Communications Blog • 15 MIN READ

Third party vs Cisco Network Monitoring Tools

Dave Murphy

Written by Dave Murphy

Technology is evolving fast, and Unified Communication (UC), supported by a fully functional, all encompassing network monitoring tool not only empowers organizations to universally connect, but relates directly to your bottom line.

There’s no doubt that enterprise networks are becoming more and more complex, and with the onset of remote working, network traffic is becoming more difficult to keep track of. Businesses both large and small, have dozens, if not thousands of employees and customers using internet-connected devices every day as part of their network. Often, a network is made up of thousands of devices, including switches and routers, endpoints and many other moving parts.

IT leaders rely on real time monitoring for multiple functions including reporting, performance monitoring, analytics, problem resolution, uptime, and event monitoring. Using network monitoring tools also provides auditing, root cause analysis and fault management.

The goal of a performance monitoring tool is to help voice, video and other UC apps run at optimal performance. When problems do occur, network monitoring provides quick notification of what's gone wrong. Network monitoring and performance metrics can also create alerts to a pending problem, along with analysis to narrow down and diagnose the cause.

Cisco network monitoring tools vs third-party network monitoring tools

Cisco is probably the most widely known, reliable and trusted vendor worldwide for unified communications systems and technologies. But no matter what vendor you use, or how many endpoints you have, network monitoring and troubleshooting tools provide support for your UC environment, and it is absolutely vital that you have them in place.

Cisco monitoring, when you only have Cisco devices and applications can be relatively straightforward. For example, the Real Time Monitoring Tool Cisco supplies (RTMT), is software for monitoring the status and performance of Cisco Unified Communications Manager (UCM) systems and Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) applications. This monitoring tool provides support for all your Cisco gear, including routers, switches and firewalls. However this provides performance metrics for Cisco only.

Here, we’ll look at the benefits of a third-party network monitoring tool, like IR's Collaborate suite of solutions for UC  versus out-of-the-box monitoring tools, like Cisco RTMT.

All vendors, including Cisco, offer customers and service providers specific troubleshooting and monitoring tools for their own products, systems, and equipment. However, these tools usually only offer limited insights, and a narrow view of the environment they’re deployed to monitor and manage.

Modern IT enterprises use network devices from various hardware vendors for different purposes. This makes network monitoring and the configuration management process quite complex. As a result, network administrators often find themselves tangled between a number of devices that respond to different commands. This can lead to a lot of confusion in monitoring and managing these network devices. Network administrators can become bogged down, spending a lot of time managing device configurations, and this can affect productivity on a large scale. This is why an integrated multi-vendor network configuration management solution is crucial to simplify network device management.

What if, for example, as an enterprise or service provider, you were using Cisco devices for your network conferencing and communications, Microsoft, for Windows computing and email, or Avaya for your contact center solutions. This is where IR's Collaborate suite of solutions become the all-in-one real-time network monitoring solution, acting as a centralized platform to manage network devices from diverse vendors.

Challenges of implementing a multi-vendor strategy

Whether your network infrastructure is small or massive, consisting of mostly Cisco devices or other vendors - or a mix - it’s vital to have monitoring tools in place to assess performance, and gather the data and analytical information that keeps your entire network functioning optimally.

Some network equipment for example, includes Cisco Network Assistant, Cisco routers, Cisco switches, or Cisco Firewalls. Monitoring Cisco devices and applications will provide a window to your Cisco network, and gather necessary information across all your Cisco devices. But that's where their effectiveness ends. What if you are using other vendor products, like Microsoft, HP, Dell, Avaya or others.

Full visibility means full control of your network

If you can't properly track network performance for your entire network, including monitoring usage and creating alerts and notifications when things aren’t functioning as they should - your entire network could come crashing down. Whether it's Cisco devices, server monitoring, Quality of Service (QoS), traffic analysis or any network service component, you need one reliable tool to manage it all.

Gathering performance information ensures that your IT team maintains full control of not only your Cisco devices, and network traffic, but also understanding of an organization's overall network health. This information can then be used to accurately monitor and assess your network topology, including all switches and routers, bandwidth usage, security, service anomalies and much more. This becomes the key to quickly identifying, solving and even predicting problems throughout your entire network.

One size does not fit all

Even though Cisco is the world’s largest provider of networking equipment, and networks in large enterprises use Cisco devices and applications in one form or another, many organizations have multi-vendor networking platforms. This provides flexibility and freedom to adapt their UC environment. But getting a multi-vendor monitoring infrastructure set up and running properly can be a challenging journey.

Each vendor designs management interfaces that are optimized for a specific set of products and customers. There is often no uniformity in the CLI or API designs. There are numerous parameters and configurations for a network configuration manager or engineer to put in place. This poses a problem when it comes to monitoring and troubleshooting your network topology. It could take hours, or even days to drill down find out which device or application is causing the problem, tying up IT teams, wasting valuable time and resources and ultimately impacting your organization's bottom line. A network performance monitor needs to deliver an end-to-end view of a network by consolidating telemetry information across various devices and through unified visualization. In other words, you need complete visibility across your entire network through a single pane of glass.

Monitoring and troubleshooting your multi-vendor network and entire UC environment with only Cisco network monitoring tools wouldn't work. Out-of-the-box monitoring software, especially when using multiple platforms is difficult and inefficient, providing limited access to data analysis and metrics. Many individual components may be not talk to each other, preventing proper monitoring and management of your UC network environment. Performance management is far more efficient with third party monitoring tools. IR's Collaborate suite of performance performance management solutions creates one large window through which you can see multiple issues throughout your entire network at once.

High cost of training

As we've mentioned, a Cisco network monitoring tool is only effective for monitoring Cisco devices. For management and configuration of multiple network devices, network engineers and teams have to be trained on CLI/APIs/GUIs and other interfaces. Many enterprises also tend to leverage expensive vendor professional services to provision, deploy, and operate network devices. Implementing third party network monitoring tools like IR's Collaborate suite of solutions streamlines the process, giving you real time, end-to-end visibility in one application, without the need to get teams up to speed with multi-vendor network monitoring tools - and with optimum configuration management.

The best way to create network monitoring efficiency is through familiarity with one network performance monitor and one user interface. This means that you don’t have to install, load and unload multiple software clients or swap from one set of terminology to another, learn shortcuts and gain deep product knowledge for multiple products. Multi-vendor management should be flexible enough to allow you to fine-tune monitoring for one platform while at the same time leverage the work you’ve done on another.

Difficulties enforcing consistent network policies

Network Policy Enforcement is the application of some sort of mechanism to control access to a network. The criteria for whether an end system is allowed to access the network are specified in a set of rules or parameters known as a “policy”. Every vendor solution differs - both in their management interface and their practical capabilities, so you can imagine the challenges and complications then, implementing the same policy across multi-vendor devices and multiple domains.

You need to be able to manage all network vendor information from one data center. From documents and policies, to risk profiles-from a single, centralized, cloud-based platform. With third party network monitoring tools, you can get a comprehensive view of all vendor data in one place. this allows you to evaluate risk, spend, contract information, and other attributes for each vendor at the product, service and engagement levels.

How Working From Home (WFH) is adding complexity to UCC

Working from home (WFH) has been the biggest technology and network game-changer in recent times. There's no longer just one network tethered to a central office, as more and more people continue to work from remote locations. Organizations are introducing all the latest advanced collaboration technologies such as video calling and conferencing, with tools like Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and more. This mean that network requirements are rapidly changing, and network traffic is increasing exponentially. Bandwidth usage is increasing, devices are no longer 'office issue' and devices including mobile phones, headsets etc. are spread over a wider network. Availability and performance issues are cropping up where they didn't exist before. A network performance monitor that can encompass all these variables is the most valuable asset for an organization's UCC network.

The benefits of CUCM third-party network monitoring tools

As businesses continue to invest more and more in UC, real-time network monitoring software becomes a crucial part of an organization's topology map. Network teams need a clear understanding of their entire UC infrastructure, including UC setup and landscape. For example, if a large organization aims to ensure high quality video conferencing capacity across several locations, even internationally, with potentially hundreds of users, there’s a clear need to have network monitoring software in place to troubleshoot, measure and optimize UC performance.

A good user experience is key to driving adoption, which in turn increases the ROI of any UCC investment. However, sometimes network monitoring tools can dramatically impact network performance. Setting network bandwidth monitoring alerts can advise teams when systems are reaching their limits, triggering increased resources to avoid any issues. In addition, tracking bandwidth growth over time, by location, can help plan for network expansions where needed most.

What if I'm multi-everything?

As we've determined, many UC environments can be incredibly complex, and it's certainly becoming a multi-vendor world. There's the network itself, consisting of video and VoIP components, often from one vendor, security products from another vendor, replacement hardware, mobile devices and other UC applications from different vendors again.

But let’s assume that your organisation is using mostly Cisco devices and Cisco unified communications products and services. Take for example, managing various Cisco IP telephony solutions. At the branch level you may have Cisco Unified CallManager Express, SRST or Unity Express routers. In other locations there may be older software like Windows-based Unified CallManager. Some locations may have upgraded to Cisco Unified Call Communication Manager.

This obviously creates a combination of different versions, technologies, operating systems, and capacity requirements. Even when the terminology varies from platform to platform or the information is available from one system but not another, you can use common skills to create and fine-tune a threshold that’s specific to the environment you wish to monitor. If problems arise, alerts are in keeping with the specifics of each trunk and platform.

Network monitoring in the cloud

With more and more organizations moving to the cloud, this adds another level of complexity to monitoring network infrastructures. Once a cloud network is introduced, additional significant extensions are added: the performance of your ISP (WAN performance) and the performance of your cloud provider (and their ISP). Since your WAN link is the essence between you and your cloud provider, monitoring its performance is vital. However, it’s not enough to simply monitor WAN performance; you also need to understand your network traffic. In order to assess the impact on the performance of business critical apps and services, you need to know who's using your network traffic, how much they're using, and what they're using it for. This highlights the importance of a third party monitoring tool like IR's Collaborate suite of solutions.

While Cisco network monitoring tools, including their cloud solutions do provide a stable and incredibly sturdy environment, as with any vendor, problems in your network can arise even from seemingly innocent changes. Things like the addition of new hardware, voice, video conferencing upgrades, or software updates and security breaches can derail your efforts to properly monitor your communications network. Unified communications monitoring is vital for fast, real time problem solving.

You need the capability to quickly identify the root cause of any unified communications problem across your entire system, and Cisco network monitoring tools in a multi-vendor environment just won't do the job. But a truly unified solution is not just about identifying the problem. Research proves that communications monitoring is also about locating the original source of the problem, and using that data to predict the likelihood of it happening in the future.

Unified communications monitoring means empowering organizations with the resources to be able to troubleshoot and fix problems across the entire UC ecosystem, whether you're using Cisco devices or multi-vendor solutions.

Can’t afford not to…

A network performance monitor is key to any business’s IT and security strategy. Yet, according to a 2019 survey by Capterra, 42% of businesses don’t use network monitoring tools at all.

Many IT managers cite limited budget as a primary reason for not investing in UC monitoring and troubleshooting tools. But in fact these tools are vital in thwarting or shortening outages, preventing slowdowns and downtime – and curtailing related problems which translate to lost sales or reduced productivity across your unified communications ecosystem.

Real time monitoring software for your communications environment is something you simply can't afford not to deploy. It gives you the necessary tools and resources for reporting, analytics, performance monitoring, problem resolution, root cause analysis and much more. You could think of it as buying an expensive new car, and then driving it around without insurance and roadside-assistance.

Once, it would have required multiple tools and specific unified communications expertise to gain visibility across multi-vendor ecosystems. IR's Collaborate suite of solutions streamline the processes and operations, providing a clear view through a single pane of glass, across multi-vendor environments - including Cisco, as well as other major vendor platforms - from a single, clear, proactive vantage point.

How do your end-users really feel about your collaboration investment? Download the UCC Survey Report to find out more.

Download the UCC Survey Report

Topics: Communications Performance management Proactive troubleshooting Real-time monitoring Cisco

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