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The explosion of mobile applications and IP-based data traffic on mobile devices is fueling the migration to faster data rates and pushing the uptake of 4G technologies. Service providers are busy with migration strategies and upgrading their existing networks as stopgap measures to allow an all-IP based services platform. Carriers and handset vendors are rolling out application portals as a way of differentiating their offerings while providing better monetization and average revenue per user. User mobility is pushing the trend for “anywhere, anytime” data technology, while applications are driving the subscriber need.
The march of technology powers much of the above, including more overall data traffic and the move to mobile connectivity/mobile broadband. Applications are becoming pervasive with the subscriber dictating what they want to use, where and how. Operators are continuing to reduce costs by moving to an all-IP core, attempting to reduce network complexity and often outsourcing the management of their networks altogether.
With this much transformation taking place in the network, the migration itself does not take place overnight. In the foreseeable future, network operators still need to support a hybrid network that interconnects various types of existing platforms with next-generation systems and devices. The network may have become “flatter,” but it became more complex at the same time. Therefore, the journey toward a converged all-IP network comes with a whole new set of network performance and management philosophies toward which IT organizations must adopt and evolve. Real-time monitoring, troubleshooting and provisioning of the network must be implemented strategically and methodically, as they are driven by the need to maintain and manage the experience of the subscriber. In particular, real-time monitoring of network traffic is proved to be essential in diagnosing and analyzing the performance of the network and the services, and consequently the quality of experience of the subscriber.
Legacy monitoring schemes: You can’t be real-time with legacy management tools
Fragmented monitoring approaches exacerbate performance and complexity problems. With the constant push for more efficient connectivity, traditional network monitoring approaches have become inadequate for managing network components on enterprise and service provider infrastructures. Several major problems have emerged with the growing complexity of data on the network and accumulation of outdated network monitoring components.
The traditional approach to network monitoring improved the visibility of network performance by placing a host of tools into the network, but unfortunately while the system solves some problems, it introduces others. The biggest challenge faced by IT managers is the inability to access a particular point in a network with multiple tools. This limitation creates a network “blind spot,” making troubleshooting transactions inefficient and difficult to solve. Blind spots occur frequently with the type of overhead management utilized in legacy monitoring schemes. Different sets of tools are scattered across the network in different physical locations, with each vendor’s tools having individual management software inoperable with other vendors. This leads to many blind spots, as the network engineer has limited accessibility to certain points in the network and has to manage an overflow of data. Monitoring costs become increasingly expensive as network management becomes more inefficient. With the increasing cost and reduced return on investment, revenues are impacted by the lack of fast and efficient troubleshooting. This fragmented approach to monitoring leads to additional performance and complexity problems.
The economics of network intelligence optimization: from cost center to profit center
The key for network operators (telecom, enterprise or government) is to develop a holistic and forward-looking strategy for network monitoring and network management. More importantly, they must consider carefully the price-performance, diversity, agility and intelligent capabilities of a traffic capture solution. Depending on future requirements, there are a number of macro trends that network operators should be mindful of when planning their network monitoring needs, including “flattening the network,” technology development and economics.
The continued explosion of IP will simply accelerate the pace at which legacy systems are displaced by an all-IP network. The “flattening” effect will create more distributed IP components in the network and effectively create more potential points of failure. There will be a broader range of IP services to roll out than anyone can imagine, as a result multiplying the complexity of the network. This creates opportunities for more points of monitoring. The monitoring infrastructure should also be “flat” and flexible across any and all parts of the network.
The network intelligence optimization framework is laying the groundwork for a smart network monitoring infrastructure. In order to sustain the increase in speed, the traffic capture layer must continue to be performed in hardware, where deeper awareness of packets and applications, as well as more dynamic handling of them are necessary.
Network managers must do more with less — tighter budget control while improving service delivery. Traditionally those are conflicting objectives in the IT organization. Conversely, the network monitoring optimization framework allows an organization to migrate from a high initial capital expenditures business model to a lower and variable capex model in the network monitoring component of the budget. With less, the network managers can now do more in other areas such as network forensics, lawful intercepts, behavioral analysis, centralizing applications for compliance, etc. Additionally, managed service providers have become mainstream, where they are focusing on monetization of QoS/QoE, rather than focusing purely on monitoring network elements and packets. The layered-approach to network monitoring is fundamental to enabling the business model and differentiation in such network environments.