Rethinking the network as a data source, not just transport, with ExtraHop

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The network is no longer just a conduit, it is the nervous system of the digital economy, and to prosper we need to understand what is passing through that nexus and how healthy that system is. The message coming from ExtraHop is that we have to rethink the network and start to use the capability of today’s technology to view it not just as a means of transport, but as the backbone that enables the digital economy. ExtraHop can analyse network traffic whilst it is streaming, and even though the packets are streaming it can assemble them as they are seen at the end point, so the data is available within its true context. It can do this because it can cope with sustained throughput of 40 Gbps for its streaming analysis, and at a sustained 10 Gbps for capturing packets and writing to disk. This ability to cope with the volumes of large global distributed applications is what the market likes to call “Big Data”.

Today’s applications operate not in a simple client-server mode, but as multi-tier, multi environment, distributed solutions, and it is not enough that they produce results, we need to understand what is happening as application components communicate. That data flowing on the network is a rich source that will unlock further potential. As such, the message from ExtraHop is to “Rethink the Network”. Their key aid to enabling you to do this is the power of their analytics which enables you with 5 clicks or less to view data from summary to detail level, remembering that all of this is being made available in near real time.

The reason why this visibility is so dramatic is that at present the number of IT professionals who feel they really understand what is happening in their network are remarkably small, with ExtraHop quoting a figure of 30% feeling they have any confidence, a figure which I think is very believable, as in my experience most people are just thankful that it works, and find the thought of exploring interactions and undertaking root cause analysis as a step too far for sane minds to contemplate. This is just like the impact that another of the technologies that have got me excited in the past: what Splunk did to the logs that people were underutilising. Rethinking the network as a data source is truly liberating and transformative.

The things that ExtraHop opens up includes an end to constant wrangles where the network team blame the server teams and vice versa, where no one wants to admit any responsibility as it will mean committing to finding the needle in the haystack at the root of the issue, which no one wants to commit to, as it is an open-ended commitment. With ExtraHop, troubleshooting can be achieved in an holistic fashion, with definitive proof being assembled in a matter of minutes.

Why all of this is so important is that we are now totally reliant on digital transactions, when they are halted or, even slow down, it is no longer just a minor irritant it impacts us, not as a matter of life or death, but in a qualitative way out of all proportion to how anyone would have imagined it even 10 or 15 years ago. We need consistent service delivery, we need the assurance that our data is safe, we expect things to be on time when we demand it, and are critical of any suboptimal experience. Without those things, people will go elsewhere. This why so many of the key industries of today in areas like Finance, Telecoms, Media, and Ecommerce have to have those qualities because without them they will not be profitable, they will lose customers and wither away.

The insight that ExtraHop can provide is the basis for proactively fixing issues, ensuring security, delivering an optimal customer experience, and that is something they can back up with examples from the real world of how they can do just that within the SLA that they state of just five clicks. They can do this at both scale and pace, translating the unstructured packets streaming across the network and turning it into structured wire data. Its both comprehensive, unified and what is really impressive, very visual, so that the technology has no arcane barriers to its use by non-specialists.

The biggest barrier in most of the solutions we use today is that we don’t know what we don’t know. I was really impressed with what I saw with ExtraHop in their ability to identify things that are going on within the environment that are those needles in the haystack which can unravel the best laid plans. Another of their claims that we hear so often, but seem to be marketing-speak, rarely backed up by what we see, is its ability to breakdown the silos and expose the data to the Enterprise and thereby generate new insights and new collaborations. But as I said, despite the power and capability that is on offer here the presentation is remarkably intuitive and visual, so it really is open to all to understand, share and make useful.

I was very impressed with what I saw with ExtraHop and can commend anyone with a network and any of the concerns that all have about how can we rely on them and feel that we have them under control, rather than surviving on best endeavours, this is a tool that demands to be taken very seriously indeed.