Lora O'Haver
Senior Solutions Marketing Manager
Blog

Strengthen user experience at the edge with network monitoring

November 18, 2019 by Lora O'Haver

Healthcare providers monitor application performance at the network edge

In our digital world, end users increasingly access applications and services from the edge of networks. The healthcare industry, for example, is embracing edge computing to provide physicians and technicians with mobile access to powerful diagnostic and patient tracking systems. With more critical interaction taking place at the edge, IT managers are monitoring network performance closely and are very intentional about making sure the right data is delivered to their monitoring tools.

CHALLENGE

One example comes from a recent project our company did with a medical provider operating 19 care centers in the U.S. and serving half a million patients. In their business, diagnostic applications and collaboration platforms have grown more common and critical in patient care. The company wanted to ensure physicians and other medical professionals had consistent and uninterrupted access to these services from their wireless and mobile devices.

To support this business need, the company’s IT team kicked off a project to upgrade their overall network infrastructure and deliver high-quality edge performance. The project also included an update to their network monitoring systems, so they could more effectively manage application response time, server congestion, wireless dead zones, and failed transactions.

Ixia—a Keysight Business—worked closely with the company’s external IT solution provider and monitoring tool vendors to make sure they could pull the right data out of the network, filter the data at line-rate speed, and ensure each monitoring tool receives the data it needs, even as volume scales.

SOLUTION

Upgraded Network:  The company hired Presidio—a leading IT solutions provider—for help designing and implementing their new network. New hardware and software components were selected for their ability to scale and support the company’s future growth. The design combined existing, lower-speed 1G and 10G network segments with new, faster, 40G fiber segments.

A primary consideration in vendor selection was manageability. IT needed to keep ongoing operating costs low, in order to generate the company’s required return-on-investment.

The evaluation committee decided to replace Brocade gear with Cisco networking infrastructure. This decision led to a cascade of new requirements, including the need to analyze NetFlow data and the ability to easily terminate ERSPAN traffic from remote locations.

Upgraded Visibility:  To go along with its new network architecture, the company needed to upgrade its network visibility solution as well. The team needed access to 1, 10, and 40G network segments; aggregation of tap, SPAN, and ERSPAN packet traffic; and fast distribution of packets to security and APM/NPM tools. Presidio invited Ixia to present its portfolio of network taps and its Vision series of network packet brokers (NPBs), all managed using the single-pane Ixia Fabric Controller.

Ixia fiber taps operate passively and delivering 100% visibility to traffic at line-rate speed, without packet loss . Once deployed, Ixia FlexTaps support real-time monitoring without degrading or disrupting traffic flow. The team also appreciated the breadth of Ixia’s product line and its ability to scale cost-effectively, as the company grows.

Ixia Vision NPBs are the intelligent processing engine of the visibility platform. They aggregate traffic from multiple taps, remove duplicate packets, identify the application associated with each packet, and deliver traffic according to the needs of each monitoring tool at line-rate speed. Vision complements the company’s Cisco infrastructure by stripping VXLAN headers off packets, generating IPFIX/NetFlow data, and efficiently preparing ERSPAN data for delivery to tools.

A key concern of the IT team was ease of management—a key driver of network operating costs. With budgets unlikely to increase in the near future, the team wanted solutions they could operate without extensive training or programming skills, unlike their current solution. The Ixia Fabric Controller fit the bill, with its highly visual, drag-and-drop interface and fully automated discovery feature that quickly identifies all supported Ixia tap, bypass, and NPB products, as well as some third-party devices. A dynamic network topology map instantly displays the status of all connected devices. Just click on a device icon to drill down into detailed device status and configuration information.

Updated Network Monitoring:  The next step was to ensure the network security and network operations teams had robust and sophisticated monitoring tools. The company had been using the VSS Monitoring solution owned by NetScout, but felt the network upgrade was a good time to see what new features were available in other solutions.

As networks have grown more complex, tool vendors have introduced advanced features and capabilities to help engineers find the root cause of problems more quickly and accurately. The additional power comes at a price, however, and tools can be expensive and complex to use. Ixia showed the company how to maximize return on their new tool investments using an NPB to pre-identify and groom network packets. The Ixia NPB’s PacketStack feature is key to performing line-rate packet deduplication, which streamlines data flow to monitoring tools, reduces congestion, and prevents packet loss. In addition to deduplication, the Ixia NPB can decode encrypted packets, strip off unnecessary packet headers, and filter packets based on the needs of each tool. The evaluation team saw that Ixia NPBs not only provide network visibility, but increase tool efficiency as well.

RESULTS

Ixia’s proof of concept was a success, proving the speed at which Vision NPBs can dedupe and filter traffic. As a result, the company was able to purchase less tool capacity, saving money. Integration of Ixia’s visibility solution with the company’s preferred ExtraHop APM and NPM products makes configuration and data delivery easy to manage. The Ixia NPB also throttles down traffic from high-speed network segments, so the company can still connect some of their existing lower-speed tools and stretch their useful life.

This medical services provider has completed its network upgrade and visibility platform deployment. The IT team reports that scalability, flexibility, and ease of management were key decision points in their evaluation. Ixia looks forward to the upcoming deployment of ExtraHop performance monitoring solutions and initiating lossless delivery of network data.

For more information on visibility for your upgraded network, ask your tool vendor, solutions provider, or local Ixia representative for a live demonstration.

Learn more about the benefits of Ixia visibility solutions at PacketStack, AppStack, and Centralized Manager—web pages devoted to Ixia’s industry-leading advanced features.