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    October 23, 2023

    Gain the Visibility Needed to Hold Last-Mile ISPs Accountable: How AppNeta Can Help

    In relatively short order, the adoption of cloud services and hybrid work models went from exception to ubiquity. 
    This has fundamentally changed the nature of the networks users rely upon—and created an entirely new set of challenges for IT and network operations teams. More than ever, business services and interactions are reliant upon network connectivity that spans a diverse mix of the public internet and third-party networks. This has introduced a critical lack of visibility for operations teams.

    There’s the old saying about the chain only being as strong as the weakest link, and this certainly holds true for networking. When issues arise, the key challenge for many teams today is identifying where that weak link is. Today, it could be an issue arising in the corporate data center, the cloud provider or application provider environment, the user’s home Wi-Fi, or the ISP network.

    While all these various environments can encounter issues that have an impact on the user experience, many teams only have visibility into what’s happening within the four walls of the data centers they’re managing. After extensive analysis, they may find the issue isn’t related to the internal corporate network. Then the question becomes, where’s the problem occurring? Is the issue arising at the users’ home Wi-Fi? In the cloud provider’s environment? In the ISP’s network?

    If the issue is due to a problem on the ISP’s network, how do internal teams obtain concrete evidence of that fact? Particularly in cases in which SLAs are established with a third-party ISP, it is vital for teams to be able to gather their own data and authoritatively, concretely validate that the vendor is meeting their SLAs.

    Generally speaking, and understandably, representatives from an ISP will be reluctant to accept blame for an issue, which can have a number of negative ramifications, such as SLA penalties, negative publicity, and so on. Without objective data, teams often confront frustrating, time-consuming finger-pointing exercises; with the IT team blaming the ISP, and the ISP blaming the customer or some other entity.

    This lack of visibility creates other pain points. For example, teams may find out that a major ISP in their region is experiencing downtime. How do they quickly determine whether their corporate users are affected? Without effective visibility, teams are forced to choose from one of these unappealing options:

    • Ignore the problem and wait until users start experiencing—and reporting—issues.
    • Spend cycles trying to investigate what regions and users are affected, and run the risk of spending significant time and effort troubleshooting an issue that’s not having any business impact.

    For more information on these challenges, be sure to see recent posts that examine the monitoring blind spots introduced by ISP networks and ways to streamline troubleshooting for work-from-home users.

    Keys to success

    When it comes to third-party ISP networks, teams need to take a trust-but-verify approach. To do so, it is vital to continuously monitor network traffic. Teams need to gain contextual intelligence to determine whether and how user and business services may be affected.

    Here are several keys to success in these efforts.

    Establish end-to-end visibility to isolate the error domain

    Teams have to leverage active, continuous monitoring that provides visibility into all the networks users rely upon, including internally owned, cloud provider, and third-party ISP networks.

    Through active monitoring, teams can send test packets out periodically over the network and measure the responses, enabling teams to objectively track performance. To be effective, teams need this active monitoring to align with the dynamic nature of ISP networks, so, for example, teams can seamlessly track handoffs to peering providers, and through to the hosted application environment.

    Minimize monitoring overhead

    In order to do this continuous testing in a pragmatic fashion, teams must ensure they minimize the associated overhead, both from a system processing and bandwidth perspective. This is essential in mitigating any potential performance impact that monitoring mechanisms have on the networks being monitored.

    Understand the underlying infrastructure

    It is vital to establish multi-layer visibility, including of the network and the underlying infrastructure. For example, in SD-WAN environments, teams need to be able to track the overlay and the underlay, and be able to spot when these environments are changing.

    Get real-time comparisons across locations

    IT and network operations teams need to track performance and applications across locations, which can deliver indispensable insights. By establishing real-time comparisons, teams can quickly see whether the application provider or ISP is at fault. For example, operators can see groups from multiple locations are dealing with the same application issue, and quickly determine that the probable cause is in the application provider’s environment.

    Alternatively, teams may see all users at one location are experiencing issues, and quickly determine which network domain is the source of the problem. If a user community is relying on multiple ISPs, it is important to establish the ability to track by each individual provider, and see how each environment is performing.

    Build intelligent alert thresholds

    Teams must be able to establish intelligent thresholds based on a clear understanding of normal performance. It is also vital to ensure that effective thresholds are established, so when they’re exceeded, it clearly indicates a deviation from the norm, and is worthy of generating alerts that need to be tracked and managed.

    Real-time impact dashboards

    If an ISP reports an outage, IT and network operations teams need to be able to gain real-time visibility into whether users are affected, and, if so, which users. In this way, they can begin to proactively notify users of issues, provide workarounds, and so on.

    How AppNeta can help

    AppNeta by Broadcom offers both active and passive monitoring capabilities that address the key requirements of today’s IT and network operations teams. With the solution, teams can efficiently and intelligently monitor their modern, dynamic network environments.

    AppNeta offers the coverage needed to enable fast troubleshooting across four error domains: user environments, external ISP networks, transit networks, and application service provider environments.

    A recent customer engagement offers a practical illustration of the fast, powerful insights the solution provides:

    At a global enterprise, a hybrid work employee relied extensively on video and voice conferencing while working from home. For several months, the user was contending with consistent performance issues, with applications freezing for significant durations.

    IT teams were receiving requests for help from the user. While administrators suspected the ISP was the cause of the issue, they lacked any firm data to validate these suspicions. Further, they had to spend significant cycles investigating their internal networks to make sure an issue hadn’t arisen in their environment.

    The team ultimately installed AppNeta on the employee’s workstation, and within 30 minutes they identified the root cause: a specific router within the ISP’s network was introducing significant jitter. With this concrete data, they were able to approach the ISP and ensure they fixed the issue.

    Conclusion

    With AppNeta, teams can get the complete visibility they need to track network performance from end to end, no matter which networks user connections rely upon. As part of the wider Network Management by Broadcom solution, AppNeta enables teams to track the performance and service levels being delivered by third-party ISP networks, and hold providers accountable when those networks experience outages or performance issues.

    To learn more, including a demo of the solution in action, be sure to watch our Small Bytes session, How to Hold ISPs Accountable for Last-Mile Network Performance. This is just one of many presentations in our Small Bytes series. These short, targeted sessions provide practical ways teams can use, and get the most from, their Broadcom solution investments. Visit our Small Bytes page to see a complete list of upcoming and on-demand presentations in the series. 

    Alec Pinkham

    Alec is a Product Marketing Manager for the AppNeta solution at Broadcom. He spent seven years with AppNeta in the Application and Network Performance Monitoring space before joining Broadcom. Prior to AppNeta his background is in software product management in HMI/SCADA solutions for industrial automation as well as...

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