Like most people, I took some time off after Christmas and tried to make at least some of that time productive. So, I put on my Hazmat gear and devoted an entire day to a long-dreaded task: cleaning my office.As I was sorting through old magazines, I came across one from 1994 (and no, it hasn\u2019t been that long since the last cleaning) containing an article on branch-office challenges. The bottom line: IT and networking teams needed to do more with the same resources, and figure out ways to more effectively manage their branch offices.Not much has changed.That is, not much has changed in terms of the demands. There are some new tools and services to meet those demands more easily. One recent announcement rises to the top as a tool to help IT staffs better monitor application performance to branch offices - without the overhead of managing the monitoring tools themselves.The service comes from Masergy, a second-tier carrier that made its name with a sophisticated IP video service that captured the attention of many organizations after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since then, the Dallas-based company has come out with some nice tools that give network managers more control with tasks like dynamic bandwidth configuration, for instance.The carrier recently announced a new monitoring tool called Network Analyst that provides performance statistics for application performance over the WAN. What makes this tool different? It\u2019s entirely network based, so IT staffs don\u2019t need to deploy or manage any equipment - no probes, no consoles, no software. The technology resides in the Alcatel switches in Masergy\u2019s network, the data is delivered via a Web portal.Once Masergy customers activate the service, performance data is collected immediately. Now the service delivers real-time traffic data based on applications, protocols, QoS levels, ports, or IP addresses. But Masergy is working on some drill-down capabilities and automated service-level agreement comparisons, which are needed enhancements to the offering.So how does this help in the branch office? The WAN is the lifeline of branch-office communications. And having a low-maintenance tool (as opposed to one that requires hardware installation and management) that provides insight as to how various applications are performing over the WAN (as opposed to just the LAN) is extremely useful and helpful in tracking and resolving performance issues.