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Product Updates

Network Performance Monitoring for Cisco Hybrid WAN

By Archana Kesavan
| | 14 min read


Enterprise networks are rapidly transforming, disrupting classic network boundaries and giving way to WAN architectures that are hybrid in nature. With SaaS applications mainstreaming, cloud migrations inflight and SD-WAN deployments on the rise, the enterprise branch is becoming intelligent now more than ever. The benefits of these new trends are undeniable, however, it comes with its own challenges, especially in the area of network performance monitoring and cloud visibility. At ThousandEyes, we have been working with networking pioneers like Cisco to build an integrated solution that tackles these challenges. In this blog post we will address some of the frequently asked questions about the integration and provide guidance on network monitoring best practices for your Cisco WAN.

Intelligent Edge In a Box

Before we get into the weeds of the discussion, let’s take a few minutes to review the joint solution between Cisco and ThousandEyes. Cisco’s virtualized, NFV-ready enterprise grade routers like the Cisco 4000 Series Integrated Services Routers and ASR 1000 Series Aggregation Services Routers, provide a unique platform to integrate third-party containerized applications. This capability allows us to deploy Enterprise Agents on these popular branch routers. The unified solution lets you repurpose existing Cisco infrastructure, maximizing your investments while simultaneously providing network visibility from all corners of your enterprise. This partnership makes the Cisco ISR 4000 Series and ASR 1000 Series routers a multi-service platform that acts as a WAN optimization engine, internet security gateway and network intelligence portal. All at the same time.

Top of Mind for Network Architects

In the following section, we will address the most common questions about network performance monitoring we hear from WAN architects responsible for building and maintaining hybrid networks.

How is ThousandEyes Different from Cisco IP SLA?

Network engineers who have been used to IOS and IOS-XE are intimately familiar with Cisco’s IP SLA feature. IP SLA uses active monitoring techniques to provide condensed insights about network behaviour and application performance and is readily available on Cisco routers. The metrics generated through IP SLA are valuable, but the data is unstructured and it’s often hard to pinpoint causality when troubleshooting. Although IP SLA is free to use on Cisco routers, enterprises typically need to invest in a separate monitoring product that can ingest the raw IP SLA data to provide meaningful context.

ThousandEyes Network Intelligence goes beyond active monitoring. It is a multi-layered platform that combines and correlates diverse data types and metrics like application performance, network behaviour, device health and routing information. Powerful visualizations accelerate root cause analysis and pinpoint anomalies in both internal and external networks. Path Visualization provides a hop-by-hop view of the network by compounding it with key network metrics like loss, latency, jitter along with QoS and MPLS information. With the historical timeline, network and operations teams can go back in time to identify changes in traffic path or BGP routing. Let’s take a look at Figure 1 below. The data shows that the performance of Office 365 has degraded due to packet loss in the network resulting from an ISP outage. Within seconds you can identify not just what the problem is also, but also where in the network it is occurs.

Office 365 path visualization
Figure 1: The timeline shows a spike in network packet loss to Office 365.
Path Visualization correlates the packet loss with an ISP outage in Hurricane Electric.

Can I Now Monitor SaaS Applications like O365 from the Cisco Router?

Yes. Absolutely. When ThousandEyes Enterprise Agents are deployed on the ISR 4000 and ASR 1000, every router becomes a new vantage point from where you can measure performance of any application — internal or external, on-prem or SaaS. While monitoring SaaS applications like Office 365, enterprises should consider the following:

  • Monitor your SaaS applications from the perspective of the end-user. Enterprises strive to provide unparalleled user experience, so it’s imperative to know exactly how your service is perceived. Consider monitoring from vantage points that resemble user distribution. For example, you might consider having ThousandEyes enabled on all your branch ISR 4000 routers.
  • Monitor not just for application availability, but also connectivity. SaaS applications are typically accessed through the Internet. That means you are relying on networks and infrastructure you do not own. Understanding connectivity to these services is paramount as BGP peering issues or an outage at an ISP can negatively influence user experience.
  • Be aware that applications like Office 365 is not a singular service. O365 comprises of multiple independent services like Sharepoint, OneNote and Outlook. The performance and architecture of each of these services can vary from the same vantage points, as shown in Figure 2. Enterprises should consider monitoring each of these individual services from their branch offices.
HTTP response times world map
Figure 2: HTTP Response Times for Office 365 Outlook and Sharepoint showing significant variation from the exact same branch offices.

SaaS as an application also provides another challenge when it comes to monitoring. First off, traditional APM tool for monitoring, rely on code injection and fall short when you do not own the application. Secondly, passive monitoring techniques like flow or packet capture aren’t an option when you don’t own the networks. The majority of SD-WAN deployments locally break out traffic to the Internet from branch offices, making these edge locations the most optimal point from which to measure SaaS performance. With the integrated solution between Cisco and ThousandEyes, Cisco ISR 4000 or ASR 1000 series routers at the branches are the perfect vantage point to start monitoring SaaS performance.

Can ThousandEyes Monitor my SD-WAN Deployment?

SD-WAN, in its simplest form, is a technology that provides the flexibility to choose the most optimal access transport by dynamically steering traffic across multiple links. With the proliferation of cloud-hosted services and SaaS applications, enterprises are locally breaking out traffic to the Internet. ThousandEyes can provide guidance and visibility in the following areas for your SD-WAN deployment.

  • Choosing the right upstream ISP: Monitor ISP performance before choosing your primary and secondary ISPs by monitoring them for outages and frequent failures.
  • Evaluating and benchmarking performance: Baseline the performance of the network and application before launching or accessing a service over the Internet. ThousandEyes can help baseline connection performance, topology and bandwidth. Supplement your SD-WAN vendor’s view of network measurements to get a reliable and unbiased view that can help mitigate risk.
  • Monitoring Direct Internet Access (DIA) traffic paths. While SD-WAN vendors can make algorithm measurements from end-to-end network metrics to steer traffic from a suboptimal path, they lack visibility into what might be causing the disruption. Only when you know why something is broken, can you fix it!

Check out one of our blog posts for best practices for SD-WAN deployments.

Can ThousandEyes Integrate with Third-Party Ticketing Services like ServiceNow or PagerDuty?

While ThousandEyes can alert on all possible metrics related to application availability, page load times, network and path trace information, a lot of our customers integrate with ticketing and data collection engines. You can find pre-built integrations to PagerDuty, Slack or HipChat. Our customers also heavily rely on the comprehensive API engine that enables users to perform administrative tasks or pull data from the platform. So if you are looking to integrate with OpsGenie or with the Cisco API, it is most certainly possible.

Can Network Monitoring Insights be Made Actionable?

I think it’s safe to say that the value of data is diminished when you cannot act on it. Virtualization, NFV and orchestration provide a framework to simplify automation and enact actionable intelligence. ThousandEyes will provide network and application insights and metrics that can be fed into a common controller to force policy changes and routing decisions within your internal enterprise environment. One of the most common questions we get asked is “If an ISP is having an outage, can ThousandEyes switch the internet traffic to another path?” ThousandEyes does not control ISP peering policies and routing in the Internet. We can provide network and routing visibility into BGP paths and alert if there is a sub-optimal path within an ISP. You can monitor service provider SLAs and keep track of outages affecting your services at a macro level. For issues occurring in other organizations’ networks, ThousandEyes does offer a unique way to share deep links to monitoring data and visualizations with external providers so you can help them help you.

How do I get started?

This is one of the most common questions we hear from network engineers and architects. Especially, if your enterprise is a Cisco shop, you are already halfway there in reaping the benefits of this solution. Before you get started, make sure you have:

  • Cisco ISR 4000 or ASR 1000 series routers with IOS-XE version 3.17 or above.
  • NIM-SSD or MSATA-SSD installed on the ISR 4000 series routers.
  • Minimum of 8GB of installed memory on the Cisco ISR 4000. Or 16GB on the ASR 1000.

Once you have checked off the above, you have the right platform to start installing ThousandEyes Enterprise Agents. If you are an existing ThousandEyes customer, you can access the Enterprise Agents from the Agent Setting Tab. Click on Add a New Agent and select the right package type: Cisco IOS XE Container. You can follow the Installation Guide to install the OVA file on your Cisco router. Yup, it’s that simple. ThousandEyes is a SaaS-based platform. Since the software is hosted by us, we will take on the responsibility for maintaining and upgrading the software. And we make it seamless, so you do not have to worry about maintenance windows!

Options for installing new Enterprise Agents
Figure 3: Download the Cisco IOS-XE Container package to install on your Cisco ISR 4000 or ISR 1000 routers.

For those of you who do not have a ThousandEyes account, take advantage of the 15-day free trial. As a part of the free trial, you have access to three enterprise agents and all the features. Take it for a spin on your router and see for yourself what it means to have complete visibility into your cloud applications and WAN network.

Are you considering an enterprise redesign or a Cisco refresh? If you are moving towards a hybrid environment, network performance monitoring should not be an afterthought. In today’s distributed ecosystem, enterprises should take a prudent and proactive approach to network monitoring. If the Cisco integration piques your interest and you have more questions, reach out to us on Twitter @thousandeyes or request a demo.

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