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Performance Monitoring, Observability for the Home Office

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How do users at home or in an office know when they’re getting the best performances out of a device, application or cloud service? How can enterprises document when the systems they’ve set up for their employees–remote or on-premises–are operating efficiently and securely?

This isn’t all about the mere speed of applications. We’re about talking several attributes: speed, security, reliability, agility, configurability and others. What about good, strong internet connections? How about video that doesn’t snag or crash and crisp audio that doesn’t disappear into an internet well? What about safe, secure delivery of documents, images and other important company assets?

It’s about the user experience, too. In fact, IT is nothing if not about the user experience, and it always has been. Steve Jobs used to say that it doesn’t matter how good an application is; if it doesn’t have an intuitive user interface, you might as well throw it away, because no one’s going to use it.

It takes accurate monitoring and observability tools based on analytics to do all the things mentioned above, and as time goes on, more and more of these requirements are being done by automated software, not humans. The sheer scale and big data capacity of these applications, whether in a cloud or not, is moving far beyond a human’s ability to stay on top of them 24/7. In fact, it’s impossible.

The old ways of monitoring apps are outmoded

The old ways of monitoring and managing applications have become inefficient, thanks to many visibility gaps. Telemetry that’s required for understanding how highly distributed cloud applications behave has grown exponentially. DevOps teams, SREs, and developers have started looking for new approaches to meet this requirement. The new solutions are not only about incident detection. They also have to include incident prediction and capabilities to explore how code changes impact the overall business, and that’s where observability comes into play.

Observability is a new way of getting insight into the performance of cloud environments based on analytics for a vast amount of telemetry data (metrics, traces, histograms, logs, events) collected from a diverse set of data sources—cloud applications and services, infrastructures and Kubernetes app coordination. Observability combined with the DevOps culture of responsibility shared by multiple teams creates an effective new approach to untangle the thorniest issues affecting cloud applications.

So how does a business go about finding the answers? It starts by finding the right monitoring and observability tools and deploying them in an efficient manner. Here are 10 excellent vendors with which to start in this category:

Defining observability

A succinct definition: Observability is a mindset that enables you to answer any question about your entire business through collection and analysis of data. Building observability into your business enables you to answer questions about your business in real time, and often this can be the difference between out-performing competitors or allowing them to out-perform you.

A key trend in the evolution of IT systems now is that enterprises are making moves from basic visibility to network observability. This is where IT pros can use the data to solve critical problems that cause business-interrupting issues. Monitoring is important but incomplete; observability takes the data from monitoring and puts it into action. It creates the ability to understand why networks are slow, what the source of anomalies are, and if a user is compliant.

IT observability, when combined with AI and automation, also holds the promise to deliver the actionable answers needed to ensure cloud-native applications work perfectly and deliver the best experience and value possible to their users.

ITOps observability challenges

Prior to the pandemic, having employees work on office campuses provided significant advantages to IT for a few reasons. The network infrastructure is managed and uses enterprise grade equipment. Also, most users are located near IT support. As a result, root-cause analysis within a corporate environment is much easier than across hundreds or thousands of home offices. (For additional information, read the EMA Research paper on extending network performance monitoring to the home office,)

Here are the network observability challenges for work-from-home employees who make up “enterprise branches,” according to NetBeez:

  1. Internet and VPN performance issues: Home networks are far more unstable and unpredictable than corporate networks. Internet service providers are already experiencing an unprecedented set of new challenges in meeting increased demand for bandwidth and subscribers. On the other end, enterprises have to keep up with a massive increase in VPN usage. Most network monitoring tools have great insight into network device status on the enterprise network but are completely blind to the user experience at the home network.
  2. Distributed apps: Today’s workforce relies heavily upon SaaS applications, hosted in public clouds outside the organization’s control. Lack of management further obscures observability into the end-user experience. Monitoring solutions that passively capture the end-user experience introduce privacy concerns. Active network monitoring is a good alternative to regain visibility into such environments.
  3. Consumer-grade equipment: Most home offices rely on consumer-grade equipment that is not managed by corporate IT. Home networks are more prone to experience Wi-Fi coverage issues. Without network monitoring at the edge, where users work, it’s extremely difficult to troubleshoot user experience issues. This leads us to the last observability challenge for ITOps.
  4. Tech support challenges: Field-support costs are substantially higher than office-support costs. Without proper monitoring and diagnostic tools deployed at the edge (such as network-monitoring apps running on laptops/desktops) to automate the collection and troubleshooting of remote performance issues, tech support has no other option than to depend upon phone calls and/or video conference sessions with users who report issues. This is, um, hardly optimal in most shops.

Extending network observability to the home office

To address remote worker network observability challenges, there are four key capabilities to extend observability to home-office networks, NetBeez said. They are:

  • Collect and aggregate network connectivity, performance and throughput data from the remote worker’s laptop or desktop, from across the Internet, and within the VPN tunnel to identify and pinpoint performance issues;
  • Actively test websites and SaaS applications’ availability and performance, including DNS checks without passively capturing end-user transactions;
  • Constantly test network support for voice/video-over-IP calls, including identifying packet loss, jitter and latency issues that degrade voice and video services; and
  • Collect Wi-Fi metrics to detect performance issues caused by poor WiFi coverage and interferences with other WLAN networks or systems.

In summary …

  • The home office has gained major traction as a permanent alternative work environment. ITOps and security teams are charged with de-risking this change and enabling the workforce to be productive in many new environments.
  • The bad news: Too many enterprises are far behind the curve here in mid-2021 in making the needed adjustments to protect and serve all their employees, no matter where they are deployed.
  • The good news: There are excellent observability solutions that mitigate these challenges and assist ITOps teams in maximizing their efforts and resources.

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