. Your network is your business communication lifeline and if you cannot trust the systems you already have in place to capture the data you need as problems are happening, your business cannot function efficiently.

As network traffic  increases and new technologies and capabilities are added into your IT infrastructure, your ability to address issues reactively is significantly reduced. Therefore, you need network monitoring and analysis solutions in place that allow you to remain proactive, identifying and addressing issues as they happen, enabling detailed analysis without having to reproduce the problem, or waiting for it to happen again.water walking ball

Enter the network analyzer. A network analyzer captures each and every packet transmitted on a network, enabling detailed analysis of both the packet header and the payload, resulting in the most detailed view possible of all network transactions. When network analysis is deployed for 24×7 data capture, network traffic is constantly monitored, analyzed, and recorded, eliminating the time-consuming task of reproducing network issues, reducing the frustration of waiting for an issue to happen again, and providing sufficient detail to unequivocally address the major issue facing network engineers today: Is it the network or the application?

When looking at a network from a business perspective, a network analyzer can help you streamline many processes for solving network problems. They can also provide you with unmatched visibility and understanding of what the “normal” behavior of your network is, so you know exactly when your network starts to diverge from “normal.”

Here’s what you should be looking for when selecting a network analyzer, and how it can help you manage your business communication lifeline.

Detail Oriented:
Network engineers have a variety of tools, but many of them can only show a high-level view of what is happening on the network. For ongoing monitoring, that may be just fine, but once a problem is identified these tools lack the depth of information required  to address complex issues, and let’s face it, just about every network problem is complex. Network analysis solutions based on deep packet inspection show you exactly what is happening, down to the most significant details.

A Single Solution:
So, knowing that you’re going to need the details provided by a network analysis solution to solve network issues, and we’re not bragging but 20+ years of experience indicates that’s the case, why not implement a single solution based on deep packet inspection? Since all packet traffic is being captured and analyzed, network analysis solutions based on deep packet inspection also make excellent sources for the higher-level, statistical data often associated with network monitoring solutions, like those based on flow-based technologies. A single solution always makes business sense, reducing not only the upfront costs, but also the recurring costs of maintenance and training. And as networks continue to get faster and more heavily utilized, off-loading statistical network data collection from the network devices themselves to a dedicated network analysis appliance just makes sense.

Serving as a Second Opinion:
Many network analyzers also address specific protocols, like voice or video. On many networks, the standard operating procedure for VoIP is to rely on the management software that was supplied with the VoIP system for monitoring and analysis, but this is a bit like trusting the fox with the hen house. With a network analysis solution in place, you can use it to provide a second opinion on your overall VoIP performance. You may be surprised at what you find.

And if you have a heterogeneous VoIP solution, you’ll need an independent VoIP analysis capability anyway, so why not use your network analysis solution, further increasing its value.

See Problems Before They Happen:
Many analyzers also provide expert analysis capabilities, constantly monitoring your network for common (and not so common) network issues so you can see problems the instant they begin to develop. And once alerted to these issues, your network analysis solution has all of the data already in place to quickly identify the root cause of the problem.

Network Baselines:
Network analyzers can (and should) be used to provide baselines of overall network and application behavior, arming you with the information you need to determine when conditions change abruptly on your network. Maybe there is a highly predictable spike in network traffic around noon each day when people “working” at their desks over lunch spend time accessing YouTube. Understanding this will help you determine when network spikes are worth analyzing, and when they’re just part of your overall network behavior.

Network Recording:
Network recording is another key element in overall network analysis. All network analyzers buffer some amount of network traffic, but network recording provides the capability to store all network traffic, at the packet level, for days at a time. With this capability, you never need to run back to the office to capture a spurious problem, and you never have to waste days trying to reproduce a network issue. The entire history of all network transactions, at the network layer, is readily available to you.

And it’s not just about capture and storage. Be sure that your network analysis solution provides some level of real-time statistical reporting while recording, and that rewinding and analyzing the data is quick and intuitive

Now, considering the solutions and processes that you currently have in place, do you think that you are getting the most out of your network monitoring capabilities? Perhaps a network analysis solution based on deep packet inspection is what you really need to fill in the holes in your current solutions and processes.

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