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Troubleshooting hybrid networks? Use the power of the packet

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

Today’s networks are more complex than ever, each comprised of a combination of wired, wireless, multi-vendor, and multi-cloud environments. While these hybrid networks offer a number of significant business advantages, they also consequently create several visibility challenges for network operations (NetOps) teams. From time-consuming troubleshooting to network downtime incidents, NetOps and the overall organisations are experiencing the impact of a lack of visibility into hybrid IT environments. As a matter of fact, a recent survey reveals that 42 per cent of network teams spend too much time troubleshooting across the entire network, and 35 per cent of networking professionals struggle with poor visibility across all fabrics of the network. So, what’s the solution?

One “80-20” rule in networking states that 80 per cent of network issues can be resolved solely using flow data. However, as complex, hybrid networks become the norm, the remaining 20 per cent of issues require even more granular insight and visibility to troubleshoot quickly and correctly. This means that NetOps teams must look beyond flow data alone to better manage and optimise these increasingly hybrid networks. Today, let’s explore how packet data can solve many of the issues we commonly experience in network environments.

Harness the power of the packet

Packet data is the most granular data type network administrators can collect, helping NetOps teams troubleshoot more complicated issues they wouldn’t be able to address using flow data alone. Packets can provide a wide breadth of useful information network teams can use to quickly isolate the root cause of network issues. Faster troubleshooting leads to quicker resolution, less downtime, increased productivity, better user experience, and ultimately, it allows NetOps teams to focus more on strategic initiatives like network transformation projects.

Here are three prime examples of how packets can empower NetOps teams to manage, troubleshoot and optimise today’s hybrid networks:

  • Resolve Tedious VoIP Issues Faster – Imagine that a customer is experiencing poor VoIP performance (dropped calls, poor call quality, etc.) and they voice their frustration to IT, hoping to get the issue resolved as soon as possible. Typically, customers know their phone numbers but not their IP address, and since flow data, even IPFIX, does not typically include phone numbers in the flow record, it is difficult to quickly isolate the flows in question. So, NetOps teams need to involve other information, tools, or resources to identify the flows in question and resolve this issue, and this significantly reduces the chances of fixing the problem quickly. Luckily, packets provide them with sender and receiver IP addresses – everything they need to get to the bottom of the issue and quickly resolve it – and with one tool. In this scenario, packet data is instrumental in helping network teams deliver better end-user experiences, and prevent similar issues from occurring in the future.
  • Gain Valuable Insights from Forensic Analyses – Unfortunately, most network issues are discovered only after they’ve already had a chance to disrupt the business in one way or another. The damage has already been done, leaving network teams scrambling reactively to fix the issue (with a tremendous amount of pressure to do so quickly). In the case of a network breach or downtime incident that has already occurred, network teams need to act fast to prevent further damage.
    Packet data can allow NetOps teams to go back and piece together where things went wrong and what caused the incident. It can be used to reconstruct web sessions so IT can analyse users’ past network activities, protocol data, application activity, and more. Packet data also shows network teams a real-time view for performance analysis and troubleshooting. Obviously in these situations, there’s no way to go back in time and undo the breach or network failure that happened in the first place, but these insights can help NetOps to quickly resolve the issue, re-establish expected network performance and prevent future issues.
  • Save Time by Easily Identifying the Root Cause of Latency – One very common example is when users are experiencing latency, but the network team doesn’t know what’s causing it. As we know, a flow with high latency could have several root causes. However, NetOps teams don’t have time to blindly trial and error each possibility, especially when subpar network performance can derail business operations.

With access to packet data, IT teams can drill down to isolate the exact cause of the issue with confidence. Packets can quickly identify whether latency is caused by the network or an application, and can help pinpoint the exact transaction within an application that is causing latency to occur, providing specific and actionable troubleshooting data to application engineers to quickly address the issue. Packets can also show network teams exactly where latency is occurring in a network path, as quite often the latency is being introduced by a specific network asset. This saves time, effort, and allows NetOps to spend their time focusing on more important things instead of tedious troubleshooting.

The challenges that come with today’s hybrid IT environment will only continue to become more prevalent and complex as modern networks continue to become more “hybrid.” While network teams understand the challenges that this may bring, company executives, customers and end-users frankly won’t care, and still expect the same high performance and quality experiences as before. Therefore, it’s more important than ever for NetOps to troubleshoot network issues with confidence. In order to do so, NetOps teams need the deep level packet data to streamline troubleshooting in today’s hybrid networks.

Jay Botelho, Director of Engineering, LiveAction (opens in new tab)

Jay Botelho is director of products at Savvius the leader in packet-level network analysis and security forensics. He’s an industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience.