The Network Design and Equipment Deployment Lifecycle

As we all know, technology has a life cycle of birth, early adoption, mainstream, and then obsoletion. Even the average consumer is very in touch with this lifecycle. However, within this overarching lifecycle there are “mini” lifecycles. One of these mini lifecycles that is particularly important to enterprises is the network design and equipment deployment lifecycle. This lifecycle is the basic roadmap of how equipment gets deployed within a company data network and key a topic of concern for IT personnel. While it’s its own lifecycle, it also aligns with the typical ITIL services of event management, incident management, IT operations management, and continual service improvement.

There are 5 primary stages to the network design and equipment deployment lifecycle: pre-deployment, installation and commissioning, assurance monitoring, troubleshooting, and decommissioning. I’ll disregard the decommissioning phase in this discussion as removing equipment is fairly straightforward. The other four phases are more interesting for the IT department.
The Network Design and Equipment Deployment LifecycleThe adjacent diagram shows a map of the four fundamental components within this lifecycle. The pre-deployment phase is typically concerned with lab verification of the equipment and/or point solution. During this phase, IT spends time and effort to ensure that the equipment/solution they are receiving will actually resolve the intended pain point.

During the installing and commissioning phase, the new equipment is installed, turned on, configured, connected to the network and validated to ensure that the equipment is functioning correctly. This is typically the least costly phase to find set-up problems. If those initial set-up problems are not caught and eliminated here, it is much harder and more costly to isolate those problems in the troubleshooting phase.

The assurance monitoring stage is the ongoing maintenance and administration phase. Equipment is monitored on an as-needed or routine basis (depending upon component criticality) to make sure that it’s functioning correctly. Just because alarms have not been triggered doesn’t mean the equipment is functioning optimally. Changes may have occurred in other equipment or the network that are propagating into other equipment downstream and causing problems. The assurance monitoring stage is often linked with proactive trend analysis, service level agreement validation, and quality of service inspections.

Troubleshooting is obviously the reactionary portion of the lifecycle devoted to fixing equipment and network problems so that the network can return to an optimized, steady state condition. Most IT personnel are extremely familiar with this stage as they battle equipment failures, security threats and network outages due to equipment problems and network programming changes.

Ixia understands this lifecycle well and it’s one of the reasons that it acquired Breaking Point and Anue Systems during 2012. We have capabilities to help the IT department in all four of the aspects of the network design and equipment deployment lifecycle. These tools and services are focused to directly attack key metrics for IT:

  • Decrease time-to-market for solutions to satisfy internal projects
  • Decrease mean-time-to-repair metrics
  • Decrease downtime metrics
  • Decrease security breach risks
  • Increase business competitiveness

The exact solution to achieve customer-desired results varies. Some simple examples include the following:

  • Using the NTO monitoring switch to give your monitoring tools the right information to gain the network visibility you need
  • Using the NTO simulator to test filtering and other changes before you deploy them on your network
  • Deploying the Ixia Storm product to assess your network security and also to simulate threats so that you can observe how your network will respond to security threats
  • Deploying various Ixia network testing tools (IxChariot, IxNetwork) to characterize the new equipment and network during the pre-deployment phase

Additional Resources:

Ixia Solutions

Network Monitoring

Related Products

Ixia Net Optics Network Taps Ixia Net Tool Optmizers
Ixia Network Tap
Ixia Net Optics network taps provide access for security and network management devices.
Net Tool Optimizers
Out-of-band traffic aggregation, filtering, dedup, load balancing

Thanks to Ixia for the article.

The State of Enterprise Security Resilience – An Ixia Research Report

Ixia, an international leader in application performance and security resilience technology, conducted a survey to better understand how network security resilience solutions and techniques are used within the modern enterprise. While information exists on security products and threats, very little is available on how it is actually being used and the techniques and technology to ensure that security is completely integrated into the corporate network structure. This report presents the research we uncovered.

During this survey, there were three areas of emphasis exploring security and visibility architectures. One portion of the survey focused on understanding the product types and use. The second area of emphasis was on understanding the processes in use. The final area of emphasis was on understanding the people components of typical architectures.

This report features several key findings that include the following:

  • Many enterprises and carriers are still highly vulnerable to the effects of a security breach. This is due to concerns with lack of following best practices, process issues, lack of awareness, and lack of proper technology.
  • Lack of knowledge, not cost, is the primary barrier to security improvements. However, typical annual spend on network security is less than $100K worldwide.
  • Security resilience approaches are growing in worldwide adoption. A primary contributor is the merge of visibility and security architectures. Additional data shows that life-cycle security methodologies and security resilience testing are also positive contributors.
  • The top two main security concerns for IT are data loss and malware attacks.

These four key findings confirm that while there are still clear dangers to network security in the enterprise, there is some hope for improvement. The severity of the risk has not gone away, but it appears that some are managing it with the right combination of investment in technology, training, and processes.

To read more, download the report here.

The State of Enterprise Security Resilience - An Ixia Research Report

Thanks to Ixia for the article.

Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees: Taps vs. SPAN

These days, your network is as important to your business as any other item—including your products. Whether your customers are internal or external, you need a dependable and secure network that grows with your business. Without one, you are dead in the water.

IT managers have a nearly impossible job. They must understand, manage, and secure the network all the time against all problems. Anything less than a 100 percent working network is a failure. There is a very familiar saying: Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Meaning don’t let the details prevent you from seeing the big picture. But what if the details ARE the big picture?

Today’s IT managers can’t miss the forest OR the trees!

Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees: Taps vs. SPAN

Network visibility is a prime tool in properly monitoring your network. You need an end-to-end visibility architecture to truly see your network. This visibility architecture must reveal both the big picture and the smallest details to present a true view of what is happening in the network.

The first building-block to your visibility architecture is access to the data. To efficiently monitor a network, you must have complete visibility into that network. This means being able to reliably capture 100% of the network traffic under all network conditions.

To achieve this, devices need to be installed into the network to capture that data using “taps” or Switch Port Analyzers (SPANs).

A tap is a passive splitting mechanism placed between two network devices. It provides a monitoring connection. Using taps, you can easily connect monitoring devices such as protocol analyzers, RMON probes and intrusion detection and prevention systems to the network. The tap duplicates all traffic on the link and forwards this to the monitoring device. Any monitoring device connected to a tap receives the same traffic as if it were in-line. This includes all errors. Taps do not introduce delay, or alter the content or structure of the data. They also fail open so that traffic continues to flow between network devices, even if you remove a monitoring device or power to the device is lost.

A SPAN port – also known as a mirroring port – is a function of one or more ports on a switch in the network. Like a tap, monitoring devices can also be attached to this SPAN port.

So what are the advantages of taps vs SPAN?

  • A tap captures everything on the wire, including MAC and media errors. A SPAN port will drop those packets.
  • A tap is unaffected by bandwidth saturation. A SPAN port cannot handle heavily used full-duplex links without dropping packets.
  • A tap is simple to install. A SPAN port requires an engineer to configure the switch or switches.
  • A tap is not an addressable network device. It cannot be hacked. SPAN ports leave you vulnerable.
  • A tap doesn’t require you to dedicate a switch port to monitoring. It frees the monitoring port up for switching traffic.

Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees: Taps vs. SPAN

Thanks to Ixia for the article.

Ixia Taps into Visibility, Access and Security in 4G/LTE

The Growing Impact of Social Networking Trends on Lawful Interception

Ixia Taps into Visibility, Access and Security in 4G/LTELawful Interception (LI) is the legal process by which a communications network operator or Service Provider (SP) gives authorized officials access to the communications of individuals or organizations. With security threats mushrooming in new directions, LI is more than ever a priority and major focus of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs). Regulations such as the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), mandate that SPs place their resources at the service of these agencies to support surveillance and interdiction of individuals or groups.

CALEA makes Lawful Interception a priority mission for Service Providers as well as LEA; its requirements make unique demands and mandate specific equipment to carry out its high-stakes activities. This paper explores requirements and new solutions for Service Provider networks in performing Lawful Interception.

A Fast-Changing Environment Opens New Doors to Terrorism and Crime

In the past, Lawful Interception was simpler and more straightforward because it was confined to traditional voice traffic. Even in the earlier days of the Internet, it was still possible to intercept a target’s communication data fairly easily.

Now, as electronic communications take on new forms and broaden to a potential audience of billions, data volumes are soaring, and the array of service offerings is growing apace. Lawful Interception Agencies and Service Providers are racing to thwart terrorists and other criminals who have the technological expertise and determination to carry out their agendas and evade capture. This challenge will only intensify with the rising momentum of change in communication patterns.

Traffic patterns have changed: In the past it was easier to identify peer-to-peer applications or chat using well known port numbers. In order to evade LI systems, the bad guys had to work harder. Nowadays, most applications use Ixia Taps into Visibility, Access and Security in 4G/LTE standard HTTP and in most cases SSL to communicate. This puts an extra burden on LI systems that must identify overall more targets on larger volumes of data with fewer filtering options.

Social Networking in particular is pushing usage to exponential levels, and today’s lawbreakers have a growing range of sophisticated, encrypted communication channels to exploit. With the stakes so much higher, Service Providers need robust, innovative resources that can contend with a widening field of threats. This interception technology must be able to collect volume traffic and handle data at unprecedented high speeds and with pinpoint security and reliability.

LI Strategies and Goals May Vary, but Requirements Remain Consistent

Today, some countries are using nationwide interception systems while others only dictate policies that providers need to follow. While regulations and requirements vary from country to country, organizations such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have developed technical parameters for LI to facilitate the work of LEAs. The main functions of any LI solution are to access Interception-Related Information (IRI) and Content of Communication (CC) from the telecommunications network and to deliver that information in a standardized format via the handover interface to one or more monitoring centers of law enforcement agencies.

High-performance switching capabilities, such as those offered by the Ixia Director™ family of solutions, should map to following LI standards in order to be effective: They must be able to isolate suspicious voice, video, or data streams for an interception, based on IP address, MAC address or other parameters. The device must also be able to carry out filtering at wire speed. Requirements for supporting Lawful Interception activities include:

  • The ability to intercept all applicable communications of a certain target without gaps in coverage, including dropped packets, where missing encrypted characters may render a message unreadable or incomplete
  • Total visibility into network traffic at any point in the communication stream
  • Adequate processing speed to match network bandwidth
  • Undetectability, unobtrusiveness, and lack of performance degradation (a red flag to criminals and terrorists on alert for signs that they have been intercepted)
  • Real-time monitoring capabilities, because time is of the essence in preventing a crime or attack and in gathering evidence
  • The ability to provide intercepted information to the authorities in the agreed-upon handoff format
  • Load sharing and balancing of traffic that is handed to the LI system .

From the perspective of the network operator or Service Provider, the primary obligations and requirements for developing and deploying a lawful interception solution include:

  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Minimal impact on network infrastructure
  • Compatibility and compliance
  • Support for future technologies
  • Reliability and security

Ixia’s Comprehensive Range of Solutions for Lawful Interception

This Ixia customer, (the “Service Provider”), is a 4G/LTE pioneer that relies on Ixia solutions. Ixia serves the LI architecture by providing the access part of an LI solution in the form of Taps and switches. These contribute functional flexibility and can be configured as needed in many settings. Both the Ixia Director solution family and the iLink Agg™ solution can aggregate a group of links in traffic and pick out conversations with the same IP address pair from any of the links.

Following are further examples of Ixia products that can form a vital element of a successful LI initiative:

Test access ports, or Taps, are devices used by carriers and others to meet the capability requirements of CALEA legislation. Ixia is a global leader in the range and capabilities of its Taps, which provide permanent, passive access points to the physical stream.

Ixia Taps reside in both carrier and enterprise infrastructures to perform network monitoring and to improve both network security and efficiency. These inline devices provide permanent, passive access points to the physical stream. The passive characteristic of Taps means that network data is not affected whether the Tap is powered or not. As part of an LI solution, Taps have proven more useful than Span ports. If Law Enforcement Agencies must reconfigure a switch to send the right conversations to the Span port every time intercept is required, a risk arises of misconfiguring the switch and connections. Also, Span ports drop packets—another significant monitoring risk, particularly in encryption.

Director xStream™ and iLink Agg xStream™ enable deployment of an intelligent, flexible and efficient monitoring access platform for 10G networks. Director xStream’s unique TapFlow™ filtering technology enables LI to focus on select traffic of interest for each tool based on protocols, IP addresses, ports, and VLANs. The robust engineering of Director xStream and iLink Agg xStream enables a pool of 10G and 1G tools to be deployed across a large number of 10G network links, with remote, centralized control of exactly which traffic streams are directed to each tool. Ixia xStream solutions enable law enforcement entities to view more traffic with fewer monitoring tools as well as relieving oversubscribed 10G monitoring tools. In addition, law enforcement entities can share tools and data access among groups without contention and centralize data monitoring in a network operations center.

Director Pro™ and Director xStream Pro data monitoring switches offers law enforcement the ability to perform better pre-filtering via Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and to hone in on a specific phone number or credit card number. Those products differs from other platforms that might have the ability to seek data within portions of the packet thanks to a unique ability to filter content or perform pattern matching with hardware and in wire speed potentially to Layer 7. Such DPI provides the ability to apply filters to a packet or multiple packets at any location, regardless of packet length or how “deep” the packet is; or to the location of the data to be matched within this packet. A DPI system is totally independent of the packet.

Thanks to Ixia for the article.

Campus to Cloud Network Visibility

Visibility. Network visibility. Simple terms that are thrown around quite a bit today. But the reality isn’t quite so simple. Why?

Scale for one. It’s simple to maintain visibility for a small network. But large corporate or enterprise networks? That’s another story altogether. Visibility solutions for these large networks have to scale from one end of the network to the other end – from the campus and branch office edge to the data center and/or private cloud. Managing and troubleshooting performance issues demands that we maintain visibility from the user to application and every step or hop in between.

So deploying a visibility architecture or design from campus to cloud requires scale. When I say scale, I mean scale on multiple layers – 5 layers to be exact – product, portfolio, design, management, and support. Let’s look at each one briefly.

Product Scale

Building an end-to-end visibility architecture for an enterprise network requires products that can scale to the total aggregate traffic from across the entire network, and filter that traffic for distribution to the appropriate monitoring and visibility tools. This specifically refers to network packet brokers that can aggregate traffic from 1GE, 10GE, 40GE, and even 100GE links. But it is more than just I/O. These network packet brokers have to have capacity that scales – meaning they have to operate at wire rate – and provide a completely non-blocking architecture whether they exist in a fixed port configuration or a modular- or chassis-based configuration.

Portfolio Scale

Building an end-to-end visibility architecture for an enterprise network also requires a portfolio that can scale. This means a full portfolio selection of network taps, virtual taps, inline bypass switches, out-of-band network packet brokers, inline network packet brokers, and management. Without these necessary components, your designs are limited and your future flexibility is limited.

Design Scale

Building an end-to-end visibility architecture for an enterprise network also requires a set of reference designs or frameworks that can scale. IT organizations expect their partners to provide solutions and not simply product – partners that can provide architectures or design frameworks that solve the most pressing challenges that IT is grappling with on a regular basis.

Management Scale

Building an end-to-end visibility architecture for an enterprise network requires management scale. Management scale is pretty much self-explanatory – a management solution that can manage the entire portfolio of products used in the overall design framework. However, it goes beyond that. Management requires integration. Look for designs that can also integrate easily into existing data center management infrastructures. Look for designs that allow automated service or application provisioning. Automation can really help to provide management scalability.

Support Scale

Building and supporting an end-to-end visibility architecture for an enterprise network requires support services that scale, both in skills sets and geography. Skill sets implies that deployment services and technical support personnel understand more than simply product, but that they understand the environments in which these visibility architectures operate as well. And obviously support services must be 24 x 7 and cover deployments globally.

So, if you’re looking to build an end-to-end visibility solution for your enterprise network, consider the scalability of the solution you’re considering. Consider scale in every sense of the word, not simply product scale. Deploying campus to cloud visibility requires scale from product, to portfolio, to design, to management, to support.

Additional Resources:

Ixia network visibility solutions

Ixia network packet brokers

Thanks to Ixia for the article.

NTO Now Provides Twice the Network Visibility

Ixia is proud to announce that we are expanding one of the key capabilities in Ixia xStream platforms, “Double Your Ports,” to our Net Tool Optimizers (NTO) family of products. As of our 4.3 release, this capability to double the number of network and monitor inputs is now available on the NTO platform. If you are not familiar with Double Your Ports, it is a feature that allows you to add additional network or tool ports to your existing NTO by allowing different devices to share a single port. For example, if you have used all of the ports on your NTO but want to add a new tap, you can enable Double Your Ports so that a Net Optics Tap and a monitoring tool can share the same port, utilizing both the RX and TX sides of the port. This is how it works:

Standard Mode

In the standard mode, the ports will behave in a normal manner: when there is a link connection on the RX, the TX will operate. When the RX is not connected, the system assumes the TX link is also not connected (down).

Loopback Mode

When you designate a port to be loopback, the data egressing on the TX side will forward directly to the RX side of the same port. This functionality does not require a loopback cable to be plugged into the port. The packets will not transmit outside of the device even if a cable is connected.

Simplex Mode

When you designate a port to be in simplex mode, the port’s TX state is not dependent on the RX state. In the standard mode, when the RX side of the port goes down, the TX side is disabled. If you assign a port mode to simplex, the TX state is up when there is a link on the TX even when there is no link on the RX. You could use a simplex cable to connect a TX of port A to an RX of port B. If port A is in simplex mode, the TX will transmit even when the port A RX is not connected.

To “double your ports” you switch the port into simplex mode, then use simplex fiber cables and connect the TX fiber to a security or monitoring tool and the RX fiber to a tap or switch SPAN port. On NTO, the AFM ports such as the AFM 16 support simplex mode allowing you to have 32 connections per module: 16 network inputs and 16 monitor outputs simultaneously (with advanced functions on up to 16 of those connections). The Ixia xStream’s 24 ports can be used as 48 connections: 24 network inputs and 24 monitor outputs simultaneously.

The illustration below shows the RX and TX links of two AFM ports on the NTO running in simplex mode. The first port’s RX is receiving traffic from the Network Tap and the TX is transmitting to a monitoring tool.

The other port (right hand side on NTO) is interconnected to the Network Tap with its RX using a simplex cable whereas its TX is unused (dust-cap installed).

With any non-Ixia solution, this would have taken up three physical ports on the packet broker. With Ixia’s NTO and xStream packet brokers we are able to double up the traffic and save a port for this simple configuration, with room to add another monitoring tool where the dust plug is shown. If you expand this across many ports you can double your ports in the same space!

NTO Now Provides Twice the Network Visibility

Click here to learn more about Ixia’s Net Tool Optimizer family of products.

Additional Resources:

Ixia xStream

Ixia NTO solution

Ixia AFM

Solution Focus Category

Network Visibility

Thanks to Ixia for the article.


Cost-Effective Monitoring for Multi-Device Copper Networks is Here!

Cost-Effective Monitoring for Multi-Device Copper Networks is Here!

Proper access is the core component of any visibility architecture—you need to be able to capture the data before you can properly analyze it. To further help our customers, Ixia has released a new regenerator tap for copper networks. Regeneration means you get the same clean copy of incoming data distributed to multiple output ports in real time.

The Ixia Net Optics Regeneration Taps solve the key physical layer challenges of multi-device monitoring for 10, 100, and 1000MB (1 GbE) copper networks. Up to 16 devices can be connected to a single regenerator tap. This helps IT maximize resources and save on access points because multiple devices can monitor link traffic simultaneously through one cost-effective tap. Secure, passive access for many devices will deliver a superior return on your monitoring investments.

The regeneration tap is perfect for simple out-of-band access or when you need in-line monitoring. Once you have the proper data, it can then be forwarded to a packet broker for filtering or sent on directly to monitoring tools.

To get more details on the on this new product offering, visit the Ixia Copper Regenerator Tap product page.

Additional Resources:

Ixia Copper Regenerator Taps

Solution Focus Category

Network Visibility

Thanks to Ixia for the article.

How Not to Rollout New Ideas, or How I Learned to Love Testing

How Not to Rollout New Ideas, or How I Learned to Love TestingI was recently reading an article in TechCrunch titled “The Problem With The Internet Of Things,” where the author lamented how bad design or rollout of good ideas can kill promising markets. In his example, he discussed how turning on the lights in a room, through the Internet of Things (IoT), became a five step process rather than the simple one step process we currently use (the light switch).

This illustrates the problem between the grand idea, and the practicality of the market: it’s awesome to contemplate a future where exciting technology impacts our lives, but only if the realities of everyday use are taken into account. As he effectively state, “Smart home technology should work with the existing interfaces of households objects, not try to change how we use them.”

Part of the problem is that the IoT is still just a nebulous concept. Its everyday implications haven’t been worked out. What does it mean when all of our appliances, communications, and transportation are connected? How will they work together? How will we control and manage them? Details about how the users of exciting technology will actually participate in the experience is the actual driver of technology success. And too often, this aspect is glossed over or ignored.

And, once everything is connected, will those connections be a door for malware or hacktivists to bypass security?

Part of the solution to getting new technology to customers in a meaningful way, that is both a quality end user experience AND a profitable model for the provider, is network validation and optimization. Application performance and security resilience are key when rolling out, providing, integrating or securing new technology.

What do we mean by these terms? Well:

  • Application performance means we enable successful deployments of applications across our customers’ networks
  • Security resilience means we make sure customer networks are resilient to the growing security threats across the IT landscape

Companies deploying applications and network services—in a physical, virtual, or hybrid network configuration—need to do three things well:

  • Validate. Customers need to validate their network architecture to ensure they have a well-designed network, properly provisioned, with the right third party equipment to achieve their business goals.
  • Secure. Customers must secure their network performance against all the various threat scenarios—a threat list that grows daily and impacts their end users, brand, and profitability.

(Just over last Thanksgiving weekend, Sony Pictures was hacked and five of its upcoming pictures leaked online—with the prime suspect being North Korea!)

  • Optimize. Customers seek network optimization by obtaining solutions that give them 100% visibility into their traffic—eliminating blind spots. They must monitor applications traffic and receive real-time intelligence in order to ensure the network is performing as expected.

Ixia helps customers address these pain points, and achieve their networking goals every day, all over the world. This is the exciting part of our business.

When we discuss solutions with customers, no matter who they are— Bank of America, Visa, Apple, NTT—they all do three things the same way in their networks:

  • Design—Envision and plan the network that meets their business needs
  • Rollout—Deploy network upgrades or updated functionality
  • Operate—Keep the production network seamlessly providing a quality experience

These are the three big lifecycle stages for any network design, application rollout, security solution, or performance design. Achieving these milestones successfully requires three processes:

  • Validate—Test and confirm design meets expectations
  • Secure— Assess the performance and security in real-world threat scenarios
  • Optimize— Scale for performance, visibility, security, and expansion

So when it comes to new technology and new applications of that technology, we are in an amazing time—evidenced by the fact that nine billion devices will be connected to the Internet in 2018. Examples of this include Audio Video Bridging, Automotive Ethernet, Bring Your Own Apps (BYOA), etc. Ixia sees only huge potential. Ixia is a first line defense to creating the kind of quality customer experience that ensures satisfaction, brand excellence, and profitability.

Additional Resources:

Article: The Problem With The Internet Of Things

Ixia visibility solutions

Ixia security solutions

Thanks to Ixia for the article.

Visibility Architectures Enable Real-Time Network Vigilance

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog on how to use a network lifecycle approach to improve your network security. I wanted to come back and revisit this as I’ve had a few people ask me why the visibility architecture is so important. They had (incorrectly, IMO) been told by others to just focus on the security architecture and everything else would work out fine.

The reason you need a visibility architecture in place is because if you are attacked, or breached, how will you know? During a DDoS attack you will most likely know because of website performance problems, but most for most of the other attacks how will you know?

This is actually a common problem. The 2014 Trustwave Global Security Report stated that 71% of compromised victims did not detect the breach themselves—they had no idea and attack had happened. The report also went on to say that the median number of days from initial intrusion to detection was 87! So most companies never detected the breach on their own (they had to be told by law enforcement, a supplier, customer, or someone else), and it took almost 3 months after the breach for that notification to happen. This doesn’t sound like the optimum way to handle network security to me.

The second benefit of a visibility architecture is faster remediation once you discover that you have been breached. In fact, some Ixia customers have seen an up to 80% reduction in their mean time to repair performance due to implementing a proper visibility architecture. If you can’t see the threat, how are you going to respond to it?

A visibility architecture is the way to solve these problems. Once you combine the security architecture with the visibility architecture, you equip yourself with the necessary tools to properly visualize and diagnose the problems on your network. But what is a visibility architecture? It’s a set of components and practices that allow you to “see” and understand what is happening in your network.

The basis of a visibility architecture starts with creating a plan. Instead of just adding components as you need them at sporadic intervals (i.e., crisis points), step back and take a larger view of where you are and what you want to achieve. This one simple act will save you time, money and energy in the long run.

Ixia's Network Visibility Architecture

The actual architecture starts with network access points. These can be either taps or SPAN ports. Taps are traditionally better because they don’t have the time delays, summarized data, duplicated data, and the hackability that are inherent within SPAN ports. However, there is a problem if you try to connect monitoring tools directly to a tap. Those tools become flooded with too much data which overloads them, causing packet loss and CPU overload. It’s basically like drinking from a fire hose for the monitoring tools.

This is where the next level of visibility solutions, network packet brokers, enter the scene. A network packet broker (also called an NPB, packet broker, or monitoring switch) can be extremely useful. These devices filter traffic to send only the right data to the right tool. Packets are filtered at the layer 2 through layer 4 level. Duplicate packets can also be removed and sensitive content stripped before the data is sent to the monitoring tools if that is required as well. This then provides a better solution to improve the efficiency and utility of your monitoring tools.

Access and NPB products form the infrastructure part of the visibility architecture, and focus on layer 2 through 4 of the OSI model. After this are the components that make up the application intelligence layer of a visibility architecture, providing application-aware and session-aware visibility. This capability allows filtering and analysis further up the stack at the application layer, (layer 7). This is only available in certain NPBs. Depending upon your needs, it can be quite useful as you can collect the following information:

  • Types of applications running on your network
  • Bandwidth each application is consuming
  • Geolocation of application usage
  • Device types and browsers in use on your network
  • Filter data to monitoring tools based upon the application type

These capabilities can give you quick access to information about your network and help to maximize the efficiency of your tools.

These layer 7 application oriented components provide high-value contextual information about what is happening with your network. For example, this type of information can be used to generate the following benefits:

  • Maximize the efficiency of current monitoring tools to reduce costs
  • Gather rich data about users and applications to offer a better Quality of Experience for users
  • Provide fast, easy to use capabilities to spot check for security & performance problems

Ixia's Network Visibility Architecture

And then, of course, there are the management components that provide control of the entire visibility architecture: everything from global element management, to policy and configuration management, to data center automation and orchestration management. Engineering flexible management for network components will be a determining factor in how well your network scales.

Visibility is critical to this third stage (the production network) of your network’s security lifecycle that I referred to in my last blog. (You can view a webinar on this topic if you want.) This phase enables the real-time vigilance you will need to keep your network protected.

As part of your visibility architecture plan, you should investigate and be able to answer these three questions.

  1. Do you want to be proactive and aggressively stop attacks in real-time?
  2. Do you actually have the personnel and budget to be proactive?
  3. Do you have a “honey pot” in place to study attacks?

Depending upon those answers, you will have the design of your visibility architecture. As you can see from the list below, there are several different options that can be included in your visibility architecture.

  • In-line components
  • Out-of-band components
  • Physical and virtual data center components
  • Layer 7 application filtering
  • Packet broker automation
  • Monitoring tools

In-line and/or out-of-band security and monitoring components will be your first big decision. Hopefully everybody is familiar with in-line monitoring solutions. In case you aren’t, an in-line (also called bypass) tap is placed in-line in the network to allow access for security and monitoring tools. It should be placed after the firewall but before any equipment. The advantage of this location is that should a threat make it past the firewall, that threat can be immediately diverted or stopped before it has a chance to compromise the network. The tap also needs to have heartbeat capability and the ability to fail closed so that should any problems occur with the device, no data is lost downstream. After the tap, a packet broker can be installed to help traffic to the tools. Some taps have this capability integrated into them. Depending upon your need, you may also want to investigate taps that support High Availability options if the devices are placed into mission critical locations. After that, a device (like an IPS) is inserted into the network.

In-line solutions are great, but they aren’t for everyone. Some IT departments just don’t have enough personnel and capabilities to properly use them. But if you do, these solutions allow you to observe and react to anomalies and problems in real-time. This means you can stop an attack right away or divert it to a honeypot for further study.

The next monitoring solution is an out-of-band configuration. These solutions are located further downstream within the network than the in-line solutions. The main purpose of this type of solution is to capture data post event. Depending whether interfaces are automated or not, it is possible to achieve near real-time capabilities—but they won’t be completely real-time like the in-line solutions are.

Nevertheless, out-of-band solutions have some distinct and useful capabilities. The solutions are typically less risky, less complicated, and less expensive than in-line solutions. Another benefit of this solution is that it gives your monitoring tools more analysis time. Data recorders can capture information and then send that information to forensic, malware and/or log management tools for further analysis.

Do you need to consider monitoring for your virtual environments as well as your physical ones? Virtual taps are an easy way to gain access to vital visibility information in the virtual data center. Once you have the data, you can forward it on to a network packet broker and then on to the proper monitoring tools. The key here is apply “consistent” policies for your virtual and physical environments. This allows for consistent monitoring policies, better troubleshooting of problems, and better trending and performance information.

Other considerations are whether you want to take advantage of automation capabilities, and do you need layer 7 application information? Most monitoring solutions only deliver layer 2 through 4 packet data, so layer 7 data could be very useful (depending upon your needs).

Application intelligence can be a very powerful tool. This tool allows you to actually see application usage on a per-country, per-state, and per-neighborhood basis. This gives you the ability to observe suspicious activities. For instance, maybe an FTP server is sending lots of files from the corporate office to North Korea or Eastern Europe—and you don’t have any operations in those geographies. The application intelligence functionality lets you see this in real time. It won’t solve the problem for you, but it will let you know that the potential issue exists so that you can make the decision as to what you want to do.

Another example is that you can conduct an audit for security policy infractions. For instance, maybe your stated process is for employees to use Outlook for email. You’ve then installed anti-malware software on a server to inspect all incoming attachments before they are passed onto users. With an application intelligence product, you can actually see if users are connecting to other services (maybe Gmail or Dropbox) and downloading files through that application. This practice would bypass your standard process and potentially introduce a security risk to your network. Application intelligence can also help identify compromised devices and malicious botnet activities through Command and Control communications.

Automation capability allows network packet brokers to be automated to initiate functions (e.g., apply filters, add connections to more tools, etc.) in response to external commands. This automation allows a switch/controller to make real-time adjustments to suspicious activities or problems within the data network. The source of the command could be a network management system (NMS), provisioning system, security information and event management (SIEM) tool or some other management tool on your network that interacts with the NPB.

Automation for network monitoring will become critical over the next several years, especially as more of the data center is automated. The reasons for this are plain: how do you monitor your whole network at one time? How do you make it scale? You use automation capabilities to perform this scaling for you and provide near real-time response capabilities for your network security architecture.

Finally, you need to pick the right monitoring tools to support your security and performance needs. This obviously depends the data you need and want to analyze.

The life-cycle view discussed previously provides a cohesive architecture that can maximize the benefits of visibility like the following:

  • Decrease MTTR up to 80% with faster analysis of problems
  • Monitor your network for performance trends and issues
  • Improve network and monitoring tool efficiencies
  • Application filtering can save bandwidth and tool processing cycles
  • Automation capabilities, which can provide a faster response to anomalies without user administration
  • Scale network tools faster

Once you integrate your security and visibility architectures, you will be able to optimize your network in the following ways:

  • Better data to analyze security threats
  • Better operational response capabilities against attacks
  • The application of consistent monitoring and security policies

Remember, the key is that by integrating the two architectures you’ll be able to improve your root cause analysis. This is not just for security problems but all network anomalies and issues that you encounter.

Additional Resources

Thanks to Ixia for the article. 

Application Performance Monitoring

Your network infrastructure exists for one reason: to deliver the services and applications that matter to your customers who demand access now, without interruption. Anything that affects your ability to reach customers has a serious impact on your bottom line.

High-quality application performance requires real-time awareness of what’s happening on the network. Network operators need to monitor, analyze, and report on transactions throughout the IT environment—whether physical, virtual, or in the cloud—to identify issues quickly and resolve problems before they disrupt critical services. This means understanding dependencies between applications and the network, being alerted to issues before business is affected, and accelerating troubleshooting.

For most businesses, network performance must now be evaluated and managed from an application perspective. To accomplish this, you need innovative transaction performance management capabilities that help prioritize problem resolution according to business impact.

Ixia Application Performance Monitoring (APM)

Ixia offers a spectrum of intelligent APM capabilities that work with monitoring devices to capture and analyze network traffic in a scalable solution. Ixia APM solutions accurately, efficiently, and non-disruptively direct out-of-band network traffic from multiple access points, whether SPAN ports or TAPs, to the monitoring device for analysis. The result is application awareness that dramatically raises network performance, availability, and security.

Ixia APM enables

Full network visibility. Ixia’s APM solutions deliver all required traffic from anywhere in the network to the monitoring tools, allowing fully 100 percent of traffic to be monitored and analyzed.

  • Simplified deployment. Flexible enough to work in any network environment, Ixia’s APM shares access with deployed monitoring and security tools.
  • Streamlined scalability. Ixia’s APM allows you to add 1GE, 10GE, 40GE, or 100GE ports, with filters dynamically adjusted to meet bandwidth requirements.
  • Effective security. Ixia’s APM automatically directs traffic as needed to a centralized “farm” of cost effective, high-capacity security tools to monitor distributed buildings and network segments. Traffic of interest is returned to the security tool farm for inspection.
  • Advanced Automation. Ixia’s APM solutions automatically respond in real time to network events that have an impact on applications, including event recording, security analysis, and traffic redirection. This capability improves application performance and availability.

Highlights of Ixia APM

Ixia’s APM’s advanced filtering capabilities work easily with your own monitoring systems across a range of applications. Additionally, our APM performs:

  • Load-balancing of traffic across multiple monitoring input ports
  • Dynamic tightening of filters as needed to ensure that key transactions are always analyzed when total traffic spikes over 10Gbps
  • Traffic redirecting among multiple monitoring appliances on a network to provide high availability
  • Packet capture on demand, based upon NMS/SIEM alerts

Related Products


Ixia NTO-7300 Net Optics Network Taps Net Optics Phantom Virtualization Tap
Net Tool Optimizers
Out-of-band traffic aggregation, filtering, dedup, load balancing
Net Optics Network Taps
Passive network access for security and monitoring tools
Phantom Virtualization Tap
Passive network access to traffic passing between VMs

Thanks to Ixia for the article.