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Innovations To Address the Challenges of Supporting Today’s Hybrid Workers

By Jonathan Zarkower
| | 18 min read

Summary

Gain comprehensive visibility for frequently used collaboration applications and reduce time to identify and resolve end-user issues through a simplified view of each user’s overall experience.


Automated Session Testing and Agent View for ThousandEyes End User Monitoring

To help our customers meet the challenges of supporting not only their rapidly evolving workforces, but the rapid growth of highly distributed applications used for real-time communications and collaboration, ThousandEyes is introducing two important innovations for End User Monitoring: Automated Session Testing and Agent View. For IT organizations and help desks attempting to keep pace, these industry-first capabilities underscore ThousandEyes’ ability to rapidly isolate and resolve even the most complex issues through comprehensive insights across the entire digital supply chain.

The Challenges of Meeting the Expectations of End Users in Today’s Hybrid Work Environments

IT managers revisiting the outset of the pandemic are sure to recall it as a period of uncertainty. How would they, suddenly and all at once, transition large segments of their employee populations to remote work? How would they be able to ensure the productivity and ongoing satisfaction of those remote workers? And finally, should remote work be considered as a temporary—albeit necessary—placeholder until workers could return to the office, or would it emerge as the “new normal?” With the pandemic now approaching its third year, it’s safe to say that any uncertainty has been replaced by a firm knowledge that remote and hybrid work are here to stay.

Not coincidentally, along the way, the degree to which we deepened our dependence on the tens of thousands of networks that make up the Internet, and the many SaaS and collaboration applications that have become integral to our work lives also reached a point where there’s no turning back. Indeed, the Internet’s underlying technologies have evolved to a place where even just a basic laptop with a browser, or a mobile device, enables access to hundreds of thousands of sophisticated and interconnected applications regardless of where you are in the world.

Still, the level of accessibility and freedom, as well as the dynamic nature of collaborative and real-time communications, has made it more challenging than ever for IT organizations to support their increasingly diverse and interconnected workforces:

  • A significant and growing percentage of the environments now used by employees exist beyond the control of IT departments, and at a much greater scale. The central challenge here is to eliminate the many “blind spots” that occur naturally beyond traditional enterprise borders.
  • Without proper tools, deciphering problems has become an exercise in guesswork and speculation often based on information provided by employees who are not technically trained or knowledgeable. A related challenge is producing data-driven analysis that eliminates finger-pointing and speculation, given the number of internal and external stakeholders involved in delivering today’s rich and distributed applications.

Fortunately, ThousandEyes Workforce Digital Experience solutions were helping our customers manage through the transition to remote and hybrid work even before the pandemic came practically out of nowhere to hyper-accelerate it. As a major component of that, End User Monitoring became a critical lifeline for helping application, IT and workplace support teams maintain solid user experiences for their employees. 

Over the past few years, customers have shared with us many stories of using End User Monitoring to successfully battle issues ranging from rogue Wi-Fi access points and edge congestion to network and VPN misconfigurations, all of which would have gone unnoticed or ignored without the visibility it provided. IT teams often tell us that without the additional visibility, tickets would most likely be closed as unsolved mysteries.

Still, with hybrid and remote work becoming permanent fixtures within the IT landscape, we began to notice additional trends that were accompanying the changes, which a number of our customers validated as real challenges:

  1. Supporting the sophisticated applications used for workforce collaboration, particularly those that enable real-time multimedia communications, was becoming increasingly critical, with the corresponding uptick in help desk tickets creating a growing strain on IT resources and employee productivity. The problems inherent in supporting these applications are exacerbated by the sheer complexity of how they operate, which we’ll examine in a moment.
  2. Troubleshooting techniques performed by help desk personnel that may have been effective prior to the pandemic, were now revealed to be overly expensive, wasteful and time-consuming, due both to the dynamic nature of end-user environments and the complexity of modern distributed applications. One result was lower morale and retention rates for help desk technicians, but lost end-user productivity emerged as a key byproduct as well.

The result of our identifying and then working to address these challenges are two exciting new innovations to ThousandEyes End User Monitoring that are designed to help organizations improve the digital experiences of their workforces—wherever in the world those workers are. The enhancements are called Automated Session Testing and Agent View.

Automated Session Testing

Instant insight into the dynamic dependencies of each collaboration app session for rapid, precise pinpointing of issues

In today’s world, apps like Webex® by Cisco, Zoom and Microsoft Teams are critical to how workers communicate not only with one another, but with their customers, prospects and suppliers. Similarly, call center apps, like Genesys and Amazon Connect, are critical to how workers interface with consumers.

Unlike simple web pages and applications that don’t require much bandwidth and are not particularly latency sensitive, the collaborative applications used more frequently by today’s workforces are rich, interactive and real time, and they require performance that enables us to literally show our best selves, whether to fellow workers or customers.

Take Cisco’s Webex, known as a feature-rich collaboration tool that includes real-time calling, videoconferencing, messaging, screen sharing, recording and inline chat, among other features. What end users expect to experience when they initiate a Webex meeting is, within seconds of launching the Webex app on a laptop or mobile device, the end user is online and communicating with others. Simple, right?

What’s not often seen is all that’s happening behind the scenes. Like most real-time collaboration apps, Webex meetings consist of a signaling plane (typically based on session initiation protocol, or SIP) that ultimately controls and coordinates the multiple real-time protocol streams (RTP), media flows (video, audio, screen sharing, recording, etc.) that are seen and heard by the end user.

Before a user connects to a meeting, Webex performs a series of tests from each device to Cisco’s global data centers and picks the fastest ones available for each media session. All of these decisions are made within seconds. Depending on the media mix within the meeting, users are often connected to multiple data centers, which may exist in different geographic regions. Each meeting introduces a unique set of variables, and while the Webex app takes care of making optimal use of data center resources, the complexity and engineering involved to deliver as-close-to-perfect experience is not something to underestimate. In other words, not so simple.


Watch this demo video to see Automated Session Testing in action.

From an IT support perspective, “under the hood” visibility to Webex, and other applications like it, is practically impossible without a tool that allows them to see every connection for every session for every end user. That is precisely what Automated Session Testing does. 

Automated Session Testing is an industry-first capability that offers real-time visibility into every connection for every critical application session for every user with ThousandEyes Endpoint Agent running on their device. In removing the cumbersome and time-consuming need to examine every dynamic connection created when an application or session starts, Automated Session Testing closes the visibility gap by testing the connection to the destination host on the fly. And because this is done automatically, IT can rapidly identify issues that crop up for users directly from the ThousandEyes dashboard.

Automated Session Testing also correlates and identifies common network points across multiple users. For example, when multiple users in the same meeting are having an issue. Automated Session Testing allows the support technician to filter on the meeting or conference ID, and see all the participants for that meeting. From there, it’s possible to quickly determine if there are common network points that could identify why a group of users are all impacted at the same time. This information is all available via the ThousandEyes dashboard as shown in the figure below.

Figure-1-Automated-Session-Testing-End-User-Monitoring.png
Figure 1. Automated Session Testing displays common network points for all meeting participants 

The data now available to IT teams through Automated Session Testing will dramatically reduce mean time to identify (MTTI) and mean time to resolve (MTTR) by streamlining the management and communications of performance issues. Any ambiguity around where faults reside and how to fix them can effectively be removed by pinpointing where the problem is and who's responsible. The data can then be shared to key stakeholders via an interactive snapshot, providing all of the information and evidence needed across both internal and external teams.

Cutting through the complexities of real-time collaboration in this way makes Automated Session Testing a powerful game changer because it provides IT teams with a clear and precise view of each and every session, so they know what and where to go to keep users connected and engaged.

Automated Session Testing is efficient, as well. It only monitors an application when it’s being used, so alerts are generated only when there’s a real problem affecting a worker. This significantly reduces unnecessary alerts for problems not actually affecting digital experience.

Initially, Automated Session Testing supports three leading collaboration applications: Webex by Cisco, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, with more to follow, including some of the leading call center applications mentioned earlier. Best of all, Automated Session Testing is available to all ThousandEyes End User Monitoring customers at no extra cost—so there’s nothing preventing our customers from getting started with it right away.

Agent View

All-in-one insight into health of user experience—across device, app and network—simplifying problem isolation for frontline IT

We’ve all endured the frustrating experience of calling the IT help desk, being placed on hold, then spending 10 to 15 minutes on the phone with a technician attempting to figure out what could be happening. Oftentimes, the technician establishes a remote connection to our device, pokes around within system or browser preferences, then eventually tweaks some settings or permissions, ultimately solving the issue as we look on passively. Successful troubleshooting? Perhaps, but for the help desk technician, these processes quickly become tedious and repetitive, and end users are rarely left with an understanding as to what happened or how to prevent it from happening again in the future. In today’s hybrid work environments, this is unacceptable. The goal is to simplify the process of identifying issues and ultimately trim the time to resolve from 10-15 minutes to 2-3 minutes, with an ultimate goal of reducing it to seconds!

To accomplish this, the exciting enhancement we’re announcing is called Agent View, a “single pane of glass” designed specifically for help desk and IT support teams to reduce MTTI/MTTR by more quickly gaining comprehensive insights into user experience through the visualization of data that correlates directly with one another. 

The concept itself is simple: provide a side-by-side view of all metrics for an individual user, including browser sessions, scheduled tests, local networks and device-level metrics. Having all of these side by side allows IT teams to identify trends that could be negatively impacting performance and end-user experience in a fraction of the time previously possible.

The example below shows where the correlation between metrics helps quickly identify the root cause of a user issue, with nothing more than searching for that user and reviewing the data.

Figure-2-Agent-View-Dashboard-End-User-Monitoring.png
Figure 2. Agent View correlates multiple data sources to show performance trends for a monitored user

Putting It All Together

These enhancements are just a small part of what ThousandEyes is doing to deliver innovative solutions to help our customers support the people, infrastructure and applications that are the foundation of their businesses. Whether that’s Internet Insights™—which leverages our massive data set to deliver insight into Internet outages and SaaS application availability—or comprehensive visibility into your end-to-end digital supply chain.

Regardless of where your teams are based, whether they’re at home, on the road or in the office, ThousandEyes provides visibility you can act on for your applications, your people, and your infrastructure. It’s about seizing the digital day—not operating on lagging indicators that tell you your workforce or end user had a problem with an application yesterday—but with real-time insight not just to see but to act more quickly and efficiently to solve problems and have the insight to proactively improve workforce experience.

In the end, the key is that end-to-end visibility: from internal and private networks to SD-WAN connections and the Internet; from cloud-hosted and SaaS to privately hosted applications; from applications delivered from CDNs to applications that leverage SASE architectures. It’s not only seeing the health of a user’s device, but also the health of their network connectivity, the state of their Wi-Fi, the latency to their gateway all the way across the Internet to the application, helping them pinpoint exactly where the issues were.

The bottom line is that when it comes to supporting distributed workforces in the “new normal,” IT needs to see the full picture for every worker. They need the ability to see all connections and measure experience for every application—and that information needs to be available in real time for the many stakeholders that have a hand in supporting the business.


If you're interested in learning more about Automated Session Testing, Agent View, or ThousandEyes End User Monitoring in general, reach out to your ThousandEyes or Cisco representative or contact us.

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