Last week we talked about application-aware monitoring. Rather than placing our focus on the devices and interfaces, we discussed getting data that approximates our users' experiences. These users, are going to be distributed around the organization at least.  They may even be scattered around the Internet, depending on the scope of our application. We need to examine application performance from different perspectives to get a complete picture.

Any way we look at it, we're going to need active remote probes/agents to accomplish what we're looking for. Those should be programmable to emulate application behaviour, so that we can get the most relevant data. At the least, having something that can measure basic network performance from any point on the network is necesary. There are a few options.


Last week, I was invited to Tech Field Day 12 as a delegate and had the opportunity to sit in on the first session of Networking Field Day 13 as a guest. Coincidentally, SolarWinds was the first presenter. Even more coincidentally, they were showing off the NetPath feature of Network Performance Monitor (NPM) 12. This product, while not yet fully programmable to emulate specific applications, provides detailed hop-by-hop analysis from any point at which an agent/probe can be placed. In addition, it maintains a performance history for those times when we get notification of a problem well after the fact. For those of you working with NPM 12, I'm going to recommend you have a very close look at NetPath as a beginning for this sort of monitoring. One downside of the NetPath probes is the requirement to have a Windows Professional computer running at each agent location. This makes it a heavier and more costly option, but well worth it for the information that it provides. Hopefully, the SolarWinds folks will look into lightweight options for the probe side of NetPath in the future. We're only at 1.0, so there's a lot of room for growth and development.

Looking at lighter, though less full-featured options, we have a few. They're mostly roll-your own solutions, but this adds flexibility at the cost of ease.

Lightweight VMs and ARM Appliances

If there's a little bit of room on a VM somewhere, that's enough space for a lightweight VM to be installed. Regular application performance probes can be run from these and report directly to a monitoring station via syslog or SNMP traps. These custom probes can even be controlled remotely by executing them via SSH.

In the absence of VM space, the same sort of thing can be run from a small ARM computer, like a Raspberry Pi. The probe device itself can even be powered by the on-board USB port of another networking device nearby.

Going back to NetPath for a moment, one option for SolarWinds is to leverage Windows Embedded and/or Windows IoT as a lightweight option for NetPath probes. This is something I think would be worth having a look at.

On-device Containers

A few networking companies (Cisco's ISR 4K line, for example) have opened up the ability to run small custom VMs and containers on the device itself. This extends the availability of agents/probes to locations where there are no local compute resources available.

Built-in Router/Switch Functions

Thwack MVP byrona had a brilliant idea with his implementation of IP SLA in Cisco routers and having Orion collect the statistics, presumably via SNMP. This requires no additional hardware and minimal administrative overhead. Just set up the IP SLA process and read the statistics as they're generated.

The Whisper in the Wires

NetPath is looking like a very promising approach to monitoring from different points of view. For most other solutions, we're unfortunately still mostly at the roll-your own stage. Still, we're seeing some promising solutions on the horizon.

What are you doing to get a look at your application performance from around the network?