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The Power of the Packet in Today’s Hybrid IT Environment

Networks have never been more complex than they are today. New technology deployments and IT initiatives come into play each year, constantly adding to the ever-growing mix of wired, wireless, multi-vendor, and multi-cloud environments. Unfortunately, despite the business advantages that come with new cloud deployments, updated wireless technologies, and other technologies, the hybrid nature of modern networks creates visibility challenges for network operations (NetOps) teams, including time-consuming troubleshooting, downtime incidents and other costly issues. According to a recent survey, 35 percent of networking professionals struggle with poor visibility across all fabrics of the network and 42 percent of network teams spend too much time troubleshooting across the entire network. So, what’s the solution?

One “80-20” rule in networking states that 80 percent of network issues can be resolved solely using flow data. However, as complex, hybrid networks become the norm, the remaining 20 percent 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 optimize these increasingly hybrid networks. Today, let’s explore how packet data can solve many of the issues we commonly experience in network environments.

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 optimize today’s hybrid networks:

Isolating 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.

Troubleshooting Pesky VoIP Issues – 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.

Conducting Thorough 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 analyze 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.

We know two things for sure in today’s complex IT landscape. The first is that networks will continue to become more “hybrid” as time goes on, and the second is that company executives, customers and end-users don’t care about what challenges this brings about for NetOps – they still expect high performance and quality experiences. As such, IT departments must be able to troubleshoot issues quickly and with confidence, regardless of where in a hybrid network they originate. This means that access to packet data for streamlined troubleshooting and network optimization is now imperative for every NetOps team.   

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