Hybrid Network Performance Assurance - Where testing and monitoring meet

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For some time now, I have been highlighting the increasing challenge of maintaining visibility and managing performance of the whole IT stack, when so much of the supporting network is outside the direct control, or ownership, of individual IT and network operations teams. Having spent many hours discussing the issues and reviewing solutions with a wide range hybrid infrastructure management (HIM) and specialist network performance monitoring and diagnostics vendors (NPMD), it was refreshing to have a discussion with Stephen Douglas, Senior Director of Market Strategy at Spirent, that addressed the issues from a different perspective.

By its very nature, network performance monitoring is reactive. Use of streaming analytics and AIOps tools can help build a picture of how the network is operating over time and begin to predict and prevent problems. But the dynamic and changing nature of network requirements we are seeing with new technologies in the Cloud, and the increased demands and complexities that will be placed on networks as the promise of 5G, IoT and Edge computing starts to be realised, threaten to keep network operations behind the curve. Business is becoming the network. In such an environment, how can you provide the assurance that the network will support the business needs of the company that your Board of Directors requires.

The answer, at least in part, seems to be network testing. Spirent’s products and services are well known and used by the vast majority of Communication Services Providers (CSP) but are less well known in the Enterprise. This should be about to change. In particular, if you are an Enterprise customer looking to take advantage of developments in 5G mobile networks, wireless and Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN), you should be investigating how modern network testing tools can supplement and enhance your existing monitoring solutions.

Over time we have become used to the DevOps paradigm of Continuous Integration/Continuous Development (CI/CD) that has brought with it a parallel development of continuous testing. Historically, networks didn’t require that sort of continuous testing approach. The speed of change in network topography driven by the use of public clouds, the internet, cellular and wireless and the growing adoption of SD-WANs has now created an environment much more closely related to software testing where continuous testing is not only feasible, but also mandatory if true Board assurance is to be delivered.

A number of HIM vendors, particularly those that have a Digital Experience Monitoring (DEM) focus, will talk about using synthetic monitoring, in conjunction with, or in place of Real User Monitoring (RUM). This is not the place to discuss the relative merits of synthetic vs real user monitoring. Both are required. Active testing augments passive network monitoring. VisionWorks is Spirent’s solution for providing network assurance. It provides the ability to drive synthetic traffic across a network, from the remote end user to the datacentre and Cloud to validate performance and isolate issues. Its overall capabilities clearly straddle the divide between testing and monitoring. Also, if you are developing your Edge strategy and considering wireless and 5G solution, VisionWorks will give you a level of visibility into and assurance about, the performance of such networks that pure monitoring solutions will not always provide.