Why Traditional Network Monitoring Tools Didn’t Cut It for National Instruments
by November 1, 2017

Filed under: Networking Technology, Performance Monitoring

National Instruments logo

  • Supplier of test, measurement and control solutions
  • Used by engineers and scientists
  • Headquartered in Austin, TX
  • 35,000 global customers; annual revenue of $1.23 billion

NI’s Network and Application Challenges

The IT networking team at National Instruments ensures the network paths for users are optimized and can handle the traffic between offices and the outside world. They’d been experiencing performance issues with the applications running on their networks. Traditional network monitoring and WAN optimization tools weren’t giving them enough data.

“Initially, we wanted an application to pinpoint the source of our internal application and network ‘fires,’ including VoIP,” explains Joe Smitka, National Instruments’ first-ever Application Performance Engineer, part of the Global Network team.

But NI was also expanding its use of SaaS throughout the company. They were already running a supply chain management SaaS application, conducting a big implementation of a CRM SaaS app, and planning to migrate their productivity and collaboration tools to the application provider’s cloud version.

The legacy network monitoring tools they’d been using only showed them the health of the network paths and basic metrics. The previous tools weren’t maintained, and often became corrupted. Plus, data was skewed by WAN accelerators and sampling data was averaged out, rendering the data useless for making actionable business decisions. National Instruments “spent more time applying patches to existing tools than actually solving problems,” said Smitka.

Building a Bridge to Modern, Proactive Monitoring

Smitka and his team wanted a monitoring tool that was SaaS-based and easy to set up and manage right away. They also wanted flexibility and scalability, especially for large data sets. AppNeta met all of those needs, and along with deploying AppNeta Performance Manager, National Instruments took a few major steps away from the old way of monitoring to make its IT team more strategic:

  • Started to emphasize applications so that IT’s focus went beyond the network to understand applications, the user experience and the network paths that apps traverse.
  • Staffed the position of Application Performance Engineer with Smitka, who had previously been programmer and systems analyst. “The first step to paving the new SaaS monitoring road ahead was to ensure there was a resource involved in bridging the gap between the application and network teams,” he says. Smitka supports staff across global offices, using AppNeta to give them insights into hundreds of internal apps, and maintaining WAN connectivity into those offices.

How National Instruments Uses AppNeta

The NI network team takes advantage of AppNeta to get the details needed to stay ahead of user problems. There are a few essential benefits they’ve found:

  • Visibility. Smitka and team can understand areas of network congestion by understanding which apps are running, when and where. They see networks hop-by-hop and can view latency, jitter and QoS scores, plus simulate various network paths.
  • Reporting. AppNeta’s reports and data help Smitka bridge the gap between infrastructure and application teams by showing his colleagues what’s going on with the network as well as what’s happening from the user’s perspective. He can bring detailed data to meetings for help in making more strategic technical decisions.
  • Various ways to view data. Smitka and the rest of the IT operations team use AppNeta daily. If there is a big production issue, they may look at graphs with application drilldowns by location and category. Or they’ll look at actual packets and URLs to see user activity, like which apps are in use and how much data is being transferred. Vital packet data can show key metrics of network vs. app latency, and percentage of packets retransmitted.
  • Integration testing. IT can test SaaS provider integrations with AppNeta, along with the in-house authentication servers and back-end databases handling the SaaS data.

These benefits allow National Instruments’ IT teams to be more proactive, agile, user-focused and able to make better big-picture decisions.

AppNeta keeps me completely armed with application and infrastructure metrics from every angle to give the application and infrastructure teams a sense of how things are performing.

—Joe Smitka, Application Performance Engineer