Four Key Trends in the Network Monitoring Market

Network performance monitoring solutions are not one of those “cool” technologies that get a lot of coverage in the media and these products are sometimes perceived as using an old approach to solve new problems. It’s all about capturing and analyzing packet flow data, right? Well, not really. Not many people realize how much this market has changed over the last 3-4 years.

TRAC Research will cover trends and key vendors in this market in several upcoming reports, but here is a high level overview of 4 key trends that drove some major changes in this market.

It is About Applications on the Network, Not the Network Itself

Back in 2006, I conducted a number of interviews with folks that were in charge of network performance.  The top metric that they were using in that time to evaluate how their networks were doing was unplanned network downtime. I did a similar round of interviews in late 2007 and unplanned network down time wasn’t even one of the top three KPIs that they were using to evaluate network performance (even though it was still extremely important for them). Between these two rounds of interviews, metrics, such as application response times and application availability, became the top indicators of the health of enterprise networks. These changes in end-user needs had a major impact on network monitoring vendors. They caused several major acquisitions, a lot of significant product upgrades, new vendors entering this market, significant changes in messaging and positioning and opened several new markets for vendors that were able to adjust to these changes.

When an End-User Calls a Help-Desk, It’s Already Too Late for the IT Team

When NetScout acquired Network General I did a series of interviews with IT managers that were using either nGenius or Sniffer products (or both). Almost all of them said that their number one expectation from the acquisition was that adding Sniffer’s capabilities to NetScout’s portfolio would allow them to see problems coming down the network before they impact end-users.

The whole notion about being more proactive about managing network performance created new opportunities for networking vendors and drew several moves made by the companies. Shortly after the NetScout-Network General acquisition, OPNET acquired what was left from Network Physics to improve capabilities for real-time monitoring of network and application performance. In 2008, the company added new capabilities for analyzing NetFlow data.

Network emulation vendors anticipated this trend for a while and they were well prepared to help companies eliminate network bottlenecks in the pre-production stage. Perfect examples of vendors that have benefited from end-users looking to be more proactive are Shunra Software and Anue Systems, both of which are helping organizations understand how changes to their network topology, application design and rollouts of new technologies are impacting the quality of business services .

In the traditional networking space, this trend increased the demand for solutions that can capture historic data about network performance and use this information to make better decisions surrounding capacity planning, protocol optimization and infrastructure upgrades. Some of the leading products that provide these capabilities include GigaStor (provided by Network Instruments), nGenius (provided by NetScout) and Ace Live (provided by OPNET). Additionally, emerging vendors such as VSS Monitoring are providing robust capabilities for the capturing of network traffic, even though they are using a slightly different approach from the technology perspective.

Additionally, network anomaly detection capabilities were recognized by end-users as very useful in detecting problems that can cause issues with end-user experience. Even though this capability was more known for its effectiveness in preventing issues with network security, some vendors were able to apply this technology to help detect problems with network and application performance in a timely manner. These vendors include Riverbed Cascade (formerly Mazu Networks) and NetQoS (added this capability to its portfolio in 2008)

Network Monitoring vs. Network Intelligence

One of the key trends in this market is that end-users are starting to differentiate network monitoring solutions based not on the amount of data they can collect, but on how actionable this information is. Organizations are looking to go from identifying a problem to a problem resolution in a few clicks, and the quality of dashboards that they are using is starting to matter more than the amount of data that they have on hand. In response to this trend, NetQoS upgraded its Performance Center product family while Fluke Networks recently released a new version of its Visual Performance Manager product. Additionally, Network Instruments made several product enhancements to support this trend. All of these releases were designed to help organizations navigate through thousands of data points to help them deliver performance information that is truly actionable.

Mid-Market Companies and Telecom Service Providers are Driving New Demand

Another trend that has impacted this market is that telecom carriers started recognizing growth opportunities around ensuring an optimal level of performance of applications that are being delivered over their networks. For that reason, they started building managed services around tools provided by leading network monitoring vendors. Fluke Networks has been one of the leaders in this market, but product upgrades from InfoVista (recently introduced enhanced 5View Platform and Vista360 product) and emerging new players in this space, such as SevOne, are changing the competitive landscape of this market.

Over the last 12 months, we have also seen a growing demand for networking performance management solutions in the mid-market. Vendors like NetQoS and NetScout, who are the most effective when monitoring large networks with thousands of locations and hundreds of applications, find it difficult to scale down and provide an affordable option for medium size organizations. On the other hand, small organizations are typically using either freeware or solutions that are less expensive, but lack some of the capabilities of products such as SuperAgent, nGenius or ACE Live. This caused the mid-market to be mostly underserved, as solutions such as Wireshark, WildPackets or SolarWinds are not providing all of the capabilities that mid-market companies need, while many of them are not able to afford solutions such as NetQoS, NetScout or OPNET. Fluke’s recent acquisition of ClearSight Networks and the emergence of companies, such as ExtraHop Networks, provide mid-market companies with options that would allow them to get the capabilities that they need at a price that they can afford.

Some IT markets are driven by either:  vendors’ marketing, new “cool” technologies or analyst predictions. Changes in the network performance monitoring market were definitely driven by the changing needs of IT organizations and network and IT managers that needed new tools to make their jobs easier.