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The impact of tool sprawl on network monitoring

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/ Supphachai Salaeman)

Satisfying the needs of the business is a primary directive for IT and network management teams. This responsibility often includes ensuring connectivity, up-time, performance, agility, cost management and much more, for both the network and key applications that support the business. Failing at these tasks can diminish employee productivity, product and service functionality, customer satisfaction, and inevitably, revenue. In fact, downtime incidents can cost companies millions of dollars an hour in lost revenue and productivity.

Today’s fragmented network infrastructure and management tools make it increasingly complicated to gain end-to-end visibility into performance. According to the last EMA Network Management Megatrends survey, more than half of network operations teams rely on between four and 10 tools. Unfortunately, many organizations continue to add point solutions to help address visibility gaps across their IT environments. As a result, teams struggle with not only the productivity challenges of managing all these tools (such as managing licenses, training, workflow issues, etc.), but with the added costs as well.

How can organizations gain better network visibility while reducing operational costs and tool sprawl?

Rather than adding to their already-inflated toolkits, IT teams must unify and simplify the collection, correlation, and presentation of application and network data. To accomplish this, many teams are turning to unified network performance monitoring (NPM) platforms. This can help them overcome interoperability and data source challenges associated with a growing roster of point solutions.

Why is tool sprawl a problem?

The issue of tool sprawl amplifies the many network performance management and troubleshooting challenges overburdened networking teams already experience. Although adopting specialized tools can help with specific tasks, it generally carries with it the burden of added workflow complexity and poor interoperability (not to mention the major cost implications).

For example, some point solutions allow users to capture packet data for troubleshooting a network problem, but they don’t offer adequate visualization or analytics capabilities. As a result, companies compensate by using yet another tool like Wireshark to analyze the packet data and identify the root cause of the issue. But the lack of integration with their other tools makes analysis more time-consuming than it needs to be and requires unnecessary manual steps throughout the workflow. That’s why unified NPM platforms that offer a high level of interoperability are so critical. They streamline network management processes and workflows, which removes the need for additional specialized solutions and saves administrators time and effort so they can be more productive and focus on network initiatives that matter most for the business.

What are the limitations of point solutions?

Point solutions for network monitoring are often designed to consume and analyze limited network data types. Network data sources such as NetFlow, packet level data, and SNMP data can be very helpful when troubleshooting a wide range of network issues, but without a solution capable of collecting, visualizing and analyzing this wide breadth of data types, you’re not getting the entire picture. In fact, some highly specialized tools can’t even process important types of network data (for example IPv6 traffic or quality-of-service metrics for voice traffic).

How can a unified approach help?

Additionally, organizations of all sizes struggle to maintain efficient, cost-effective IT operations. Tool sprawl can exacerbate this issue, as 80 percent of total IT costs occur after the initial purchase and are incurred by ongoing operational costs, according to Gartner. Inefficiencies in performance management and troubleshooting tools and workflows limits IT’s ability to control these costs and causes extra or inaccurate work. Consolidating multiple specialized network performance tools with a single solution can help streamline IT costs, headcount, workflows, training requirements and more. A single source of truth (as opposed to a piecemeal roster of point solutions) for network and application monitoring will help IT teams to troubleshoot and optimize the network more accurately and at a faster pace, while minimizing re-work and distractions from business-critical strategic IT initiatives.

Unifying access to multiple critical data sources in one holistic platform removes the need to use multiple costly, complex tools, and provides the in-depth visibility needed to effectively manage virtual networks and fabrics across your entire network. According to one recent survey, 42 percent of network professionals spend too much time troubleshooting across the entire network and 43 percent reported this makes it challenging to find time to work on strategic business initiatives. Not only does managing all critical data sources through one central platform make it easier to quickly resolve issues and ensure network performance, but it helps networking teams make better use of their limited time and resources.

What are the implications for application performance?

Unified, end-to-end network visibility is also critical for maintaining application performance. While DevOps and application operations teams have their own tools for managing application performance, these tools don’t provide a full picture of application performance. They reveal the performance of applications and computing systems, but do not provide visibility into how the application traffic moves across the network. Since the network essentially determines application performance, it’s important that teams understand infrastructure health, traffic patterns and volumes. Therefore, networking teams must have tools that give them application intelligence. NPM platforms with application intelligence allows networking teams to understand how the network affects application performance so they can collaborate to solve problems faster. This eliminates silos between network operations and application operations, and the need for either side to invest in more point solutions.

What are some examples of the value in reducing tool sprawl?

Eliminating networking tool sprawl can generate tremendous benefits for organizations of all types and sizes. For instance, I know of one leading financial services company whose IT team migrated away from an existing set of multiple network tools for single pane to manage an entire U.S. route switch environment across branch sites. This process allowed them to save over $90,000 in unnecessary costs per year, while reducing mean time to resolution (MTTR) by 30 percent. Additionally, the company was able to reduce its IT headcount because it didn’t need as many people to learn and manage so many network management point solutions, which led to another $275,000 in savings.

Today’s networks continue to become more complex and as cloud service adoption rates accelerate (and that of other technology solutions). It’s never been more important to have visibility into network and application performance. Doing so effectively requires a strategy that eliminates redundant or unnecessary point solutions and gives teams the platform and tools needed to efficiently plan, monitor and troubleshoot performance issues, and better support the business.

Clark Zoeller, Technical Product Manager, LiveAction