Top network monitoring software and visibility tools

If you need to know what’s happening in your network, these are the tools to use

Networking performance monitoring and diagnostics (NPMD) software, whether running as an independent appliance or embedded in networking equipment, can help stave off productivity issues for internal corporate users as well as those interacting with the network from the outside.

But with ever-increasing traffic on corporate networks, users attempting to optimize connections to the cloud and new Internet of Things devices bombarding the network, enterprises and network performance monitoring vendors face growing challenges.

“The goal of NPMD products is not only to monitor the network traffic and infrastructure to facilitate outage and degradation resolution, but also to identify performance optimization opportunities,” Gartner analysts Sanjit Ganguli and Vivek Bhalla wrote in their recent Magic Quadrant report outlining the NPMD market.Gartner estimates NPMD is a US$1.6 billion market growing at 20% annually.

Gartner assessed 17 vendors based on the quality of their NPMD product, their marketing, sales and product strategy, along with their overall size, market viability and financial performance. NetScout, Viavi and Riverbed are listed as leaders in the MQ. Garter defines a leader as pushing the NPMD market forward while having significant market presence. 

SolarWinds, CA Technologies, LiveAction and Paessler were listed as challengers, or companies with high market reach and large customer deployments, but Gartner believes they need to modernize their offerings to become a leader. ExtraHop, Cisco and Corvil are listed as visionaries who have built a compelling platform but have garnered limited uptake. A handful of other vendors are listed as niche – meaning they cater to specific use cases or audiences - including HPE, InfoVista, AppNeta, Genie Networks, Ipswitch and Flowmon Networks.

Below are the 10 vendors named leaders, challengers or visionaries by Gartner, listed in alphabetical order.

CA Technologies

The venerable IT company has been a long-time player in network performance management and visibility. CA has built out a range of offerings in this area targeted at different use cases and in recent years has bought companies to build out its portfolio. Core products include CA Performance Management and CA Virtual Assurance for Infrastructure Managers, which provides visibility into SDN and NFV environments. Related products include visibility tools for unified communications, flow analysis, application delivery monitoring and others.

Cisco

Cisco’s dominant market-share lead in enterprise data center routing and switching puts the company in a unique position to offer an integrated hardware-software portfolio of network monitoring and visibility products.

Cisco’s main product in this category is Prime Infrastructure, which provides flow monitoring, configuration management and provisioning of Cisco network devices. There are additional products for packet analysis, collaboration service monitoring and Network Packet Broker functionality.

Cisco’s newest offering is named Tetration, and it’s an agent-based analytics platform that uses data from the chips that run in Cisco’s latest Nexus switching gear to provide deep analytics of the application environment and network activity. Cisco offers many of these products through traditional license models and through new Cisco ONE subscription-based models.

Corvil

This Irish-based company is focused squarely on performance management, and has traditionally targeted its products at large financial services companies. One of the strengths of the product, Gartner says, short-time network monitoring, which is ideal for monitoring a large amount of activity happening at the same time. This is has appealed to financial service customers and is ideal for Internet of Things use cases that can generate spikes in network traffic. Gartner also notes that Corvil’s hardware-agnostic, software-only platform presents a relatively unique model in this industry.

ExtraHop

Seattle-based ExtraHop specializes in providing tools that help customers analyze IT operations and the health of their overall IT environment. Included in this scope are products geared specifically at monitoring and analyzing network behavior. Gartner says ExtraHop was one of the first companies to provide network visibility into public cloud providers like AWS and Azure. Gartner notes that often ExtraHop’s NPMD products are purchased with other ExtraHop IT operations tools, but rarely are they used as standalone NPMD products.

LiveAction

This Palo Alto-based venture-backed startup founded in 2007 is a close partner of Cisco’s that in recent years has built out a relatively full-featured network visibility and analytics product named LiveNX. Cisco resells LiveNX and offers support to mutual customers. LiveAction has another end user experience monitoring product named LiveUX. LiveAction’s products integrate closely with Cisco’s Nexus and Catalyst product lines. It also offers support for SD-WAN deployments and public cloud environments such as AWS and Azure. For non-Cisco environments, the company has a packet inspection component that can be installed to collect information. LiveAction received a $36 million Series B funding round in 2016, which included support from Cisco Investments.

NetScout

Gartner says that NetScout is the market share leader in network performance and visibility and lists the company in the “leaders” category of its Magic Quadrant. The company has a broad array of network monitoring products, including the nGeniusONE, Infinistream and UC Performance Management offerings. NetScout is one of the leading vendors for monitoring tools for hyperscale data centers, with its products supporting 40G and 100G Ethernet line rates.

Paessler

This German infrastructure monitoring software company in recent years has made an aggressive push to expand internationally and it has successfully done so with North America now representing its largest market. The company appeals mostly to mid-market and small and medium businesses, Gartner says, because it prioritizes simplified ease of use in its products. It releases a steady stream of new features and functionality on its platform too though, including recently adding monitoring for public cloud networks and more recently Docker containers.

Riverbed

Riverbed’s primary focus is on WAN optimization, but it has in recent years built out its network performance monitoring capabilities, including its SteelCentral Network Performance Management product line. Many of Riverbed’s network monitoring products are closely integrated with the company’s adjacent application performance management products. Last year Riverbed also bought Ocedo to enter the SD-WAN market.

SolarWinds

Gartner says SolarWinds’ core competency resides in infrastructure monitoring, and its relatively simplistic feature set usually relegate it to small and medium-sized organizations. SolarWinds’ NPMD products include Network Performance Monitor and NetFlow Traffic Analyzer. The company integrates these with its application performance management product line. The NPMD products work in hybrid-cloud environments, and it has support for end-user experience monitoring. SolarWinds was purchased by a private equity firm last year, which Gartner notes could make for an uncertain management future in the short to medium term.

Viavi

Viavi could be Gartner’s unsung hero of the NPMD market. The research firm lists the California-based company as a leader in its Magic Quadrant, but notes that the company has relatively poor name recognition after changing its name twice in the past five years (it was formerly Network Instruments and then Trendium). The company’s Observer Performance Management Platform is a solid set of NPMD products that provide visibility and analysis on both network and server traffic. It’s packet-based tool is integrated with some Cisco products and it recently partnered with ScienceLogic for monitoring hybrid cloud environments. It’s also recently been building out a channel partner network to extend its reach.  

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