What is Network Performance Monitoring (NPM)?

Learn about Network Performance Monitoring (NPM) and Management in this comprehensive guide. Understand how NPM empowers internal IT teams to proactively ensure network reliability and optimize the user experience.

Also referred to as Network Performance Management, NPM is defined as the practice of measuring, analyzing, and optimizing the quality of service over a network, from the end user’s perspective. NPM is achieved using troubleshooting tools that can monitor network health, the applications running over the network, and the end-user experience of the actual users. 

Network Performance Monitoring solutions process and analyze diverse datasets, including flow data, syslog data, packet-based metadata, and infrastructure metrics. With real-time and forensic data, network administrators can efficiently manage daily operations and monitor trends to optimize performance. 

Why is the complexity of Network Performance Monitoring and Management growing? 

Network monitoring faces challenges due to the increasing remote user access, the rise of hybrid IT environments, and the specific inclusion of cloud-hosted assets. The complexity is compounded by innovations like server virtualization and software-defined networking (SDN). As control functions transition to secure access service edge (SASE) architecture, monitoring practices need rapid adaptation.

  • Network tiers and hosting locations continue to multiply. With applications and computing services no longer limited to on-premises deployment, multiple cloud and external geographic locations overlap with traditional local deployments. 
  • Remote users and work-from-home (WFH) users create visibility challenges by accessing network resources from outside the enterprise environment. And often the remote user bypasses the traditional data center entirely connecting directly to cloud-based applications.
  • Growing complexity has led to the progressive and customizable approach to Network Performance Monitoring and Management that brings big data analytics, machine learning, innovative software solutions, and cloud computing into the fold. 
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) brings convenient, cloud-based delivery of application software, configuration services, and automated software updates to consumers and businesses. SaaS benefits customers through ease of deployment and advanced, cloud-based security features. 

According to the VIAVI Solutions 2023 State of the Network Global Study, (SOTN) Network Performance Monitoring and Management understanding end-user experience emerged as the top monitoring objective, surpassing other metrics. 70% considered it "very important" across various IT areas, emphasizing the need to prioritize end-user experience intelligence for enhanced monitoring effectiveness. Despite the disruptive challenges of 2020, the survey reveals that IT teams have adapted to managing end-user experience in today’s work-from-home paradigm. 

Nonetheless, the primary challenge for IT teams remains isolating the source of issues, known as problem domain isolation. This persists despite progress in monitoring tools and KPIs, primarily due to factors like IT staffing, evolving service delivery methods, and underlying technologies. 

Since its introduction with VoIP in the late '90s, the real-time nature of unified communications (UC) has consistently challenged IT network teams. The introduction of video and collaboration tools has compounded these challenges, as evident in the latest SOTN survey results. A comparison of findings from 2018 to 2022 highlights that IT teams are dedicating more time to troubleshooting, with nearly 50 percent spending between 10 and 20 hours per week on this task. The data reveals that NetOps teams are under greater stress in this regard compared to SecOps and DevOps. 

How Can Network Performance Monitoring and Management solutions aid in troubleshooting? 

Perceived slow applications, outages, poor UC quality, and intermittent problems are among the issues most often reported by end-users. The benefits of NPM lie in accurately identifying the root cause associated with these symptoms which improves mean-time-to-innocence (MTTI), mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) and the overall end-user experience. The VIAVI SOTN report identifies the top concern for troubleshooting is “Understanding the impact of the problem for proper prioritization,” as indicated by over 15% of the respondents. Domain isolation (network/client/server/application) remains a persistent challenge. To address these issues effectively, IT teams require timely, well-formatted information and workflows. 

  • Diagnostic and analytics capabilities of NPM solutions enable automated troubleshooting and analysis for performance or security issues. 
  • Pre-defined alerts based on performance level thresholds are an essential NPM tool used to increase awareness of issues before they reach critical (blackout) levels of performance degradation. 
  • Problem remediation can be accelerated by the capture and unfiltered long-term storage of all packet and flow data (i.e., NetFlow, IPFIX, etc.) along with syslog and active directory (AD) information. 
  • Data retention and advanced analytics enable IT teams to conduct post-event forensic analysis of extensive traffic, pinpointing the timing of performance or security incidents. Think of it as an “always-on” video security system for your network. 

Technological innovation, strategic cloud migration, and digital transformation are among the common organizational objectives that require highly focused and agile IT teams to remain competitive. This creates challenges for many CIO’s in creating the appropriate balance between business innovation and operational excellence. A comprehensive Network Performance Monitoring and Management solution supports operational performance and efficiency, allowing IT teams to focus on digital innovation and proactive changes. 

  • Daily operational management, mitigation of risks from planned and unplanned events, and the investigation and resolution of performance problems are also part of this multi-layered approach. 
  • Enterprise-wide situational awareness and real-time observability into network health. This enhanced visibility is essential for the risk mitigation of network growth and unexpected events. 

Previously, administrators focused on monitoring baseline network performance, but baseline monitoring is no longer sufficient. The overall focus on operational excellence has many facets, each contributing to ongoing availability, performance, and security. 

  • Solve Problems Faster: With ongoing NPM in place, especially when also monitoring the end-user experience, you WILL solve performance problems faster and maintain a highly efficient environment for your end-users. KPI metrics such as mean-time-to-innocence (MTTI) (problem domain isolation) and mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) (fix it faster) will decrease substantially as your NPM system and processes mature. 
  • Mitigate Risk/Minimize the Impact of Change: If you are making major changes such as migrating to the cloud, rolling out a new application, or consolidating data centers it is very important to measure and understand performance before and after the change. Now your NPM system becomes a revenue vs. cost center. You can measure and report KPI’s and the end-user experience before and after a major network architecture change event. 
  • Increase the Impact of Capital Expenditures: When looking to improve performance it’s important to understand where best to spend capital dollars. Is adding additional bandwidth the answer or is it better to add more servers to a cluster? You can use your NPM system to identify the domains responsible for the biggest aspects of poor performance and then utilize your capital dollars more wisely to improve performance.

What are the three key capabilities of a Network Performance Monitoring and Management solution? 

  • End-User Experience Monitoring: The most essential of these capabilities is an accurate and timely understanding of the end-user experience. With over 40% of problems first reported by users, the end-user experience score is a highly valuable metric. Adaptive intelligence is used to monitor network conditions and interpret inputs from the user perspective. Machine learning is used to identify and assess the impact of events on end-users and determine their scope and cause. Both improved MTTI and MTTR are the results of domain-isolating end-user experience monitoring. Read more about our patented End-User Experience Scoring. 
  • Full-Forensic Data: The second key Network Performance Monitoring and Management capability is the availability of full-forensic data for investigations. This includes enriched-flow records, which provide historical information about applications, devices, and traffic patterns, along with packet-level data offering a more detailed level of file and URL information. Troubleshooting success is built upon the capture and retention of all transactions, events, and network conversations through high-capacity forensic capabilities. 
  • Streamlined Workflows: The third key capability of a robust NPM solution is the inclusion of streamlined, automated workflows to quickly bridge the gap between problem identification and root cause. When problems are reported, IT teams rely on out-of-the-box workflows that accurately score the end-user impact and harness available forensic data to diagnose and resolve the issue. 

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