Cisco's Application Extension Platform (AXP) is a Linux-based solution that enables third-party developers like NetScout to build applications that run on dedicated service modules installed in the ISR. The service modules provide the application with their processing and storage capabilities, enabling outside applications to be physically located within the branch router without consuming any of the router's compute resources. AXP also opens interfaces to the router itself. In the case of NetScout, the nGenius agent gains visibility into the traffic running through the branch router and builds its application performance metrics, as well as capture packets, from the real-time data stream. To monitor LAN traffic at the remote site, the NetScout agent can also take advantage of the service modules built in Ethernet port connected to scan the local network switches. All of the processing typically done on a physical NetScout appliance is performed on the service module, with only the metadata being pushed across the WAN to the central hub.
The art of application performance monitoring relies on getting the sensor probes as close to the network endpoints as possible. While administrators can see and estimate network performance based on what is coming in from remote WAN links, this view only paints half of the picture. Unfortunately, deploying one of NetScout's hardware appliances, at a $20,000 list price, has typically been a cost prohibitive option for remote locations. By leveraging a combination of the nGenius software and Cisco-supplied service modules, NetScout suggests that enterprises can gain visibility into branch locations for a quarter of the cost, minimizing the biggest barrier to entry for their platform.
In the current era of server consolidation and the general push to reduce the physical footprint at the branch, NetScout's move into the ISR is a next logical step for the company, whose products have been migrating from dedicated to virtualized appliances recently. Virtualization, whether on banks of servers or small branch routers, is enabling companies such as NetScout to focus on the software that makes their solutions tick and less about the dedicated applications required to run them.