Reducing Downtime Costs with an Efficient Packet Brokering Architecture

A study by IHS research found that network downtime costs North American organizations $700 billion per year, ranging from $1 million a year for a typical mid-size company to $60 million for large enterprises. This includes lost productivity, lost revenue and sales, and the cost of sending technicians to the impacted sites to diagnose and fix issues. 

Efficient Packet Brokering Architecture

These costs are staggering and highlight the fact that IT teams must prioritize proactive network monitoring and fast resolution of issues. Yet even the best tools and technicians can’t fix what they can’t see, making pervasive network visibility central to reducing downtime and lowering its impact on the business’s bottom line. One of the proven methods for improving that visibility is implementing an efficient packet brokering architecture in the data center.

Network Visibility And Monitoring Architecture

A complete network visibility and monitoring architecture allows the network operations (NetOps) team to quickly access and assess any part of the data center architecture, from servers dangling off leaf nodes to core systems or high-performance compute (HPC) clusters.

Quicker Troubleshooting

This allows for quicker troubleshooting and eliminates the need to send technicians on expensive trips to investigate problems on-site. Moreover, packet brokers can efficiently feed network traffic to specialized monitoring and security tools, allowing these systems to better do their job by eliminating blind spots and missed traffic.

All of these capabilities ultimately reduce downtime and saves money. Other benefits include improved efficiency of network operations, reduced mean-time-to-resolution (MTTR), and better visibility for security. By building such an architecture, organizations will benefit from a reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO), greater return on investment (ROI), and a stronger competitive advantage.

Where Do You TAP When Tapping?

That said, you can’t throw packet brokers and test access points (TAP) just anywhere in the network. Typically, the core/spine of a data center is a 40Gbps network. However, to keep pace with today’s network challenges, many customers are quickly migrating to 100Gbps speeds. Switches at the leaf layer are mostly 10Gbps with some being upgraded to 25Gbps. They are predominantly constrained to match the speed of the server’s network interface.

TAPs are usually strategically positioned in the network where the most important traffic is passed. This is easier in the north-south traffic direction at the spine due to fewer links.

Monitoring East-West Traffic

In the east-west direction at the leaf switches, the large number of connections usually makes too many TAPs cost prohibitive and inefficient to manage. If IT needs to monitor east-west traffic, a balance between TAPs and SPAN (switch port analyzer) ports can be chosen.

Virtualization presents no roadblocks to modern packet brokers. Most packet brokers offer virtual devices deployed as virtual machines (VM) and Docker containers. These virtual devices can integrate seamlessly with hardware-based devices to monitor performance inside virtual servers and are a better strategy to monitor east-west traffic.

Packet Broker Working With Specialized Monitoring And Security Tools?

Once the data center switches are efficiently tapped and network traffic is fed to the packet broker, the remainder of the architecture becomes easy, flexible and responsive to any troubleshooting and monitoring needs. IT can now connect packet broker ports to specialized monitoring and security tools to perform in-depth analysis.

Organizations that are considering a 100Gbps upgrade (or those who wish to future-proof a monitoring infrastructure to ensure it will be in place for many years) will need to select packet brokers that can monitor and process packets at 100Gbps speeds but are still backward compatible as many tools are still at 10/40Gbps.

Brokering At 100Gbps Speeds

It is technically challenging to not drop any packets during brokering at 100Gbps speeds and this capability is still not common among packet brokers on the market today, so consider equipment choice here carefully.

An effective packet brokering architecture would be to use a two-tier design where the outer layer aggregates and feeds the traffic from all TAPs and, on the other side, distributes packets to the tool rail after processing at a central packet broker. The central or core packet broker performs more intense operations such as smart filtering, packet truncation, de-duplication, etc. for the tool’s consumption.

Reducing Downtime Costs Is De-Duplication

One significant broker feature for reducing downtime costs is de-duplication. De-duplication is the ability to detect and eliminate duplicates of a packet to reduce the traffic sent to downstream tools. This allows tools to operate at their peak performance and is valuable for troubleshooting as well as identifying failing or misconfigured equipment.

Network infrastructure devices, such as switches and routers, that are operating normally do not generate many duplicate packets. However, in certain situations, duplicate packets can be seen in some segments of the network due to poor network design, a flaw in the network-topology, or misconfigured or potentially failing equipment.

Packet brokers that can detect these duplicate packets on a specific port and issue an alert to help identify and rectify these situations more quickly.

Benefits of a Full Network Visibility Architecture

If the architecture includes a full ecosystem of packet brokering, capture, storage and analytics solutions, it offers even more benefits. IT can centrally manage, monitor and collect metrics like latency, burst rate, session level analysis and more that can be correlated in real time and visualized on easy-to-use dashboards.

Packet capture and storage devices can take copies of the traffic from the packet broker and store it for forensic analysis for compliance or incident response. This allows IT and security operations (SecOps) team to investigate network issues or security threats in greater detail.

Leveraging Increased Network Transparency

SecOps and NetOps can leverage the increased network transparency and visibility to make informed and accurate decisions. An efficient packet broker architecture will provide comprehensive network and application or network performance monitoring (NPM)-related metrics to enable downstream tools to provide more intelligent insights.

This will simplify decision making, improve the verification of network configurations, reduce MTTR for more efficient network operations and eliminate costly in-person troubleshooting trips. All of these improvements help to reduce downtime and lower the TCO of the network on which the business depends.