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SteelCentral Network Performance Management: A Powerful 1-2 Combination

Bill Coon
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“Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up.” I’m sure Ecclesiastes wasn’t thinking about network performance monitoring at the time, but the quote certainly applies when choosing an NPM solution for today’s highly evolved hybrid networks supporting complex mission-critical applications.

There are literally hundreds of NPM options for polling the network infrastructure for availability and performance, collecting and reporting on flows to understand the who, what, where, when of network utilization, and packet analysis for a deep dive into application performance from a network perspective. How can you make an effective choice when purchasing an NPM tool when they all sound so similar?

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

Inside Riverbed’s SteelCentral platform lurks a powerful investigative team that reminds me of the ultimate partnership, Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson.

Inside the Riverbed SteelCentral platform lurks a powerful investigative team that reminds me of the ultimate partnership, Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson.

With a combination of flow and packet analysis, Riverbed SteelCentral is the only end-to-end solution that blends device-based end-user experience, infrastructure, application, and network monitoring to give you a holistic view of your users’ digital experience. But hold on! That’s what EVERYONE is claiming. The devil is in the details…and it all boils down to perspective. A complete digital experience platform must be able instrument more than just SNMP polling, more than flows, more than packets, more than user agents, and more than application. SteelCentral collects performance data from ALL these perspectives in an integrated platform.

As someone that is focused on the network, you might be asking “So what? My expertise is on the network!” Why do I need to care whether my network performance tools integrate with desktop and application performance tools? That’s a story to tell in a follow-up blog, so let’s focus on what SteelCentral can provide the network engineer / operator.

Integrated flow and packets

SteelCentral has the best one-two combination in the industry when it comes to monitoring performance from a network perspective. SteelCentral NetProfiler provides an extended, enterprise-wide view into network throughput by collecting flows from existing network infrastructure (i.e. routers and switches) and a deeper dive into performance with SteelCentral AppResponse that leverages network packets.

But why is this so special? Let me list the reasons:

  1. SteelCentral AppResponse is a best-of-breed packet capture appliance. AppResponse provides virtual and physical models that can save packets north-south and east-west…basically wherever you need eyes on your network. It includes SteelCentral Packet Analyzer Plus, that provides both real-time and historical packet analysis without downloading packets, and is tightly integrated with Wireshark.
  2. SteelCentral AppResponse is a best-of-breed packet analysis appliance. AppResponse provides automated analytics for continuous performance monitoring of all TCP transactions and deeper dives into applications like web, database, and VoIP. It provides integrated access into packets saved when more than meta-data is needed…all on the same appliance.
  3. SteelCentral AppResponse is a best-of-breed flow exporter. AppResponse can convert packets to flow records, including support for 3rd party tools that ingest NetFlow v9. It also supports performance-enhanced flow records call SteelFlow, that include application recognition along with server, network, and transaction performance metrics.

And yes, you are reading this correctly. SteelCentral AppResponse is essentially three big-time capabilities in one appliance: packet capture, packet analysis, and flow export…where you can choose to use any/all of them based on your needs. But wait, I’m not done.

  1. SteelCentral NetProfiler is a best-of-breed flow analyzer. NetProfiler leverages the existing infrastructure with a centralized reporting and analysis console based on flow technology, providing insight into the bottlenecks of your network, and why they are congested.

But that’s enough about how good these two NPM tools are on their own. What about when we put these two together?

  1. SteelCentral NetProfiler combines flow and packet data. A differentiator for the NPM community, NetProfiler creates unified flow records through the process of flow de-duplication and merging of flow data (i.e. IPFFIX, NetFlow, SteelFlow). It provides a single repository to report, alert, and dashboard with a combination of the power of NetFlow (interface-based reporting of utilization and DSCP priority settings) and SteelFlow (automatic application recognition, server and network delay, retransmissions).
SteelCentral NetProfiler screenshot

SteelCentral NetProfiler combines flow and packet data in a single repository.

  1. Right-click drill-down from NetProfiler to AppResponse. Everyone wants the easy button when it comes to performance monitoring. This combined view into flow and packet data makes it easier, but nothing provides more detail into end-user performance from a network perspective than packets. By why start there? Leverage NetProfiler’s enterprise-wide view for the big-picture of network performance that includes remote WAN link utilization (NetFlow) along with server and network delay for those WAN conversations (AppResponse), and when even these performance-enhanced flow records are not enough, simply right-click to drill deeper into automated analytics or even deeper still to the actual packets via AppResponse.
Right-click drill-down from NetProfiler to AppResponse

You can drill down from flow data in NetProfiler to the packet data in AppResponse.

Stay tuned for infrastructure management

In summary, SteelCentral provides the perspectives you need to consider when purchasing any performance monitoring tool, whether it’s for NPM, APM, or EUEM. And it avoids the complexity of self-integrating third-party best-of-breed tools to achieve a similar unified view into those perspectives like we do with SteelCentral. Stay tuned for more…. there’s a third ‘head’ of our NPM solution (SteelCentral NetIM) I will talk about later. You’ll want to integrate the health and performance of network devices you get with NetIM with the utilization and performance you get with NetProfiler and AppResponse.

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