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Explore 4 network performance monitoring tools

The network performance monitoring market is changing to address the emergence of IoT and AI. Read more about the NPM market evolution and available vendor products.

The evolution of technologies is inevitable. Yet, the enterprise network performance monitoring market has undergone huge changes in just a few short years.

Network monitoring tools of the past provide only a fraction of what today's tools can accomplish with the help of new data sources, methods and the use of AI. In fact, the advancements are so compelling that many vendors are replacing the term NPM with new marketing designations that include network analytics and AI for IT operations, or AIOps.

While some vendors still choose to target smaller businesses with their traditional NPM tools, most are evolving to address performance problems larger businesses now face due to an increased demand for reliable network services. The NPM evolution is also bringing new performance monitoring and analytics competition to a market that ranges from startups providing unique capabilities on custom platforms to services from traditional vendors.

How has the NPM market evolved?

The first generation of network performance monitoring tools focused solely on adding visibility into corporate networks and their associated server components. This included traditional monitoring methods, like Internet Control Message Protocol ping, Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), NetFlow/IP Flow Information Export, and basic agent and agentless network server and appliance monitoring tools. At the time, these technologies provided network pros with the right balance of visibility and alerting capabilities for most corporate wired and wireless LANs (WLANs), WANs and privately managed data centers.

But, as advancements in virtualization, IaaS, hybrid cloud, edge computing and WAN connectivity options -- including 5G -- moved forward, it became obvious the data sources and methods used to provide network health status information had visibility gaps. As a result, new network performance monitoring tools began to incorporate far more advanced deep packet inspection (DPI) and streaming network telemetry data collection and analysis capabilities as part of their overall platforms.

Simply tracking the operation of network components is no longer enough, however. Instead, organizations today require a larger, holistic and intelligence-based view of the health and performance of a wide variety of end devices, applications and SaaS-deployed services. Because these monitoring tasks all begin and end with the health of the network, the job of monitoring all devices, applications and service flows has ultimately fallen to the network team to manage. This means many capabilities of application performance monitoring have crept into NPM platforms, thus weaving together functions that were previously considered separate.

The adoption of IoT technologies, meanwhile, has forced a tighter integration between performance and security monitoring with NPM tools becoming more sophisticated. IT departments must now monitor and manage the performance and security health of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of autonomous IoT sensors that connect to corporate and noncorporate managed networks across the globe. Collecting data from multiple sources, including directly from the network, is the best way to gain visibility into the health of these devices.

Finally, modern network performance platforms are beginning to use machine learning (ML) and AI by analyzing collected data from multiple sources to automate the identification, root cause analysis and remediation steps deemed necessary to fix performance-related and even security issues. This predictive analysis helps enterprises significantly cut down the amount of time needed to identify and resolve problems. This additional level of functionality also reflects how the term network performance monitoring no longer fully encapsulates the capabilities of today's advanced and more comprehensive performance analytics platforms.

Let's examine a few of these monitoring platforms to find out more about what they offer.

1. Broadcom DX NetOps

Broadcom's 2018 acquisition of CA Technologies has resulted in the DX NetOps platform. From a performance monitoring perspective, Broadcom has bundled several standalone CA monitoring, analytics and alerting tools into a single package, dubbed DX NetOps -- with DX standing for digital transformation.

The product consolidation should help simplify the purchase process from an end-customer perspective. The tools now under the DX NetOps banner include CA Performance Management, CA Spectrum, CA Network Flow Analysis, CA Mediation Manager and CA Virtual Network Assurance products, all of which were previously sold individually.

Product features

Data collection methods built into DX NetOps capture critical performance metrics in modern network infrastructures, including SNMP, NetFlow, REST, streaming telemetry, and other network and application measures. NetOps AI controllers analyze the collected information and display the health of LAN, WLAN, SD-WAN, software-defined data centers and cloud services. The product is particularly suited for multivendor networks equipped with legacy and modern network components and designs.

Purchasing and licensing options

All Broadcom products and services are available through its authorized distributor program. In some cases, companies can even create direct purchasing agreements. Hardware and licensing costs depend on two primary factors:

  1. whether DX NetOps is deployed as a physical appliance or VM; and
  2. the number of devices on the network that need to be monitored and analyzed.

2. Cisco DNA Analytics and Assurance

Cisco has several platforms that fall under the performance monitoring umbrella. These include the decade-old Prime Performance Manager and the newer Application Centric Infrastructure with AppDynamics integration.

Cisco's Digital Network Architecture (DNA) initiative, however, appears to be the framework under which the vendor has underpinned its future network and device monitoring strategy. DNA consists of a collection of major building blocks used in Cisco's advanced intent-based networking architecture. One of those building blocks is the network, service and device monitoring product called Cisco DNA Analytics and Assurance.

Product features

DNA Analytics and Assurance taps into streaming network telemetry hooks built inside the firmware of a variety of Cisco Assurance-capable switches, routers and WLAN controllers. The tool can also collect telemetry information from non-Cisco endpoints, devices and applications. Getting the most benefit out of DNA, however, requires an end-to-end Cisco infrastructure.

The monitoring platform is based on three core stages: visibility, insight and action.

Visibility comes from collecting and analyzing data from various sources on the network. Dashboard views illuminate network, application and client health in a single tool.

Insight is the ability to use AI to make sense of the data to highlight various performance-related issues.

The final action stage is where Cisco DNA Analytics and Assurance again uses AI and ML to determine what changes must be made to fix the issue.

Purchasing and licensing options

All Cisco products are available through partner resellers. From a licensing standpoint, a DNA Center appliance is required at minimum to get the Analytics and Assurance features.

Customers can purchase Assurance licenses through one of three software-based subscriptions. The DNA Essentials license provides basic monitoring and automation. The DNA Advantage license adds the deep analytics and intelligence component. Finally, there is an optional Expansion Pack for additional Cisco services and appliances.

3. Juniper Mist AI

Juniper's acquisition of Mist was a special one for the company as its CEO, Rami Rahim, had big plans for the Mist WLAN platform. According to Rahim at the time of the acquisition, a key reason Juniper wanted to buy Mist was to use Mist's AI for IT engine and make it work with Juniper's broad portfolio. Just a few years later, that's what happened.

Juniper took the WLAN performance analytics driven by AI and integrated it across much of Juniper's enterprise network portfolio. Now known as Mist AI, the platform helps identify and automatically optimize network traffic flows across the companies wired, wireless and software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) offerings.

Additionally, Mist AI has been paired with Marvis, Juniper's virtual network conversational assistant that administrators can use to identify network performance problems using a conversational-based AI bot.

Product features

The Mist AI platform is a cloud service that enables customers to monitor Juniper network components, regardless of where they are deployed. For locations that require on-premises management due to internet bandwidth constraints, the Juniper Mist Edge product can resolve this dilemma as it brings the AI intelligence out of the public cloud and directly into the private corporate network.

The Mist AI platform offers deep visibility into wired, Wi-Fi, SD-WAN, data center and Bluetooth Low Energy performance, while also using AI to correlate wireless anomalies with automated root cause analysis and remediation steps.

Purchasing and licensing options

Juniper hardware, software and licensing are available for purchase through a partner reseller. Mist AI is currently offered as a subscription-based service to customers. Hardware options include a number of compatible Juniper wireless access points, switches, SD-WAN gateways and edge gateway products, which can be centrally managed, monitored and analyzed by Mist AI.

4. LiveAction LiveNX

LiveAction is a longtime pure-play vendor in the network monitoring and performance analytics space. Its LiveNX product is a viable option for network administrators who use a multivendor architecture across LAN, WAN, WLAN and cloud.

Product features

The LiveNX product was one of the first to unify data flows stemming from sources such as SNMP, NetFlow, DPI, Wi-Fi controllers and other data extracted from pre-built API hooks. LiveNX also expanded historical network telemetry data to offer data collection of endpoints and end-user performance experience.

Unlike some other vendor-agnostic products, LiveAction forms partnerships with major network vendors so it can better integrate its monitoring and analysis software into vendor products. Example technology partners include Cisco, Gigamon, Fortinet and Palo Alto Networks. These partnerships help with long-term compatibility and lessen the chance for bugs to occur during network component firmware upgrades.

Purchasing and licensing options

LiveAction sells its software, licenses and maintenance contracts directly and through its reseller partner program. The LiveNX platform uses a flexible license model depending on the number of devices customers want to manage and what monitoring and analytics features they desire.

Editor's note

Using extensive research into network performance management tools, TechTarget editors focused on four leading vendors in the network performance monitoring market space. These vendors include two vendors that focus largely on monitoring single-vendor networks and two vendor-agnostic options to demonstrate the diversity of the current market.

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