The Case for Network Packet Brokers – Data, Visibility, and Outcomes

Figure 1: Data from the network is aggregated and routed to analyzers, tools, and storage

Getting straight to the point – your network must work, and it must be impenetrable to cyber-attacks. IT Operations has the charter to assure that security is strong, and that connectivity and application experiences are satisfactory. The foundation for this charter is consistent comprehensive visibility to understand what is happening (and likely to happen) with your network and other infrastructure components vis-à-vis apps, services, connected devices, end-users, and cyber threats.

A common exposure and concern to all IT operations teams is that security and performance management tools don’t reliably receive all the required data they need, causing blind spots, inefficient and slow problem resolution, and a greater likelihood of cyber-attacks succeeding. This blog will focus on reliable data and visibility, highlighting the corresponding importance of network packet brokering.

Because networks run your business, you need comprehensive visibility to help you efficiently operate your network and applications securely and optimally.

Visibility is Essential for Effective Management

Figure 2: Measurement is Essential for Effective Management

Peter Drucker’s famous quote- “what gets measured, gets managed”, universally applies regardless of industry, market, process, etc. Bob Parsons offers this corollary – “Anything that is measured and watched improves.” If you monitor specific performance metrics, especially if performance baselines have been established, then human nature will drive you to manage performance for stability and improvement. Data collection is therefore fundamental to measurement, visibility, and improvement, including digital security and experiences.

Assuring secure experiences matters; great experiences help drive business growth, and conversely, poor experiences will cause business to decline. What you need is comprehensive visibility across your entire infrastructure because it provides data and corresponding understandings that enable you to efficiently measure and assure secure and great digital experiences.

More and more aspects of your business are dependent on your network. In fact, with digital transformation driving a “new normal” for business operations, the network is increasingly one of the most critical foundations of a business. The new normal includes ever-increasing 24×365 connectivity and bandwidth with low latency and jitter. Also increasing are bring-your-own-devices (BYOD), SaaS apps, work remotely (especially since the outbreak of COVID-19), and shadow IT. The network makes everything work, so it must work flawlessly.

Many of these dynamics also increases the number of endpoints and the surface area of exposure that is constantly under attack by cybercriminals. So, your network must also provide broad, strong, and adaptable cybersecurity defenses that require full visibility covering all endpoints and the entire surface area. Therefore, what you need are specific tools to operate and assure that your infrastructure is secure, reliable, scalable, and transparently facilitates responsive interactions that in turn facilitates great end-user experiences. This is the case for reliable, consistent, and comprehensive visibility.

Network Packet Brokers Facilitate Infrastructure-Wide Visibility

A Network Packet Broker (NPB) is an essential component of IT infrastructure for capturing data, providing visibility, and measuring performance and experiences. Network packet brokering elegantly provides packet data to all your tools, analyzers, and storage. The data and analytics applied to the data provides actionable insights that enable all IT personnel to efficiently manage and tune their networks as well as enforce security, optimize application performance, and assure great experiences.

Looking at figure 1, from left to right, network packets are aggregated by a Network Packet Broker, processed, and routed. This is a critical part of the journey of data from its generation to being transformed into intelligent and desired outcomes. Along its path to driving efficiency and desired outcomes, data drives visibility, so data and visibility will often be used interchangeably. Because of the increasing use of advanced analytics and machine learning to drive desired outcomes, data is often referred to as “the new oil.” So, while an NPB provides value for data and visibility, it is actually part of a more extensive value chain that provides efficiency and beneficial outcomes that include customer satisfaction, job satisfaction, operational efficiency, competitive advantage, and so on.

Network Packet Brokers Facilitate Visibility and Efficiency for All IT Operations

Network packet brokering also increases cohesive and collaborative teamwork throughout the IT/Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) organization. This is because network packet brokering provides packet data to all personnel and teams, and the tools they use. Network operations (NetOps), cloud operations (CloudOps), application operations (AppOps), site reliability engineering (SRE), and development ops (DevOps) all benefit by having consistent access to lossless real-time and recorded packet data. When one team implements network packet brokering, all teams win. Be an IT hero and broker packets to your teammates.

Enhanced Network Visibility – Deep Insights and AIOps



Figure 3: cPacket Networks’ Tightly Integrated Visibility Solutions Drive AIOps-Powered Outcomes

The network connects end-users, IoT devices, apps, and services. Network traffic provides deep insights into end-user experiences, application performance, cyber-attacks, and other malicious activity. Obtaining deep insights requires dedicated monitoring – here is why. The core network that consists of a data plane and a control plane are designed to reliably transfer data with specific policies with specific metrics (e.g., throughput, latency, jitter, etc.).

Monitoring is also provided by network infrastructure and your Network Management System (NMS), but it’s on a best-effort basis, which means that when network infrastructure must choose between transferring traffic and monitoring traffic, the priority is given to transferring. In these situations, monitoring is degraded causing inconsistent performance metrics and visibility blind spots that will be exploited by cybercriminals and malware. The only way to not have blind spots, even if they are temporary, is to have a dedicated monitoring and visibility solution built with reliable and scalable components.

Visibility and AIOps require consistent, reliable, and accurate data from multiple sources, which is what monitoring using lossless network packet brokers provide.

Data collection is a means to an end; the objective is to use advanced analytics and machine learning to surface actionable insights from the data to provide insights that are actionable and automatable, and in turn, augment your skills and assist you. The process of transforming IT-generated big data from multiple sources into desired outcomes using analytics and machine learning is the basis of AI for IT Operations (AIOps). The NPB plus an entire visibility stack are fundamental to delivering high-value network data to analytics and machine learning models that makes AIOps-powered benefits possible.

An NPB is a Primary Component for Security and Network Performance Monitoring

The case for reliable, consistent, and comprehensive visibility has been made. By extension, the case is made for a dedicated network monitoring plane that is independent of the core network. This separation provides objective, unbiased, consistent, and reliable visibility that is essential to assure security, performance, and experiences. Extending the case for comprehensive visibility one more level gets to the case for a Network Packet Broker – a primary component of the monitoring plane.

Figure 4: Simplifying a Monitoring Plane with a Network Packet Broker; lowered connections and traffic on the core network

An NPB captures, aggregates, and relays network packets to other solutions for analysis and storage. It takes care of routing packets without using precious ports (e.g., SPAN) and other resources from your core network. An NPB, especially one with “next generation” features (aka Next Generation Network Packet Broker or NGNPB) can also process packets to assist the downstream analytics and tools. The preprocessing by an NGNPB increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the analytics and tools so they can provide timely and accurate actionable insights and network intelligence that assists all aspects of IT operations.

It is likely that you have and will have an increasing number of analyzers and tools to assure security and experiences. This common growth is referred to as “tool sprawl.” Using an NPB to route packets to storage, security, and experience assurance solutions simplifies your overall network architecture by moving the additional traffic that results from tool sprawl to the monitoring plane. This architecture also does not impact routing and policy management of your core network because the NPB and monitoring plane operate independently from the core network.

A dedicated monitoring plane that uses network packet brokering gives you many benefits that include:

  • Comprehensive visibility
  • Real-time cyber-attack and threat prevention
  • Real-time network traffic analysis and network performance monitoring
  • Real-time filtering and load balancing that accelerates analytics results and lowers traffic and congestion
  • Reduced or eliminated tool sprawl on your core network that also reduces traffic and congestion on your core network
  • Optimized infrastructure with fewer or no agents and/or probes that results in lower overall costs to operate a network

Assuring Security, Performance, Experiences, and Your Quality of Life

Consider an alternate perspective regarding the benefits of monitoring, visibility, and experience/service assurance – your quality of life. What cannot be seen, understood, or quickly resolved increases the risk of declining customers, revenue, productivity, and profits. Best-effort monitoring by your infrastructure alone leaves a lot that is unseen and therefore also leaves you exposed to cyber-attacks, lengthy troubleshooting efforts, other inefficiencies, and lots of work and stress.

These exposures and risks emphasize the essentiality of high-quality monitoring and visibility so you can measure, characterize, and set baselines to consistently know if security and responsive interactions are being experienced and if service levels are being met. You can then efficiently and effectively assure security, performance, experiences, and improve your own quality of life. This all comes from confidence that your visibility is comprehensive and reliable. You need network visibility you can trust so that you can:

  • Be efficient and do a good job
  • Go home at 5:00 PM as often as possible
  • Avoid being bombarded with high-severity alerts forcing you to solve problems after hours
  • Assure security for data, digital assets, apps, services, and your entire infrastructure
  • Assure great digital experiences for all end-users – customers, employees, partners, etc.

Why You Should Consider the cVu® Series NPBs from cPacket

cPacket Networks designed the family of physical and virtual cVu®/cVu-V® Network Packet Brokers with a patented, scalable, and distributed “smart port” architecture that has sufficient headroom to reliably capture, process, and forward every packet at wire speed. Because there is central processing plus distributed processing for each NPB port, the solution scales without loss. cPacket NPBs also provide packet inspection and processing simultaneously on all ports at wire-speed up to 100Gbps, making them an ideal choice for reliably delivering consistent and comprehensive data and visibility that meets the goals listed above. Another advantage of the scalable and distributed architecture is that all advanced NGNPB features are fully operational without requiring add-ons and corresponding escalating costs.

Summary

A Network Packet Broker is a fundamental component of an overall network monitoring plane that should complement a network’s data and control planes. A dedicated and independent monitoring plane gives you consistent, objective, and unbiased visibility so you can secure, manage, optimize, and assure that experiences meet needed and expected digital experience performance levels.

The cVu/cVu-V Series Network Packet Brokers from cPacket give you the reliable and comprehensive visibility that is essential and that you can trust.

About The Author

Ron Stein – Director of Product Marketing at cPacket Networks. Ron has marketed AIOps and performance assurance solutions for networking at Aruba Networks. His domain expertise include AI, ML, Advanced Analytics, cloud, IoT and RFID with industry experience that spans healthcare, financial services, utilities, public safety, smart cities and IT service management.

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