Essential Network Monitoring Needs for Today’s Complex Federal IT Infrastructure

By Chris LaPoint, SolarWinds

It was all about the network

In the past when we thought about IT, we primarily thought about the network. When we couldn’t get email, we’d blame the network. Can’t access the internet? Must be the network. We would talk about network complexity and look at influencers such as the number of devices, the number of routes data could take, or the available bandwidth.

As a result of this thinking, a myriad of monitoring tools were developed to help the network engineer keep an eye on the availability and performance of their networks and they did the job they were designed to do. They provided basic network monitoring.

It’s now all about the service

Today, federal agencies cannot function without their IT systems being operational. It’s not just about maintaining the network; it’s about providing critical services that will improve productivity, efficiency, and accuracy in decision making and mission execution. No longer can IT simply look at the availability of their networks. Instead, they need to ensure the performance and delivery of the application or service and understand the application delivery chain. For example, centralized email and identity management is now common within agencies, so making sure these IT services are working is critical to achieving the mission of federal agencies both at home and abroad.

Advanced monitoring tools for servers, storage, databases, applications, and virtualization are widely available to help diagnose and troubleshoot the performance of these services, but one fact remains: the delivery of these services relies on the performance and availability of the network. In other words, no network, no services. And without these critical IT services, the agency’s mission is at risk.

Essential monitoring for today’s complex IT infrastructure

Increasing mobile users, the pervasiveness of BYOD and the looming Internet of Things (IOT) are dramatically driving up the number of connected users and devices in federal agencies. Users expect to be able to connect anywhere and from anything. And of course, many agencies have multiple isolated networks that must be operated and monitored separately, increasing complexity even further. Add to that the need to manage legacy physical servers, new virtual servers, and cloud infrastructure as well as cloud-based applications and services, and it is easy to see why basic monitoring simply isn’t enough. This growing complexity requires advanced monitoring capabilities that every IT organization should invest in.

Just as the availability of apps and services relies on the network, so too does the network rely on the apps and services. After all, what good is a network if it is not delivering any service? Application-aware network performance monitoring provides visibility into the performance of applications and services as a result of network performance by tapping into the data provided by deep packet inspection and analysis.

We all know management doesn’t like to be surprised by unexpected procurement requests. With proactive capacity forecasting, alerting, and reporting, IT pros can easily plan for future needs, making sure that forecasting is based on dynamic base lines and actual usage instead of guessing.

One of the more frequent complaints I hear from federal IT pros is that they are being flooded with unnecessary and redundant alerts, making it hard to cut through the noise in order to locate the root cause of a problem. Intelligent topology-aware alerts with downstream alert suppression will dramatically reduce the noise and accelerate troubleshooting.

Network maps are one of the most basic troubleshooting and diagnostic tools IT pros can have in their arsenals. Unfortunately, most IT pros rely on static maps created in Visio. Dynamic real-time maps provide a visual representation of a network with performance metrics and link utilization. And with the prevalence of wireless networks, adding wireless network heat maps is an absolute must to understand wireless coverage and ensure that employees can reach critical information wherever they are.

Getting up-to-date and in-depth information about the network’s availability and performance should be a top priority for IT pros working in both federal and commercial. However, federal IT pros and the networks that they manage are responsible for delivering services and data that ensure that critical missions around the world are successful and that services are available to all citizens whenever they need them, and this is no small task. Each of the network monitoring techniques that I discussed provides a wealth of data the federal IT pros can use to detect, diagnose and resolve network performance problems and outages before they impact missions and services that are vital to the country.

Chris LaPoint is Group Vice President of Product Management at IT management software provider SolarWinds, based in Austin, Texas.'
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