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Choosing the Right Network Monitoring Tool: A Comparison for IT Leaders

Understanding and optimising network performance is crucial for IT leaders.

And a big pain point for IT leaders, is that of human resource. Unfortunately, understanding and optimising network performance usually takes time, resources, and a unique set of skills. 

So what can IT leaders do to reduce the impact of this pain point? Through utilising digital tools to support them, their team, and their business. Plus, companies that embrace digital tech tend to grow faster than those that don’t.

Now you may be asking yourself, what digital tools/products are out there than can help me monitor, analyse, and optimise network performance?

It’s in this blog that we will provide a couple of options. So, read on!

The Lowdown: ThousandEyes

In its infancy, ThousandEyes (TE) was created to test the performance of the internet and how reliable the different internet paths were. This involved installing probes across service providers so that TE could test between each probe and identify the best route for traffic to move across the internet. 

For example, TE might place one probe in New York, another in San Francisco, and another in London, conducting tests between them to generate a comprehensive 'weather map' of internet conditions. 

But why does this matter to IT leaders? 

As organisations increasingly adopt cloud initiatives, SaaS, and IaaS, the internet's role becomes ever more critical. At WhiteSpider, we—and likely the broader IT community—recognise that network quality over the internet can't be guaranteed due to its shared nature. This uncertainty affects performance, as the shortest path is not always the most efficient. And from a routing point of view, you are always going to take the shortest path. But the shortest path might be the least performant. It’s like saying:

“To get from Leeds to Manchester, the shortest path is to go the M62.” 

But the M62 is one of the worst motorways in the UK. It’s always congested. But you could go across Woodhead Road, which is a less congested road that goes across the moors and bypasses the M62. 

This is where TE sings. TE is a dynamic way of managing congestion on the internet. TE tells you that even though the M62 is the shortest path, the more efficient path is Woodhead Road. So TE recommends that your traffic should take the Woodhead Road. 

Fast forward a decade and Cisco spotted an opportunity. TE monitors the internet and does the hard part of forwarding traffic to the most efficient path. But what if it monitored the last mile of connectivity? As in Enterprise Networking, what’s going on within the data centre? How are the applications performing? 

By acquiring TE, Cisco extended its monitoring to include data centres and cloud providers like Azure and AWS, enabling comprehensive path optimisation from data centres right through to the cloud.

With the growing importance of efficient network performance, the question arises: are there any downsides to TE? For now, let us bring in WhiteSpider’s Watchman to the conversation.

The New Kid on the Block: WhiteSpider’s Watchman

Developed through the support with one of our customers, WhiteSpider’s Watchman (WW) monitors Enterprise Networking performance - just like TE. But WW has its own USP in the fact it monitors RF and Wi-Fi performance. This involves installing ‘Raspberry Pi’ Watchman Agents in chosen locations across the network that replicate real-life users by sending synthetic traffic through various paths testing network and Wi-Fi performance. 

For example, you may place one Watchman Agent in the office building, one on the main office floor, another in a meeting room, and another in the boardroom, these agents will run automated tests to generate a blanketed view of your network’s behaviour and highlight where issues occur across wired and wireless access.

But what does this mean for IT leaders? 

Let’s create a scenario here. Say you are a retail business that has multiple sites across the UK. You’ve been receiving complaints from your colleagues that the Wi-Fi isn’t working and it's impacting the ability to sell to customers. So, you go over to your monitoring system, but your dashboard is showing no issues. Hmm, interesting... Now what? 

This is where WW comes in. WW is a comprehensive solution for Wi-Fi and network monitoring. WW pinpoints exactly where and what performance and connectivity attribute(s) have been impacted; whether it is a wired or wireless end-user experience issue or, an end-to-end application issue.

This rapid identification of where and what issue has occurred along the network path enables a proactive response to end-user problems. So, from the complaints you’ve received regarding the Wi-Fi, you will be able to identify where the issue is occurring or, if it even is the Wi-Fi that is the problem! Nowadays, most people’s assumptions when there is a connectivity issue is that it is the Wi-Fi, but it could be network related – either way, WW has the answers. 

ThousandEyes vs WhiteSpider’s Watchman

To summarise, both TE and WW monitor Enterprise Network performance. 

The main differentiator for TE is the fact it can monitor internet performance. There are no other products in the market that can do this. However, TE's complex licensing model and manual testing could pose pain points for organisations that do not have the time or resources to maximise the ROI on this product. 

Whereas WW differentiator is its ability to monitor RF and Wi-Fi performance as well as run an automated testing and scripting engine; TE does not have this automated functionality. One significant difference between WW and TE is the use of physical devices. Whilst TE is solely a software-based solution, WW uses hardware and software. Although this may limit the overall number of devices that would be deployed, it gives far greater scope for IT leaders to personalise what attributes they want to monitor within each device and make them targeted to their business's requirements. Making the set-up time slightly longer, however, the ROI would be more specific. 

Deciding on the Best Network Monitoring Tool: Goals, KPIs, and Pain Points

Ultimately, when it comes to deciding which product is right for you, it comes down to what it is that you want to achieve. 

  • What are the goals for your business? 
  • What KPIs have you been set to improve? 
  • What pain points do you have within your current systems? 

Depending on these answers will impact which solution is best for you. 

At WhiteSpider, our team of technical experts can help guide you to make the decision that is best for you, your team, and the business. With being a Cisco Gold Partner and having created Watchman, we can support you with either decision. 

Book your 20-minute whiteboarding session to get started today. In this session, we will share a comprehensive breakdown of the key differences between the two products, including what tests they run, pros and cons for each, as well as use cases.

Disclaimer: While this blog highlights ThousandEyes and WhiteSpider’s Watchman as strong network monitoring systems, it is not an exhaustive list. 

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WhiteSpider is an advanced technology services company, specialising in the provision of consultancy, strategic advice, and practical support in enterprise service architectures. As experts in software-defined architectures, we help organisations across the world to standardise their IT and communications infrastructures as they transition to digital.

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