Ensuring Quality of Experience: Monitor networks or applications?

Experts debate whether enterprises should focus on network monitoring or on application performance monitoring to measure quality of experience.

As more and more business processes become network-dependent, network managers must find ways to measure quality of experience for end users. Enterprises also need to determine how to measure that Quality of Experience. Should they monitor the network or monitor the applications?

Performance monitoring varies across different enterprises, as different companies may require different vantage points into their network. Network performance monitoring and application performance monitoring offer different perspectives into quality of experience. "Performance management and monitoring can be done differently, wherever and however it makes sense for the company," said Jim Frey, managing research director of Enterprise Management Associates, who moderated a panel on the subject at Interop 2012.  

Network vs. application performance monitoring: Where to begin?

Enterprises must identify what they are trying to achieve with performance monitoring for quality of experience before they decide where to monitor their networks and applications, noted Steve Shalita, vice president of marketing for NetScout Systems Inc.

"To start, the company must ask themselves whether they are trying to solve a problem, or looking to understand what the user is experiencing," he said.

Monitoring user experience at the application-level is the best approach, according to Stephen Burton, technology evangelist for AppDynamics. He said IT organizations can get the most granular view of quality of experience by starting with application performance monitoring. "You can see more of the activity around the business and the [application] response time [for the] user. Initially, it's the right approach."

However, relying on application performance monitoring may only address problems after the fact, said Shalita. Monitoring the network is the more natural starting point for performance management.

"The application-level perspective is important, but the challenge enterprises have to think about is that most problems are not at the application-level," he said.

More problems come from network failures, Shalita continued, noting past examples of large-scale failures, including Verizon's radio server issues and Amazon's cloud controller problems. "You have to look at this broader context to learn about these problems."

Application performance monitoring is a reactive approach to assessing quality of experience, while network performance management is a proactive approach, Shalita said. Application-level monitoring typically addresses issues after the end user is already experiencing problems. "[The enterprise] should solve these issues before end user notices, not after the user calls IT."

Burton insisted that enterprise applications are in a constant state of flux, while the network remains more consistent. "The application environment is always changing. If you don't track the applications, it could impact business for quite some time, and your users are going to run into problems."

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Performance monitoring: User experience should come first

The enterprise network is becoming more complex and mission-critical, and troubleshooting an application after quality of experience is affected is no longer feasible, said Ron Wilson, vice president of strategy and product management for Compuware, argued for a life-cycle approach to performance management and quality of experience. Visibility into the network and carrying that visibility through the application cycle will yield the most granular view into end-user experience.

"There is no silver bullet or solution when it comes to user experience," Wilson said, noting that while IT may want to start with monitoring the network, the line of business managers may want to focus on the most critical business applications. "It really depends on the types of applications."

Once an enterprise starts to manage quality of experience, business transactions and quicker isolation of network issues will follow suit, noted Burton. "Your business will be impacted based on how quickly you can find the problem that is causing your end-user trouble."

While monitoring quality of experience on the network level is important, so is monitoring the application after it travels across that network, Frey pointed out. "Monitor the network or application? The answer is yes."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer.

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