Network woes? The Cloud is coming to the rescue

Startup Nyansa analyses data about all its customers' networks in the Cloud

Cloud computing is changing the game for one of the hardest problems in IT: running a network.

Users are counting on fast, secure access more than ever, even as networks get more complex and threats more dangerous. Often, there’s a lot of data available about the state of a network and its performance, but more data by itself can't solve a problem. So startups are turning to the growing power of the cloud for answers.

Nyansa, based in Silicon Valley, emerged from stealth mode on Monday with Voyance, a Cloud-based SaaS (software-as-a-service) offering that analyzes inputs from wired and wireless LANs to gauge users' actual experiences on a network.

The company’s launch follows one earlier this month by Veriflow, a cloud-based startup that analyzes all possible data flows to determine whether security policies are working. It's a broader trend, too, with companies like Dell taking their systems management software into the cloud.

Voyance uses software to analyze traffic on a company’s network and generate metadata, which it analyses in Amazon’s VPC (Virtual Private Cloud). It correlates data from all networks using Voyance to provide benchmarks and insights, which appear on a dashboard for IT administrators. The feedback includes reports about problems, recommendations for how to resolve them, and insights into the potential effects of events like adding new applications.

For example, if a new driver on a certain device OS has disrupted the networks of other companies, Voyance can put out a global alert and also warn you if it’s detected that issue with devices on your network, said Anupam Singh, director of IT network, telecommunications and security services at Suffolk University in Boston.

Using Voyance is much better than looking at inputs from multiple monitoring applications for different vendors and parts of the network, as Suffolk used to do, Singh said. In the past, engineers might have spent hours scratching their heads over a problem caused by one bad driver.

“It gives you more intelligence,” Singh said. “It gives you more value from the data that was in silos.”

By using the cloud, Nyansa can do a lot more with network data than Suffolk could by relying on its own engineers or computing power, Singh said. The view it provides goes all the way from the physical network layer to how applications are running.

Suffolk has been a beta user of Voyance for approximately a year, and there are about 30 other beta customers. That’s an indication of how much work goes into building a service that takes on this kind of complexity. In that time, the university has worked with Nyansa and suggested additions, such as a priority matrix to determine which problems go to the top of the list, Singh said. It flags the most critical issues on a user’s network and can use more than one factor, like urgency and number of systems affected, to prioritize them. For example, a problem that affected few systems could be more urgent because those systems belonged to top management, he said.

Network management has long been fragmented among vendor-specific applications, which can’t give a complete picture of what the network is like for users, IDC analyst Robert Young said. “You have to understand the whole stack to understand the experience,” he said.

For enterprises that want more analysis of their systems, the cloud may be the only practical way to go. “Otherwise, you have to build out infrastructure to support that, and that can be a deal-breaker for a lot of organizations.” (Nyansa will actually let its users host all the infrastructure in house, but it doesn’t expect many to do that.)

A company like Nyansa faces at least two challenges, Young said. First, some companies worry about the privacy of their internal data when it goes to the cloud. Nyansa says only metadata leaves the customer’s premises.

Second, the companies that supplied the management software already in use at many enterprises, like IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, are also boosting their cloud-based analytics capabilities. It’s hard to get companies to eliminate those kinds of tools, so startups like Nyansa should make sure they have ways to work with them, Young said.

Voyance is available now. Subscription rates are based on term length and size of deployment, starting at US$8,100 per year.

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