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Application-Aware Network Performance Monitoring | @DevOpsSummit #APM #DevOps

Comparing Network Topology Mapping Tools and Application-Aware Network Performance Monitoring

Application-Aware Network Performance Monitoring for Best User Experience

Network Performance Monitoring tools that collect traffic flows (e.g., NetFlow, IPFIX, SFlow) provide much greater insight in what is happening in your network. One of the primary reasons for deploying network performance monitoring tools is to gain insight into the quality of the end user's experience and how applications are performing. This key capability is lacking in a network topology mapping tool. Quite simply put, network topology mapping is not a monitoring tool.

Ulrica de Fort-Menares, vice president of product strategy at LiveAction, brought up the subject of dynamic network topology mapping tools, saying that her customers are often asking to compare them with network performance monitoring tools. The topic will be discussed at the LiveAction Annual User Conference, taking place in September in San Francisco.

Let's explain first what a dynamic network topology mapping tool is, as described by the LiveAction executive:

A dynamic network topology map provides an interactive, animated visualization of the connections between network elements and end systems. Many network management solutions use discovery capabilities to find what elements you have in the network. Some would go one step further by discovering how network elements are connected and put them together to give you a dynamic network topology map. Using a combination of protocols such as Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP)/Link-Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP), SNMP data and the Command Line Interface (CLI) information collected, network information can be displayed on the map to drive troubleshooting diagnoses in real-time and historically. Example of useful diagnostics information includes interface errors, router down and link down events. Building a model based on this information, you can map a traffic path between point A and point B. The ability to perform path analysis makes troubleshooting more intuitive. For the purpose of this discussion, we can call this type of network management tools network topology mapping tools. Network topology mapping tools are particularly good for network documentation and ease network troubleshooting if you suspect the problem is caused by either a topology or configuration change.

At a glance, network topology mapping tools appear to have overlapping functions with network performance monitoring tools. Both tools discover the network, present a network topology map, collect SNMP and CLI data from network elements, perform path analysis and they are used by network engineers for troubleshooting.

What users really want is to compare network topology mapping tools and application-aware network performance monitoring tools before making a decision, per De Fort-Menares, and she often gets this question from customers.

A good definition of network performance monitoring tools offered by Gartner is here.

The comparison mentioned above can be viewed here with De Fort-Menares' comments:


Network Topology Mapping Tools

Application-aware Network Performance Monitoring Tools

Primary Data Source


NetFlow, SNMP, Packet Capture & CLI

Data Collection Approach

Pull & on demand

Push & always-on mode of monitoring

Troubleshooting Approach

Build a model of how the network is constructed. Compare configuration files and output of show commands to identify changes that may have caused the problem.

Report on observations from the network &

reflect what is truly happening in the network.

Primary purpose for the topology diagram

Automate network documentation. Automatically detect any changes in the network and keep the topology diagram up to date.

Overlay real application traffic on top of the topology diagram.

Path Analysis

Typically interrogate the path between a pair of IP addresses using the model built from CLI & SNMP information.

Visualize all the traffic flows over multiple paths.

The LiveAction executive states that "there is a perception that router-based traffic-flow collection and analysis is impractical to turn on at every interface and device in the network leading to blind spots. In reality, it is not necessary to turn on flow collection everywhere although the more observation points you have, the better the visibility. It is also increasingly not possible to enable flow collection and analysis at every node due to administrative control issues with managed services and the Internet. A model-based network topology mapping tool is going to have a hard time dealing with this kind of black hole of information with no CLI nor SNMP access to the network elements, whereas a traffic measurement centric view is able to stitch together a picture from the disparate parts."

After many years in the networking industry, with hands-on experience and various patents, she concludes that "network performance monitoring tools that collect traffic flows (e.g. NetFlow, IPFIX, SFlow) provide much greater insight in what is happening in your network. One of the primary reasons for deploying network performance monitoring tools is to gain insight into the quality of the end user's experience and how applications are performing. This key capability is lacking in a network topology mapping tool. Quite simply put, network topology mapping is not a monitoring tool!" To register for the LiveAction User Conference (dinner and a San Francisco Giants ticket included), De Fort-Menares invites you to go to http://liveaction.com/livex/.

More Stories By Georgiana Comsa

Georgiana Comsa is the founder of Silicon Valley PR, a PR agency with a unique focus on the data infrastructure markets. Georgiana's decision to found Silicon Valley PR was based on her own experience as a corporate PR professional working with other PR agencies; she noticed that there was a need for a specialized, rather than a general tech PR firm, with media, analyst, and vendor relationships that would benefit its clients. With Silicon Valley PR, companies get to leverage the power of traditional and digital media relations to generate highly targeted press coverage, contributing to tangible business wins, which help them launch and grow their businesses.

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