What you can learn watching network traffic

* The key to understanding business issues lies in monitoring traffic

Network managers have long depended on handheld and other tools that can identify protocols and monitor traffic flowing in and out of network devices such as routers and switches.

Companies such as Fluke Networks, Network General, Network Instruments and many others, established themselves with high-end protocol analyzers that could debug protocol issues and troubleshoot poor performance across network segments. But the technology is growing up and the vendors that made their name in protocol and traffic analysis are keeping pace with updated products that can string application performance indicators and security forensics together with network analysis.

"In advanced networks, the flow and analysis tools become a big deal," says George Hamilton, director of Yankee Group's enabling technologies enterprise group. "Responsibility for network performance falls on the network team tools that provide deep behavioral analysis, traffic analysis and NetFlow analysis will become more critical."

Take, for instance, Network Instruments. The company, which features Observer software, probe appliances and its GigaStor data collection devices, recently overhauled Observer and updated other products with enhanced capabilities, proving the company wants to become essential to network managers' day-to-day practices. Last week, Network Instruments updated its Observer software suite with the Observer Reporting Server, which helps network teams more quickly isolate performance problems on the network and identify if the problem will impact the business.

"What we have done with Observer Reporting Server is created a product that will take data flows from all our probes, condense the information and report on it by business unit. This allows an organization to determine which network segment is seeing the traffic and how much traffic is traversing the network," says Charles Thompson, manager of sales engineering at Network Instruments. "The product is looking at network traffic from a business perspective as the network becomes more reliable as delivering the data to help keep the business running smoothly."

Network Instruments not only added this product to its Observer suite, but also embedded security forensics into its GigaStor appliance line. The company says the added features enable GigaStor to operate "like a security camera recording everything traversing the network for future analysis." The product compares captured traffic against libraries of known attacks and anomalies, helping network managers better secure their nets internally.

"Whether is network behavior analysis or application traffic flows, the key to understanding business issues such as end user experience lies in monitoring traffic," Yankee Group's Hamilton says.

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