• United States
Neal Weinberg
Contributing writer, Foundry

10 most powerful network-management companies

Nov 25, 202213 mins
Cloud ComputingData CenterNetwork Management Software

Innovative vendors have expanded beyond monitoring networks and are building full-stack, SaaS-based observability platforms.

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Credit: Natali Mis / Getty Images

Network management has never been easy, and the proliferation of IoT devices, the shift to remote work, and the migration of applications to multi-cloud environments have added new levels of complexity to enterprise networks.

IT execs are dealing with network management tool sprawl and employee skills gaps. They are also struggling to gain visibility across increasingly distributed networks, including SaaS instances that are not under their direct control.

Even the terminology is evolving. Terms like network monitoring or network management are being replaced with buzzwords like network observability or unified observability, according to a recent report from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA.)

Whatever wording is used to describe modern network management, there is agreement on what such a platform should include. On the basic networking level, the system needs to have the capability to ingest data from logs, traces, events and other metrics in order to troubleshoot problems, prevent outages from occurring in the future, and optimize network performance through automation.

Moving up the stack, management platforms should also provide application performance management (APM), and insight into the customer/user experience, known as digital experience management (DEM). Observability platforms are also extending into DevOps (NetDevOps), they share data with security teams for incident response and vulnerability management, and they leverage artificial intelligence (AIOps).

A single platform that does it all probably doesn’t exist. But we’ve identified 10 leading vendors that are working hard to get there. This subjective list is weighted heavily in favor of vendors with broad platforms, rather than point products, and with vendors that have demonstrated an intention to aggressively expand their portfolio of capabilities rather than stand pat in a particular niche.

1. IBM: From Tivoli to Turbonomic

Why they’re here: From its purchase of network management vendor Tivoli Systems in 1996 to its acquisition of APM innovator Instana in 2020, IBM has maintained its position as a power player in the management of networks, mainframe/server infrastructure, applications, and cloud-based assets. As one might expect from IBM, there are a raft of product lines: Legacy Tivoli systems have been re-branded and updated, products have been added through acquisition (SevOne for network performance management, QRadar for network security management). And IBM has developed new offerings internally, such as IBM Cloud Pak for Watson AIOps.

Power moves: Bought Turbonomic, an application resource management (ARM) and network performance management (NPM) software provider.

By the numbers: $1.5 billion: Exact numbers weren’t released, but it was reported that IBM paid between $1.5 billion and $2 billion for Turbonomic.

Outlook: IBM wants to provide customers with AI-based automation that spans AIOps, application performance and IT resource observability built on its Red Hat OpenShift cloud platform and delivered either as a product or managed service. The challenge will be merging the Turbonomic and Instana acquisitions into a seamless, hybrid-cloud management architecture that extends from data center mainframes to cloud-based containers.

2. Cisco: Moving up the stack through key acquisitions

Why they’re here: When you’re the market leader in routers, switches, firewalls, wireless access points and SD-WAN devices, and the technology trend is to decouple hardware from an overlay management plane, it’s only natural that you would dive headlong into management. Under the DNA Center umbrella, Cisco offers automated network operations, AIOps, DevOps, SecOps and customer experience monitoring. Cisco is also attempting to achieve full-stack observability through acquisition.

Power moves: Bought ThousandEyes for agent-based network performance optimization and AppDynamics for APM.

By the numbers: $1 billion. Amount that Cisco paid for ThousandEyes.

Outlook: Cisco has so much going on that sometimes it’s hard to keep track of it all. Cisco is committed to software-defined networking, intent-based networking, and now it’s pushing something called predictive networking. There’s a management offering for IoT, another for wireless. Gartner cautions, “Cisco’s ‘Full Stack Observability’ vision promises a unified experience for monitoring across AppDynamics, ThousandEyes and Intersight (a cloud operations platform). However, the products currently remain only loosely integrated, lacking a common installation, user experience or data platform.” For Cisco, the challenge is to continue to drive intelligence and automation throughout its vast product portfolio and to make sure its offerings are integrated across on-prem and cloud environments.

3. BMC Software: From mainframes to microservices

Why they’re here: Founded in 1980 to provide management software for IBM mainframes, the BMC of today is a privately held company focused on helping enterprises manage and automate complex IT operations across hybrid cloud environments. Forrester Research says the BMC Helix platform offers IT service management (ITSM), IT operations management (ITOM), enterprise service management (ESM), self-service portals for users, AI chatbots, and intelligent and predictive automation. It also integrates with multi-cloud environments “for powerful business automations while enabling IT and DevOps to work seamlessly instead of in silos.” And, of course, it supports self-managing mainframes through its Automated Mainframe Intelligence product line.

Power moves: Bought StreamWeaver to bolster its observability, AIOps and cloud migration capabilities.

By the numbers: BMC works with 86% of the Forbes Global 50.

Outlook: BMC bills itself as the company that can help its customers become “autonomous digital enterprises.” Its management software spans the mainframe to Docker containers in the cloud. BMC Helix ServiceOps brings service and operations management together to protect against outages, identify performance issues, perform root cause analysis, and personalize the employee and customer experience. IDC analyst Stephen Elliot says ServiceOps is the wave of the future because it breaks down silos, so that “cross-departmental teams can deliver highly effective, incident-free services across their cloud technologies.”

4. Broadcom: CA plus AppNeta plus VMware

Why they’re here: If Broadcom can successfully integrate the management tools acquired in the purchases of CA Technologies in 2018 (network and infrastructure monitoring and AIOps) and AppNeta in 2021 (SaaS-based network performance monitoring and digital experience management) with its impending VMware acquisition, Broadcom could become a multi-cloud management powerhouse.

Power moves: Bought virtualization pioneer VMware.

By the numbers: $61 billion: The amount Broadcom agreed to pay for VMware.

Outlook: Broadcom’s plan, once the VMware acquisition officially closes in late 2023, will be to shift its current portfolio of software assets into a VMware branded division. Addressing customer concerns about Broadcom’s intentions, president and CEO Hock Tan said recently, “VMware develops technology for the future and addresses a growing market. The Broadcom business case for this transaction is premised on focusing on increasing R&D, and executing so that customers see the value of the full portfolio of innovative product offerings — not on increasing prices.” For its part, VMware has a broad portfolio of software tools that span Tanzu for cloud-native application development, NSX for managing virtualized workloads, and a new cloud-native management service named Aria. So, for Broadcom the vision is there. It will all come down to execution.

5. Splunk: It all starts with data

Why they’re here: A perennial leader in Gartner’s rankings of SIEM vendors, Splunk has leveraged its ability to aggregate and analyze large amounts of data to become an observability platform power player. GigaOm says, “Splunk is a full-stack, multi-cloud, integrated enterprise solution that brings together infrastructure monitoring, application performance monitoring, digital experience monitoring, real user monitoring, synthetics, log investigation, AIOps, and incident response.”

Power moves: Splunk has been on a buying spree. Over the past couple of years, it has filled out its observability platform with the acquisitions of SignalFx, Omnition, Plumbr, Rigor, Flowmill and TwinWave Security. (It should also be noted that there have been persistent rumors that Cisco is trying to buy Splunk. However, that potential power move has yet to materialize.)

By the numbers: $1.05 billion: Amount Splunk paid for SignalFx.

Outlook: After several quarters of sputtering growth, Splunk brought in a new CEO in April 2022: Gary Steele, former CEO of Proofpoint. The move seems to have jumpstarted the company, because Splunk reported revenues of $799 million in its fiscal second quarter of 2023, a 32% year-over-year increase. Pund-IT analyst Charles King is bullish on Steele. “Not only has he founded and led successful startup companies, but Steele also has a substantial history of delivering the financial and leadership goods as a C-level executive. In other words, he’s likely to understand and value Splunk’s culture while also providing the business acumen the company needs to evolve and move into new markets.”

6. SolarWinds: Survives hack blowback

Why they’re here: When your brand is associated with one of the worst cyberattacks in history, that’s a lot to overcome. But SolarWinds was open and transparent during and after the infamous 2020 hack, and it appears to have weathered the storm. Revenues have stabilized, and the company is shipping new products and offering new cloud-based services to its massive installed base. SolarWinds was recognized as a leader by analyst firm GigaOm in its 2022 evaluation of network observability and cloud observability solutions.

Power moves: Launched a cloud-native, IT-management service called Observability that is also available for hybrid-cloud environments. Powered by machine learning, the service provides an integrated view of network, infrastructure, application, and database systems.

By the numbers: $179 million: Prior to the news of the hack coming out in late 2020, SolarWinds had consistent quarterly revenues in the $250 million range. After the hack, revenues levelled off closer to $180 million. Q3 2022 revenues were $179 million, down 1% from Q3 2021.

Outlook: SolarWinds had some issues to resolve even before the hack. Its products were somewhat siloed, and the focus was primarily on-prem rather than the cloud. But the company seems to have recognized its weaknesses and has taken concrete steps in the right direction. “We’re laying the foundation for autonomous operations through both monitoring and observability solutions,” said SolarWinds chief product officer Rohini Kasturi. “With our Hybrid Cloud Observability and SolarWinds Observability offerings, customers have ultimate flexibility to deploy on a private cloud, public cloud, or as a service.” Observability is an important step forward for SolarWinds, according to Gartner analyst Gregg Siegfried. “Bottom line is that they’ve been bleeding share as people move into the cloud,” adds Siegfried. The new Observability service “provides a migration path” for customers who need to extend their IT management capabilities to the cloud, he adds.

7. Dynatrace: Securing and optimizing software

Why they’re here: One of the new breed of cloud-native observability vendors, Dynatrace offers infrastructure monitoring, APM, application security, digital experience management (DEM), business analytics and cloud automation on a platform powered by its Davis AI engine. Research firm ISG named Dynatrace a leader in cloud-native observability and cloud-native security. And Gartner puts Dynatrace in the leadership category for APM.

By the numbers: 30%: Dynatrace reported second quarter fiscal 2023 revenue of $279 million, up 30%.

Power moves: Launched a new data analytics feature called Grail that promises unified observability, security, and business data analysis.

Outlook: Dynatrace says it exists “to make the world’s software work perfectly.” While perfection might not be achievable, Dynatrace is getting high marks for its cloud-native, AI-powered approach. Mark Purdy, principal analyst at ISG, says, “Quite simply, Dynatrace does it all in terms of observability and is particularly powerful with containerized applications. World-class AI and automation capabilities make the Dynatrace platform a clear leader.” Gartner adds, “Dynatrace’s roadmap includes extending the analytics capabilities of its Davis AI engine to new data sources, including expanded OpenTelemetry analytics, and further expanding its presence in cloud provider marketplaces, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).”

8. Datadog: Nipping at the heels of industry leaders

Why they’re here: Datadog started out as a monitoring and security service for cloud applications and has been methodically filling out its portfolio to become a platform targeting enterprises launching digital transformation initiatives and migrating apps to the cloud. Datadog offers infrastructure monitoring, APM, device monitoring, cloud workload monitoring, and database monitoring. Gartner ranks Datadog as a leader in its latest evaluation of Application Performance Monitoring and Observability.

By the numbers: 61%: Datadog’s third quarter 2022 financials were impressive – revenue hit $436.5 million, up 61% year-over-year.

Power moves: Datadog has been on an acquisition spree. Over the past couple of years, it scooped up Undefined Labs (a testing and observability company for developer workflows), Timber Technologies and Sqreen (observability data stream processing and application security). On Nov. 3, it acquired Cloudcraft, a visualization service for cloud and system architects.

Outlook: Datadog is aggressively adding new features, such as cloud cost management, continuous testing for web app developers, cloud security management and data stream monitoring. Gartner adds, “In recent years, it has significantly expanded its portfolio of solutions beyond infrastructure, log management and APM to include network monitoring, incident management, digital experience monitoring (DEM), database monitoring and security. Future areas of investment include enhancements to end-to-end visibility, improving the developer experience, telemetry governance, and DevSecOps and cloud security.”

9. New Relic: Leading the charge on consumption-based pricing

Why they’re here: New Relic is a power player in the observability market, offering an integrated, full-stack platform that encompasses the monitoring of logs, networks, applications, infrastructure, Kubernetes environments, mobile devices, browsers and developer code. New Relic is a leader in Gartner’s ranking of APM vendors. GigaOm adds, “New Relic has outstanding capabilities in the key criteria of reporting and dashboard capabilities, user interaction performance, and multicloud resource view. New Relic’s OpenTelemetry capabilities and contributions place it ahead of many of its competitors.”

Power moves: New Relic has become a disruptor with a pricing model based on the number of users and volume of data.

By the numbers: 16%: Revenue for the second quarter of fiscal 2023 hit $226.9 million, up 16% from a year ago.

Outlook: New Relic’s transition from subscription to consumption pricing was a bit rocky, but analysts say the worst is behind the company and the outlook appears promising. “It looks like New Relic is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after enduring a longer-than-expected transformation,” said analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research. Gartner agrees: “New Relic offers a clearly differentiated and disruptive pricing model that has contributed to its recent growth in the number of accounts. Pricing is based on the number of users and the volume of telemetry ingested, which overcomes many of the challenges associated with element-based pricing. This model is increasingly resonating with clients looking to manage ever-increasing monitoring bills.”

10. Kentik: AIOps targeted at the network

Why they’re here: This SaaS-based startup is making waves by drilling down on network observability and delivering an AIOps solution designed to help network execs “answer any question about the network.” The idea is to aggregate telemetry across all networks (cloud, on-prem, edge) and network elements, then enrich that data with other types of information (user, application, customer, threat intelligence, physical location) in order to provide network troubleshooting, optimization, automation, DDOS protection and digital experience management (DEM).

By the numbers: $40 million: Raised $40 million in its latest round of venture capital funding, bringing the company’s total funding to $102 million.

Power moves: Kentik has partnered with innovative vendors such as Cloudflare and New Relic to drive its technology into new markets.

Outlook: Kentik CEO Avi Freedman says the company plans to stick to its current business model, and is not planning to move into other areas, such as APM. But it is continuing to innovate. The company recently announced the Kentik Kube, which relies on a lightweight agent to provide complete visibility and context for traffic performance into Kubernetes clusters.