PathSolutions Network performance blog post: Would-you-Track-Network-Performance-with-a-Helicopter.

Would you Track Network Performance with a Helicopter?

When I’m stuck in traffic, I think everyone dreams a little bit about the idea of being able to hover over the jams from a helicopter to see what’s really happening. Is it:

  • A jackknifed big-rig?
  • Road construction?
  • Police ticketing someone for being in the carpool lane illegally?

In the pre-modern world that some of us might remember, radio stations paid a lot of money so that traffic reporters could hop in helicopters and report what was going on:

“We have an overturned truck on 101 going south which has backed up traffic for six miles—please use alternate routes.”

The helicopters could linger in certain spots while reporters delivered live updates on what was happening.  Unfortunately, most radio stations had only one helicopter, so coverage focused on major incidents. If you’re not in the traffic mess of the day but still stuck, you may never know what was happening to cause the delay on your route.

Fast forward to the present day: there are freeway sensors located all over the place that tell us how fast traffic is moving.  Waze provides even more information about what is happening “at road-level.”  The result? You get significantly more information about what is happening throughout our network of roads.

If you compare this to a modern computer network infrastructure, using a network analyzer type of solution to monitor your network’s performance is like that helicopter.  You get a live view of what is happening at one spot on the network, but no understanding of how the infrastructure is operating as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong. If you have major concerns about that one link’s performance and usage, then it may be appropriate to use the helicopter/analyzer to view that one link. In this case, you are focused on a single link.

But in most networks, there are hundreds of links that could have problems that would lead to service disruptions or slowdowns.  Putting analyzers on all of them would not be possible, and the expense of managing all of it would add up.

It would be better to use a Waze-like solution where you gather information from throughout the network – all links, switches, and routers in the infrastructure.  And while you’re at it, collect a wide variety of information in those locations so you can determine what the problem is that’s affecting traffic.

After all, who needs a helicopter when you’ve got something like Waze to tell you what’s going on during your commute? The same can be said for your network.

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