Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blueprint: The "Flattening Effect" and Network Intelligence

by Terence Martin and Andy Huckridge

How To Stay Ahead of the Growing Trend for “Anywhere, Anytime” Data

The immense growth of IP-based data traffic and applications on mobile devices is pushing the adoption of 4G technologies and fueling the migration to faster data rates. Service providers busy with migration strategies are upgrading existing networks as stop-gap measures to allow an all-IP based services platform. Carriers and handset vendors are differentiating their offerings by rolling out application portals while providing improved monetization and ARPU. User mobility is pushing the trend for “anywhere, anytime” data technology, while applications are driving the subscriber need.

Continuous advancement in technology powers much of the above, including additional overall data traffic and the migration to mobile connectivity/broadband. Applications are becoming pervasive, with the subscriber in control of the what, where and how. To continue to drive down costs, operators are moving to an all-IP core, attempting to reduce network complexity and in some cases altogether outsourcing the management of their networks.


With so much change happening in the network, the migration itself doesn’t occur over night. In the near future, network operators need to combine next generation systems and devices with a supportable hybrid network that interconnects various types of existing platforms. Because the network has simultaneously become both flatter and more complex, the journey toward a converged all-IP network comes with an entirely new set of network performance and management philosophies to be adopted and developed by IT organizations. To drive the need for maintaining and managing the experience of the subscriber, real-time monitoring, troubleshooting and provisioning of the network must be implemented strategically and methodically. Real-time monitoring of network traffic has proven to be crucial to diagnosing and analyzing network performance and services, and consequently the subscriber’s quality of experience (QoE).  

Out With the Old, In With the New – Problems Associated With Legacy Monitoring Schemes

Fragmented monitoring approaches increase problems associated with performance and complexity. Several of these problems have emerged with the growing complexity of data on the network and the accumulation of outdated network monitoring components. Due to the constant push for more efficient connectivity, traditional network monitoring approaches are inadequate for managing network components on enterprise and service provider infrastructures.

The aforementioned traditional approach improves the visibility of network performance by placing a series of tools into the network, but while the system solves some problems, new issues arise. IT managers are faced with the inability to access a particular point in a network with multiple tools, creating a “blind spot” on the network that can cause inefficient and difficult to solve troubleshooting transactions. Blind spots frequently occur with the type of overhead management utilized in legacy monitoring schemes.  Different sets of tools from different vendors dispersed throughout the network in various locations, each with individual management software inoperable with other vendors, can be a recipe for disaster. As network IT managers have limited accessibility to certain points on the network, they must manage an overflow of data. Monitoring costs are becoming increasingly more expensive as network management is becoming more inefficient. With rising costs and reduced ROI, profit is impacted by the lack of fast and efficient troubleshooting. The fragmented approach to network monitoring causes additional performance and complexity problems.


The “Flattening” Effect:  A Pathway for Network Intelligence Optimization to Save Time and Money

Telecom, enterprise and government network operators must develop a holistic and future minded strategy for network monitoring and network management. They must also keep in mind the key aspects of a traffic capture solution, such as the price-performance, diversity, agility and intelligent capabilities. Depending on future requirements, network operators should keep in mind existing macro trends when deciding network monitoring needs, such as “Flattening the Network”, technology development and economics.

The continuous growth of IP will accelerate the pace at which legacy systems are displaced by an all-IP network. The “flattening” effect will create more distributed IP components and broader ranges of IP services rolling out in the network, leading to more potential points of failure and increased complexity of the network. This opens opportunities for additional points of monitoring, in which the monitoring infrastructure should be “flat” and flexible across all parts of the network.
The Network Intelligence Optimization framework is paving a path for a smart network-monitoring infrastructure. To sustain the increase in speed, the traffic capture layer must continue at line rate in hardware, where a deeper awareness of packets and applications, as well as more dynamic handling is essential.


Today, network managers must do more with less, delivering tighter budget control while improving service delivery. Conversely, the network monitoring optimization framework allows organizations to migrate from a high initial CAPEX business model to a lower and variable CAPEX model in the network-monitoring component of the budget. With less, the network managers can do more in other areas such as network forensics, lawful intercepts, behavioral analysis, centralizing applications for compliance, etc. Managed service providers (MSP) have also become mainstream and are focusing on monetization of QoS/QoE, rather than solely on monitoring network elements and packets. The layered-approach to network monitoring is fundamental and crucial to enabling business model differentiation in such network environments.


About the Author

Terence Martin Breslin founded VSS Monitoring in October 2003. Under his leadership the company has grown into the world's leading innovator of Distributed Traffic Capture Systems™, Protector Series™ inline load balancers / speed converters for security appliances, and network TAPs. His vision of creating a distributed systems architecture to replace the practice of using only standalone TAPs for network traffic capture has changed the practice and potential of network analysis. By providing visibility of any link in even the largest network, He holds an MBA from Golden Gate University in San Francisco and a Bachelors degree in Computer Science from the National University of Ireland.

Andy Huckridge is a seasoned Telecom industry executive, currently serving as Director of Marketing at VSS Monitoring. He also serves as an independent Telecom consultant to Network Equipment Vendors (NEMs), Test Equipment Vendors, Service Providers focusing in the Test and Measurement industry. Andy has experience in overseeing various international projects in the Telecom / Security and Next-Generation space with leading companies.


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