Valdosta State University
Georgia, United States
Valdosta State University has approximately 12,000 students, as well as 1,200 faculty and staff spread across more than 80 buildings on two primary campuses. The university operates an expansive network and data center that delivers key applications for employees and students, such as VoIP, video, and a business intelligence tool the university uses to run modeling algorithms that predict student success. When problems such as unresponsive or slow applications emerge, end users, staff and other IT teams flood the application team with requests to fix the issue, setting in motion a long, tedious troubleshooting process. Determining whether the network or application is the source of the problem often requires the use of complex testing tools. To streamline this process and eliminate finger pointing, the Valdosta IT team realized it needed a solution that could help it proactively collect and correlate key network and application data, support real-time application monitoring, and expedite root-cause troubleshooting.
After implementing the NetScout OptiView XG® Network Analysis Tablet for inline packet capture and network performance testing, Valdosta State University evaluated and deployed TruView™ as well. TruView enables IT teams to proactively monitor key applications and delivers centralized access to both real-time and historical transactional data when troubleshooting or isolating a possible issue.
Whether dealing with an unresponsive business intelligence tool, library database latency, DHCP server problems, misconfigured firewalls or simply troubleshooting the source of packet loss, TruView gives Valdosta instant visibility into the source of the problem, which reduces troubleshooting time, often from weeks to mere minutes.
NetScout TruView and the OptiView XG Network Analysis Tablet
“A campus network is a complex place with tons of infrastructure and lots of key applications that serve students, staff and faculty. Visibility into performance and the ability to see problems before they impact the end user is vital to maintaining a productive environment. Using the OptiView XG and TruView together allows us to ensure application performance by collecting and correlating all of the application information and presenting that information through a central monitoring dashboard. If a problem arises, we’re just a click or two away from diving into packet level details so we can troubleshoot instantly.” – Isaac Barton, assistant director of Infrastructure Support Services, Valdosta State University
Valdosta State University (VSU) is a regional university in South Georgia that serves approximately 12,000 students from 45 states and 60 countries. VSU employs more than 1,200 faculty and staff, has five colleges, a graduate school, multiple residence halls and auxiliary facilities, comprising 80 buildings spread across 180 acres. The university also offers distance learning at off-campus locations throughout Georgia, including Kings Bay Naval Base and Moody Air Force Base in Lowndes County.
VSU is committed to providing technologically enhanced learning communities that promote student success, sustain instructional excellence, serve a diverse and well-prepared student body, offer academic assistance and provide learning enrichment for all students.
VSU’s network includes more than 650 switches, 650 access points, 275 virtual servers, 75 physical servers, 3,800 desktop computers, and hundreds of other client devices. The administration and students rely on hundreds of applications hosted on servers throughout the campus and in the university’s data center. Some of these applications include VoIP, live video conferencing, classroom streaming, library databases, business intelligence tools, and admissions resources. When application performance problems happen, they have a significant impact on the productivity of all end users.
One critical university application is the Oracle Business Intelligence solution. This application, hosted in the university’s data center, is responsible for running predictive modeling algorithms that evaluate student success. It helps the administration determine which students might need more learning assistance so faculty can provide tutoring and other support services. Using this application helped university administators increase freshman retention by more than five percent last year, a key metric in ensuring optimal enrollment. When the Oracle Business Intelligence solution isn’t running properly, it affects the administration’s ability to do its job.
Other applications are equally important to staff and students. Unfortunately, due to network complexity and traffic volume, end users sometimes encounter problems such as database connectivity or latency, classroom client device connectivity, video quality, and email authentication problems. Again, without a proactive monitoring or centralized data collection solution, the IT team must hunt down these issues manually, which can exhaust resources quickly and delay resolution for end users.
“Our team historically has not had great visibility into application performance in our data center or on other client devices around campus. We previously were very reactive to performance problems and used a variety of complex tools like packet sniffers to analyze problems,” said Rocky Rothwell Jr., networking services specialist at Valdosta State University. “Not only did this put us on the defensive when fingers started pointing in our direction, but it required significant manpower and time to manually correlate data and isolate root causes. We needed a solution that could immediately tell us how applications were performing and help us quickly solve problems if they emerge.”
VSU deployed TruView after having success with a variety of other NetScout tools, including the OptiView XG and LinkRunner AT. TruView enables the IT team at the university to gather key data sets—including packet storage, application response time, transactional decode, flow and SNMP—to highlight performance metrics for key applications. It delivers this information through a centralized console and provides IT with a clear picture of performance. When issues arise, it helps quickly isolate the root cause by allowing the team to immediately drill down into packet-level detail, and its integration with OptiView XG allows the team to conduct real-time, inline packet capture for more sophisticated transactional analysis.
“A campus network is a complex place, with tons of infrastructure and lots of key applications that serve students, staff and faculty. Visibility into performance and the ability to see problems before they impact the end user is vital to maintaining a productive environment. TruView allows us to ensure application performance by collecting and correlating all of the application information and presenting that information through a central monitoring dashboard. If a problem arises, we’re just a click or two away from diving into packet level details, so we can troubleshoot instantly,” said Isaac Barton, assistant director of Infrastructure Support Services at Valdosta State University.
TruView has been helping the IT team at VSU proactively manage application performance for months. It allows them to:
- Evaluate bandwidth utilization
- See bottlenecks
- Track latency
- Troubleshoot DHCP server issues
- Hunt down unused IPs
- Determine if problems are originating from the network or application side of IT
“We’re responsible for maintaining application performance, and end users don’t really care why there’s a problem, they just want it fixed. TruView helps us take a proactive approach to delivering reliable applications, and when a problem does occur, we can immediately isolate the problem domain so the team can quickly troubleshoot and fix it. This is invaluable, and it streamlines the process, saving the university time and money,” said Barton.
For example, the team was recently called in to troubleshoot a database connection issue with Oracle, which was known to often drop packets due to the data center core’s older technology. The team was trying to transfer large amounts of data from physical servers to virtual ones, but it kept failing. Because of the data center’s history, the team’s first assumption was that the core was the problem. But the team could not isolate the issue, so TruView was called into action. It immediately identified the problem as a setting in the Oracle application, not with the data center core, so the team modified the setting and quickly resolved the problem.
The university also had a recent issue with slow application response in a library system. Using TruView, the IT team determined in just a few minutes that the client agent was misconfigured and sending excessive data transfers across the network at peak hours, slowing application response times.
“TruView has provided so much value in such little time. We had another issue with our SMTP server being hit by an attack, telling it to flood another server with emails. The security team locked down the firewall and claimed the attack was coming from inside the network. We created an application that could capture the SMTP traffic to the server and then analyzed it to find out the attack was coming from an IP in Amsterdam, not internally as initially assumed. We reported the data back to the security team, which corrected a filtering configuration and stopped the attack. Another win for TruView and our team,” said Rothwell.
Moving forward, the IT team at VSU plans to leverage the OptiView XG and TruView integration to help with more complex packet transaction analysis and inline testing of complex problems. The team has already seen immense value with OptiView XG. For example, recently there was an authentication problem with Office365 email. The team spent four days trying to identify the source of the problem with no success. They then hooked up the XG and allowed it to collect and analyze an actual transaction. In less than five minutes, the OptiView XG reported multiple default gateways that were looping the authentication and slowing email.
“We currently have about five team members trained to use TruView, but we’re excited to expand the team. It’s very intuitive, and because it gives you real-time visibility and historical data, our troubleshooting flexibility is very robust and amazingly accurate. If a user complains about an issue, we can look at historical data to isolate the problem fast. We couldn’t do that before. If application performance is slow, we can instantly isolate the domain and identify whether it’s a network or application issue. Again, we couldn’t do that before. TruView really has put us on the offensive and made us the go-to team for isolating any type of application performance problem. We’re really excited to expand our monitoring efforts with the platform,” said Barton