The battle against COVID-19 has made the world a changed place. Much chaos ensued when the world first realized its intensity and relentlessness. Everyone saw how in just months, it reset many of the social and economic norms we have built over decades. One thing is for sure, COVID-19 had become the tipping point for things waiting to happen and one of those would be the enterprise digital revolution.
The industrial era spanning over 200 years necessitated the convergence of workers in dedicated locations as activities were organized around machinery and factories, and as customers were attended to physically at brick-and-mortar end-points such as retail outlets, open markets, hospitals, schools, banks, showrooms, etc. The rise of the information age in the 1980s and digitalization of business processes however gave way to new, alternative, decentralized arrangements. Under these new arrangements, both the business assets and customers could be accessed and managed remotely, via a range of emerging communication networks that connected all the digital endpoints. The dawn of data communications more specifically, enabled by the Internet and IP networking, meant that an enterprise can be made up of a dispersed workforce and remotely located assets, yet operate as a single entity with a unified front.
However, despite the widespread availability of technologies that enable remote working and the remote management of operations and assets, it wasn’t until COVID-19 started shaking up large parts of the economy that enterprises really did rethink their current operational models. This included the way employees executed their daily tasks, how they work with business assets and how their outputs are monitored. It dawned upon most enterprises that the pervasive use of Cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) applications for most operational processes meant that employees can continue working regardless of their physical location. It meant that access to the Internet is all that is really needed for employees to reconnect to the enterprise and continue operating. The need to steer the business out of lockdowns and movement restrictions propelled most enterprises to work on this realization and saw overnight changes in company work rules, policies and most importantly, pushed the usage of Cloud and SaaS-based applications to record levels. For example, Microsoft1 saw a 500 percent increase in "Teams" meetings, calling, and conferences. Google Meet2 saw a 30-fold increase in usage from January to April while Dropbox3 Business Team trials increased by 40% from mid-March to May. In February and March, channel-based messaging platform Slack4 had 9,000 new paid customers. The surge in the use of Cloud and SaaS applications also meant that enterprises are now leveraging a broader set of digital infrastructure and assets to deliver their goods and services. These, such as third-party cloud computing platforms encompassing Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and SaaS and public networks offered by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are neither managed nor controlled by the enterprise. As a result, the enterprise is no longer able to ensure the performance of the applications used by their employees and customers. Congestion in public networks and code errors in application stacks offered by SaaS providers or lack of computing capacity in hypervisors deployed by a cloud services provider are neither visible nor trackable to the enterprise.
These errors and issues can massively impair the performance of the applications, translating into reduced productivity for the business and poor experience for the customers.
Shifting perspective to digital experience monitoring
In the days preceding the era of Cloud and SaaS, monitoring tools such as Application Performance Monitoring (APM), IT Infrastructure Monitoring (ITIM) and Network Performance Monitoring (NPM) had played a key part in providing timely insights on the performance and issues affecting digital operations and assets. APM was able to tie back application performance to issues in the application codes, database, runtime and middleware. ITIM was able to pinpoint issues in the operating systems, hypervisors, container engines and servers. NPM was able to zoom into bandwidth, speeds and latency issues on networks. However, post-pandemic, with increased reliance on Cloud and SaaS applications and with employees using their personal devices and public networks to access these applications, some of the pre-existing monitoring gaps in this monitoring framework started becoming very apparent as more and more application pathways now navigate domains outside the control of the enterprise.
As a result, monitoring of digital operations and assets started shifting perspective, with user experience becoming the focal point in the monitoring equation. Termed as Digital Experience Monitoring (DEM), this upcoming idea marries performance data collected internally from user endpoints via real-user monitoring (RUM) with performance data collected via synthetic transaction monitoring (STM) on a wide range of Cloud and SaaS applications used by enterprises today.
DEM essentially works through multiple probes deployed in key locations and with hundreds of transaction requests made on each application throughout the day in various simulated scenarios, providing insights into an application’s performance. It also incorporates application performance data provided by SaaS providers via APIs and application dashboards made available to users. Combined with or integrated as part of APM, DEM enables enterprises to understand end-user experience on Cloud and SaaS applications and use this to produce aggregated user experience scores for the enterprise, covering applications hosted on-premise, on Cloud or used as SaaS. This concept effectively shifts an enterprise application monitoring focus from silo monitoring at the application-, infrastructure- and network-layers to converged experience monitoring.
Real-time visibility for user endpoints
With the pandemic staying its course longer than expected and businesses accelerating the digitalization of their business operations and processes, it is important to note that the number of user endpoints and the number of applications are both set to grow exponentially. While RUM and STM can be deployed for specific applications at specific user endpoints, vendors in the monitoring space are taking advantage of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology offered via DPI engines such as our own R&S®PACE 2 to expand their monitoring coverage across more applications and user endpoints. R&S®PACE 2’s capability of identifying and classifying traffic in real-time and its ability to capture performance and security information via metadata extraction enables metrics such as latency, page load times and time to first byte to be established across every application, including Cloud and SaaS applications accessed by any number of users on the enterprise network.
This capability also extends to applications accessed remotely via fixed and mobile Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Deployed within an enterprise Wide Area Network (WAN), Local Area Network (LAN) or VPN, R&S®PACE 2 goes a step further in enhancing DEM with diagnostics on network conditions including congestion at network nodes and insights into how applications are impacting each other.
With increasing concerns on cyberattacks and the effect this has on application performance and delivery, DEM vendors can add the cybersecurity component to their offerings leveraging real-time threat identification capability offered by DPI. This capability helps DEM detect any threats on the network in real-time including zero-day attacks that arise from security vulnerabilities within an application at the point of deployment.
What is more, with Cloud and SaaS expected to dominate the enterprise application usage over the coming years, R&S®PACE 2’s frequently updated traffic signature libraries enable APM, DEM and other monitoring tools to catch up with the latest traffic trends, sometimes even before the usage becomes apparent on the enterprise monitoring dashboards. The value of such insights derived from real-time application awareness, in a world where applications shape the existence and survival of businesses, cannot be overemphasized. At Rohde & Schwarz, we expect DPI to play an increasingly important role at thousands of new user endpoints being created every day as businesses continue to navigate their way through one of the most uncertain times in recent history.
Read more about R&S®PACE 2 at https://www.ipoque.com/products/dpi-engine-rs-pace2
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3 Dropbox Blog - https://blog.dropbox.com/topics/company/dropbox-by-the-numbers-in-q1-and-early-q2
4 Slack- https://investor.slackhq.com/news/news-details/2020/Slack-CEO-Stewart-Butterfield-Shares-Updated-Business-Metrics-During-Tweetstorm-on-Impact-of-COVID-19/default.aspx