Low WAN traffic visibility challenges network performance management

Gaining WAN traffic visibility allows wide area network managers to control wide area network performance, but this is increasingly harder to do with interactive technologies like video, unified communications (UC ) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Learn in this tip how IT managers can achieve optimal application performance.

Having full WAN traffic visibility is becoming increasingly important, but it is also a goal that is becoming more

difficult to achieve. Organizations that participated in a recent WAN visibility and control survey from TRAC Research reported that the inability to manage interactive WAN traffic and lack of application-level visibility are some of the top challenges for managing WAN performance.

The adoption of applications and technologies such as video, VoIP deployments and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), as well as different flavors of unified communication (UC) technologies, are increasing the complexity of WAN traffic and posing new challenges for managing WAN performance. In order to ensure optimal performance of these technologies and prevent negative impact of these deployments on other applications on the network and the network itself, organizations need to have full visibility into these types of traffic. However, these technologies generate a high amount of interactive traffic. This type of WAN traffic uses underlining protocols that typically have smaller packets than other WAN applications, which make it more difficult for organizations to have full visibility into network behavior.

When it comes to having full visibility into WAN traffic, organizations need to  do more than just monitor bandwidth consumption per protocol (i.e., HTTP, SSL, etc.) to understand how much bandwidth is being consumed by each application. For example, not all HTTP traffic has the same level of business priority or bandwidth requirements and should not be treated as a homogeneous category. Without having application-level visibility, it is difficult for organizations to ensure that their available network resources are being used in a way that provides the most value to their businesses.

Reducing the amount of WAN traffic that is being occupied by applications that are not business-critical or could be malicious is a task that organizations have been dealing with for some time. However, organizations are looking to take this trend a step further and be able to discover not only what applications are running on the network and how much bandwidth each of them is using, but also what the bandwidth consumption is per user, per user group or per functionality within the application.

This trend is forcing technology vendors in this space to respond. Blue Coat recently announced a new version of its PacketShaper appliance that is now integrated with Blue Coat’s WebPulse solution and enables organizations to define network usage policies for each type of content within the application. Additionally, Exinda Networks has capitalized on this trend by providing Layer 7 visibility into network traffic, advanced bandwidth management capabilities, and also an integration with Active Directory. These capabilities allow IT teams to identify how much bandwidth capacity is being used by each user and identify these users per name and location. Other WAN management vendors, such as Ipanema Technologies and Streamcore, provide advanced capabilities for visibility into WAN traffic,  Deep packet inspection (DPI) companies, such as Procera Networks and Allot Communications, also provide WAN traffic visibility.

It should be mentioned that WAN optimization appliances are able to collect large amounts of data regarding network traffic. These solutions provide full visibility into WAN traffic with their ability to process this data and present it in a way that enables organizations to apply effective bandwidth management policies. WAN traffic visibility creates opportunities for companies such as Vineyard Networks and NetDialog to provide solutions that process data collected by both WAN optimization and application delivery appliances and make the data collected from these appliances more actionable.

In order to gain full control of WAN traffic and get the most out their infrastructure, organizations need to have visibility into how their WAN capacity is being used, how applications on the network are performing, where the bottlenecks for optimal performance are and be able to make educated decisions about how to improve WAN performance.

Technologies for optimizing application performance over the WAN have been providing some measurable business benefits for end user organizations, but organizations are also looking to maintain these benefits as their IT environments change. They are also looking to be more proactive when managing new applications and protocols. The visibility into WAN traffic plays a very important role in that process, as it allows organizations to ensure that investments they have made in their network infrastructures and new applications and services are being leveraged in accordance with their business goals.

This was first published in December 2010

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