There is more than one way to skin a cat. But some ways are better than others. (No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog.)
When it comes to monitoring end-user experience, one can take different approaches. Aruba User Experience Insight (UXI) uses physical sensors. In the early days after we founded Cape Networks (later acquired by Aruba to become UXI), we had to decide between taking a software versus a hardware approach to measuring the user experience. We decided on the latter because we believed that it offered many advantages for our target markets and their use cases. However, we always understood that it was not necessarily an either/or question, and that both approaches offered their own advantages and disadvantages.
In this blog, I want to briefly outline the specific advantages of using Aruba UXI sensors versus most software agents. While this is not a comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons of each approach, I will try to cover what I see as the most important points. I will cover the advantages of software sensors in a future post.
The main advantages of UXI sensors over software agents
- Test Multiple Networks: UXI sensors can test and benchmark the performance of up to four wired and wireless networks. In addition, when a sensor detects an issue, it automatically checks to see if it is affecting both wired and wireless. With a software agent, you are limited to the network the user device is connected to. If your network, like most networks, has a Guest SSID, Corporate SSID and Wired components then a software agent won’t be sufficient.
- Don’t Require End-Users: UXI sensors test continuously (24/7) and proactively detect issues and send alerts regardless if the actual users are on site and whether they are connected to the network and using applications on their devices. This is crucial when a network failure occurs or when trying to validate network changes and upgrades made when users are not on site.
- Nonintrusive: Unlike physical sensors, a software agent may have a significant impact on the end user device performance (e.g. battery life, CPU and memory). In addition, a software agent poses a data risk to the end user’s personal and corporate data that will need to be managed by the IT team. Deploying, securing and managing these software agents is not an easy task, a fact that is often overlooked. Using sensors eliminates that risk.
- Do Not Go Dark: UXI sensors have a redundant cellular connectivity that they use to send alerts if the site WAN or internet connectivity go down. With software agent monitoring, if the Internet or the WAN goes down, monitoring goes dark with it, and the software agent won’t be able to alert the IT teams (unless it has access to a cellular connectivity through the user device, e.g. mobile device).
- Root Cause Analysis: When issues are detected, the UXI sensor goes through a rigorous troubleshooting and root cause analysis process, and performs procedures that are not feasible to do with a software agent such as:
- Automatically save a dynamic packet capture when an issue is detected
- Disconnect from Wi-Fi and reconnect again to validate wireless association and authentication
- Test if issues detected on Wi-Fi can be replicated over a wired connection or vice versa
- Release IP and renew its DHCP lease to mimic a new user onboarding and troubleshoot DHCP issues
- Restart sensor to eliminate the device being a source of the issue
As one can see, monitoring the user and application experience using a dedicated sensor offers IT teams advantages across many areas including testing and troubleshooting capabilities, platform availability, redundancy, manageability and security.
These advantages lead to a significantly faster issue detection, root cause determination and time-to-resolution than can be achieved with a pure software agent approach. For IT teams operating wireless and wired networks for large enterprises, retail, healthcare or for managed service providers, a long time-to-resolution not only directly impacts the company’s financials, but could also mean the difference between life and death for a patient.
Having UXI sensors onsite gives IT teams the peace of mind they need that the sensors are keeping an eye on those mission-critical applications and services and that no issues will go undetected.