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End User Experience Monitoring: The Network Perspective

Being “customer centric” is a priority for companies these days, but what does it mean for an enterprise network professional?

If your company is engaged in e-commerce, the answer is delivering premium network service that ensures a great end user experience (EUE) for customers visiting your company’s website and applications. In network terms, this means low latency, sufficient bandwidth, and no service interruptions or downtime. From the standpoint of the overall EUE, a successful customer experience also requires that applications and the system resources backing them are all operating optimally.

Guaranteeing EUE performance is a collaborative effort that engages every technical IT discipline, as well as enterprise line of business leaders. From a pure network perspective, the technical limitations inherent in dealing with this larger EUE vision are immediate.

Network professionals have visibility of performance from network data they receive from their internal corporate networks that tells them about network latency, throughput, resource utilization and wellness and security. Unfortunately, this network data tells them little about how a customer in China is experiencing system performance.

“The challenge today for network professionals is end-to-end visibility of applications and the network,” said Mark Burns, senior director of application performance management (APM) product management at Compuware. “Network engineers have tools that measure latency, throughput and bandwidth on traditional networks. Often, these tools are used as a 'proxy' for application performance, but it’s not enough when applications go out to the Web and reach beyond the internal enterprise network."

Burns said many organizations are struggling to get EUE visibility because it involves multiple IT disciplines that aren’t accustomed to collaborating with each other on a regular basis. As a result, IT has experimented with various kinds of reorganization.

“In some cases, application performance teams proliferate and are sister organizations to network performance and in other cases, network performance teams are built into APM,” he said. “We look at the network as an element that is there is to support applications, and not as a separate entity. Network engineers should have an application view, and should understand how the network supports applications.”

End User Experience Visibility Requirements

Within the thoroughfare the network provides to applications, there is a first mile that consists of the internal corporate network and its resources, a middle mile that is the Internet at large, and a last mile that links the end customer into the network and the application.

“Managing this end-to-end network is a challenge for enterprises and for vendors, too,” said John Newsom, vice president and general manager of APM for Dell. “You need to be able to link what’s happening on the backend of application performance with browser activity on the end client devices as well. This is especially important when you are dealing with external-facing applications.”

Clearly from a network perspective, organizations must gain greater visibility than the first mile visibility enterprise network professionals are accustomed to.

Essentially, there are four data sources of visibility in the EUE taxonomy, and organizations likely need all four for a complete perspective, explained Erik Giesa, senior vice president of marketing and business development for ExtraHop, which provide real-time data analytics for APM.

“There is synthetic data, which tells you what is going on externally to your corporate network and applications, and what type of service an end user in Seattle might be receiving versus an end user in Asia. Second, there is an emerging category called 'wire' data -- not to be confused with network data -- which reflects end-user transactional performance across the entire application delivery chain," he said.

The third source is machine data from system log files and sources like SNMP, and the fourth is agent-based data that executes at the level of the application code, he said.

[Read about Sideband Networks' strategy for providing better visibility into the network in "Network Performance Monitoring Startup Analyzes Live Data."]

All of these areas are significant for IT professionals responsible for monitoring end user experience, because network management demands have changed, Dell's Newsom said. Adoption of Web 2.0 technology and Java applications combined with many more Web service calls coming from within client devices makes for a much different environment, when application execution logic was happening on the backend.

"Now the application itself is actually distributed to the client browser. In this environment, it is impossible for traditional network monitoring technologies to monitor and provide visibility of the entire end user experience," he said. "The situation becomes even more complex when the end client device connects to a third party service like Facebook.”

End User Experience Monitoring Tools

The good news for network professionals facing this expanded network concept is that a growing number of tools are entering the market that offer greater EUE visibility, with the potential to move network monitoring and problem mitigation closer to the reality that end users experience.

“Sites need this full range of diagnostic and monitoring capabilities for visibility,” Newsom said. This includes page tagging technologies, website performance monitoring services, APM tools, and network sniffing.

“There are many different tools for the network, applications, end devices and systems,” Compuware's Burns said. “Organizations need individuals with the skills to use these tools, but also who know how to best integrate tools into presenting a total view of the end user experience.”

ExtraHops’s Giesa cautions that the variety of different network, application and EUE monitoring tools in the market, coupled with continuing organizational silos within IT, can lead to “tool bloat” and many overlapping tools in organizations. Some vendors are addressing this problem with integrated EUE tool suites.

“Despite this, there still is no one toolset that goes end to end in providing total network-centric and edge- centric views of an application, which is what the end user experiences,” Burns said. “This is the next step for solution providers, and we believe that true end-to-end solution sets for network and APM tools will be here within the next year or two, but they are not here yet.”