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Manage user performance, not the network, with machine learning-based tools

News Analysis
Nov 13, 20175 mins
Cisco SystemsNetwork Management SoftwareNetworking

Startup Nyansa adds machine learning to its Voyance user performance management tool, enabling it to provide proactive remediation advice.

cloud computing network connections
Credit: Thinkstock

Over the past decade, network management tools have evolved from being fault based to performance based. This has become a critical element in running infrastructure because faults don’t matter as much.

That might seem like a strange thing to say, but consider the fact that critical infrastructure such as switches, routers, Wi-Fi access points and servers are deployed in a way to protect against outages. Infrastructure is built so redundantly today that any hardware device can go down and its likely no one will notice.

A bigger problem is managing user performance. Often users call in about a certain application not working well, but when the engineer looks at the dashboard, everything is green. Performance problems are much harder to diagnose and can kill employee productivity. 

Earlier this year, I did some research that looked that the impact of poor application performance and found that workers are 14 percent less productive because of application issues. Think about that statistic. Businesses invest billions of dollars every year in technologies to make workers more productive, but if they could just get all the applications they already run to work optimally, employee productivity would increase 10 percent or more.

Focus on the users, not the network

That is why IT professionals need to shift the focus of management from the network to the user. The problem with network management is that by definition, it provides a bottom-up view of the world where user experience is inferred. User performance management (UPM) is more top down where the underlying technology and dependencies are understood, so if a Wi-Fi AP gets overloaded, the network operations team can quickly understand which applications and users will be impact.

It’s important to note that UPM can’t be achieved by taking a fault management tool and retrofitting or putting a new dashboard on it. Instead, UPM is achieved through a combination of data, machine learning and the cloud for scale.

Nyansa updates its Voyance UPM product, adds machine learning

One vendor trying to make UPM a reality is a startup called Nyansa. This week the company announced some updates to its Voyance UPM product that shift it from being a self-contained product to a machine learning platform that provides proactive remediation advice and can share data from third parties, extending Voyance’s value.

The new version now pulls in SYSLOG information from Cisco’s Identity Services Engine (ISE), HPE Aruba’s ClearPass and Free RADIUS. This is an extra data source that provides information into DHCP and DNS issues that can reveal user issues that indicate connectivity problems. This tends to the biggest source of problems on Wi-Fi networks, and Nyansa has about 70 percent of the market covered with just Aruba and Cisco.  

The SYSLOG integration will be important as Internet of Things (IoT) deployments become more common. Voyance’s machine learning algorithms can take the SYSLOG data and alter network operations when an IoT device performs at a level that is business impairing. 

nyansa voyance screen shot Nyansa

Nyansa Voyance dashboard

Nyansa also added externally facing APIs to extend the platform. Data from Nyansa can now be exported to IT workflow products such as ServiceNow. Voyance could spot a performance issue and then proactively open a trouble ticket, enabling IT to get a handle on the problem before users report it.

Alternatively, Voyance could send data directly to a communication platform like Slack where data from specific endpoints, applications or users could be sent to a particular group of people. For example, problems reported with a customer-facing application could send information directly to a Slack Room that also includes the experts responsible for the application. This could significantly shorten the “resolution ping pong” that occurs as trouble tickets get passed back and forth before the problem actually gets solved.

Another interesting feature added to Voyance is the ability to easily tag a device or person. The tagging enables engineers to constantly monitor the experience of critical assets or even people. The book Animal Farm taught us we are all equal, but some people are more equal than others — and now IT can know when someone who is more equal, like C-level executives or high-performing salespeople, experience problems. This can also be used to monitor things such as factory floor equipment, heart pumps or other mission-critical IoT devices. This data can also be searched on, filtered or exported for additional analysis.

Nyansa helps IT become predictive rather than reactive

Nyansa uses machine learning to enable IT to move from a reactive model to a predictive one. Voyance now includes a remediation engine that provides IT with a view into where and how network incidents are happening and the impact on user experience. It also recommends specific actions to fix those problems — things IT may not even know are causing problems. For example, the remediation engine could suggest the 2.4 GHz radios on APs be turned off because they cause Wi-Fi problems.  

One particularly valuable feature is that the tool now shows how many lost client hours will be recovered or lost by each action taken or not taken. This can help IT operations prioritizes its efforts. Think of this as Splunk on steroids where Splunk shows lots of data but the insights and actions need to be determined by smart engineers who can correlate the data.  The machine learning in Voyance does that heavy lifting, so IT can figure out what to fix faster and in an order that is most meaningful to the business.

Managing user performance isn’t done by measuring one particular aspect of the network. It’s more about understanding all the IT elements that make up s service and the relationship between them — and then having the insight to understand how that impacts productivity. With the volume of data available today, this can’t be done manually. It’s important for IT pros to start using machine learning-based tools like Nyansa to solve those tough-to-fix performance problems that kill worker productivity. 


Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research, and provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long-term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to end-user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers.

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