IT professionals face a tougher job today than five years ago. Business networks are getting more complex with the rise of technologies like software-defined networking, network functions virtualization, and public and private clouds. To deal with this complexity, the networking industry has developed more and more specialized tools for specific network tasks like cloud application monitoring. This is especially common in the network performance monitoring and diagnostics (NPMD) segment. Unfortunately, these tools are often more of a burden than a help, particularly for small to midsize businesses that lack the time, expertise, or resources to manage multiple complex tools.
“Tool sprawl” has significant drawbacks for organizations of all sizes. The more specialized tools a company uses to monitor and manage its networks, the more employee hours it needs to handle them. Too many licenses and maintenance agreements create confusion and complexity. All that employee training and setup has a cost in terms of time and lost opportunity to work on other projects. And, of course, there’s a financial cost as well!
At first, tool sprawl might seem like an enterprise issue. After all, only enterprises can afford all those specialized tools, right? But this problem hits SMBs just as hard because their resources are so limited. For an IT shop of five or fewer people, staying up to date on even a handful of network performance tools is a significant burden. If all those employees need to be generalists, they will most likely not understand or use each tool to its full potential.
Bloated and outdated tools can also cost far more than the value they deliver. Enterprises might be able to take the cost hit, but smaller companies can’t afford to buy a separate tool for each task. Yet they’re often guided down that path with the idea that new technology requires new tools.
Smaller Companies Face Bigger Burdens
In case you’re still not convinced that this isn’t just an enterprise issue, here are some specific examples of how tool sprawl affects SMBs.
First, tool specialization creates burdensome workflows even if companies don’t own a lot of tools. Many NPMD tools allow users to capture packets for troubleshooting, for example, but don’t offer analytical capabilities. Most SMBs end up using a tool like Wireshark to analyze the packets, but lack of integration with their NPMD tool makes analysis a clunky, time-consuming process. Wireshark might be free, but it costs precious time for IT employees to learn an additional product and switch back and forth between an NPMD tool and a packet analysis tool for one troubleshooting task.
Reporting is another undertaking that often requires multiple tools at SMBs. Very few specialized network tools offer reporting capabilities. As a result, IT staff must spend time recreating reports in their ticketing software, or even manually in Excel. That’s a lot of time wasted on a mundane task. Service providers may face the same issue if they manage networks on behalf of their customers and need to send them regular reports.