Home Healthcare Provider Brings Distributed Locations Into Focus With AppNeta
by Christine Cignoli on

  • IT ROLE: Network engineer for branch and wireless services
  • NEEDS: Monitoring 500 remote locations with a small, centralized IT team
  • RESULTS: Finding provider issues; creating network performance baselines

We talked recently with a customer who runs AppNeta at a large and growing healthcare provider. This network engineer has just one other colleague helping to manage and monitor 500 locations around the U.S. There isn’t IT staff at the distributed locations, the needs of those locations vary widely, and voice apps are particularly important. The network engineer is a tier 4 support engineer, which means the user issues he handles are typically new, important problems for which there isn’t knowledgebase documentation.

AppNeta Brings Results and Overall Better Performance

The healthcare provider has found some excellent results since deploying AppNeta, notably:

1. Enforcing promised QoS policies. The company’s ISP promised a unique QoS profile with their MPLS network, but wasn’t getting the network performance they were expecting. Using AppNeta, the network team could see into the provider’s cloud and retrieve the QoS policy and bandwidth reports on those networks. They saw that the provider had an automation error in the QoS policies, so that their network traffic was running in the same bucket with other customers (who had their own QoS policies).

It took a few tries with provider support to make them understand where the issue lay. “We had the hard data to say, ‘No, this is what it is,’” says the network engineer. “Other customers had complained, but we were able to prove it.”

The networking team could even pinpoint the affected devices using AppNeta, and used AppNeta’s historical data to show day-by-day comparisons of multiple paths going to the same branch office in various QoS categories.

2. Continuous remote monitoring and baselining. Google big data and AppNeta’s delivery analysis help to filter traffic from multiple facilities to a single one so the network engineer can take quick action when there’s an issue. He looks first at bandwidth consumption to see expected vs. actual numbers to start understanding any performance problem. The company’s support teams, from tiers 1 to 4, use AppNeta’s historical data for planning.

A key AppNeta feature that helps the network engineer is dynamically calculated bandwidth based off a single path. He uses that feature when setting up a new circuit with the company’s managed service MPLS provider. The network team has to accept a new circuit after activation with the provider. In the past, they just checked latency and jitter. Using AppNeta, they saw that of one circuit’s promised 10 Mbps, only 8.5 Mbps was usable. There was additional overhead involved they hadn’t anticipated. This baseline is useful for a new circuit over time as well.

They do all this from AppNeta appliances inside the data center, which monitor the path to each remote location. They have a few appliances with dual-ended paths to their helpdesk partner, so paths can be recreated as needed.

“AppNeta has been one of the tools in my toolbelt from day one. I had never used anything like it at another job.”

—Lead network engineer using AppNeta

3. Choosing the best ISPs and network paths. The healthcare provider uses a hub-and-spoke network infrastructure. One campus used GoToMeeting regularly, and the app load time was incredibly slow. “The latency was too much for a real-time app like that,” says the network engineer. Using AppNeta, they found the application was going through an ISP that had a terrible tiering agreement, resulting in performance that tanked in the middle. The network team shifted that app to use a local ISP as a quick fix. The longer-term solution involved working with the provider and modifying DNS records, then routing to another internet connection to maintain security. There was a near-instant performance bump for that campus.

4. The $1 million ISP credit. The company had alerts set up on various T1 lines to monitor bandwidth. They moved from that traditional T1 circuit to a single T1 that terminated in a device, and handed off traditional Ethernet to a router. The network team suddenly couldn’t alert on the T1 network anymore. The provider claimed their new product would help, but the IT team monitored the new devices carefully using AppNeta and watched as the promised 4 Mbps networks only performed at a 3 Mbps rate.

“We had enough network data to bring to the provider that they admitted their new product wasn’t ready,” the network engineer says. “We got a $1 million credit from them.” They reverted some sites to the previous configuration (if the cost of fiber was too high) and moved others to fiber networks where there was enough bandwidth.

The company is next going to deploy AppNeta for the data center teams to see activity between data centers and improve LAN performance.

Filed Under: Networking Technology, Performance Monitoring

Tags: network performance monitoring , remote location monitoring , remote office monitoring