Packets are back in fashion

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People often joke that if you keep your clothes long enough that they always come back into fashion again at some point. The widespread adoption of cloud consumption models and software defined everything has created a perception that the tin, the underlying physical infrastructure of servers, storage and network switches are no longer important or interesting. But I think global events and circumstances have conspired to create a very different world. One where the importance of some tried and tested technologies is again being recognised.

I recently met up with Chris Labac and Ward Cobleigh from VIAVI to understand how the company has been developing over the past couple of years. VIAVI has a long history in networking technology, testing and management. They are the sort of traditional technology company that most cloud native adherents would either not know, or particularly care about. That should be changing. Whisper it quietly, but network packets are back in fashion and observing them in real time has become increasingly important in ensuring operational performance and security.

Ostensibly Chris and Ward were keen to discuss VIAVI’s recent release of Observer GigaStor Branch. This brings realistic and affordable packet capture and monitoring to edge computing locations. But why is packet capture important? Observability is definitely in vogue at the moment. The term is being used to cover a range of solutions and is open to wide interpretation, not all of which are particularly helpful. For any company involved in network performance management, packet observability has been a core and critical part of what they have been providing for decades. It’s importance stems from the fact that this is very granular, unfiltered, real-time data that can provide unparalleled insights into what is happening in your IT infrastructure to help you deliver excellent user experience and effective network security.

One thing I am often asked is “why now?” Why is this technology or solution taking off now? What has changed that makes it so important? While market sectors such as High-Frequency Trading, Ad-Serving and Content Delivery Networks (CDN) have understood for some time the benefits of observing packet data, many other sectors now rely on the internet and the cloud for much, if not all of their revenues and profits. Flexible working patterns also mean that networks have become more important in “keeping the lights on” in most businesses.

Operational Resilience is not a new concept. But it is taking on a new urgency with much more of a focus on IT systems and infrastructure. While ensuring your organisation has robust business resiliency and recovery plans has been a focus for Board assurance for a long time, new regulations such as the European Union (EU) Digital Operational Resilience Act (DORA) are specifically focusing on IT systems for the first time. DORA covers the financial services market, but we would expect to see this, and similar legislation, cover more and more industry sectors given the impact failures could have on larger swathes of global economies. Packet capture will be an important tool in terms of being able to predict IT system performance and security vulnerabilities, as well as providing forensic evidence to show where and how problems occurred.

VIAVI has recognised that observing packets and network flows is not an academic exercise; that it affects end users’ experience of their digital journey second by second, 365 days of the year. Their End User Experience (EUE) Scoring solution enables management and Operations teams to see simply and graphically how specific services or applications are performing along with other important areas like call analytics for unified comms. VIAVI has also moved to close the observability gap that many enterprises experience when trying to monitor public cloud networks by partnering with Gigamon and incorporating its ability to feed packets and enriched flow records into VIAVI’s Observer platform.

For those organisations who need to be able to evidence high levels of operational resilience, packet capture and monitoring is a critical requirement, and they should be investigating VIAVI’s significant capabilities and experience.