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PRODUCT REVIEW & ANALYSIS: Solving mobile connectivity and security issues has become a lot easier, thanks to NetMotion’s Operational Intelligence platform.

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Management thinker Peter Drucker once said: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” These are words of wisdom that still resonate across businesses today. Nowhere is that quote more apt than in the ever-growing world of wireless IT, where IT departments have struggled to keep mobile workers connected to company resources to remain productive.

Seattle-based NetMotion Software aims to bring real-time measurement to the world of mobile computing with Operational Intelligence for Enterprise Mobility. NetMotion refers to its cloud-based service as Mobile Operational Intelligence, which proves to be a pretty decent moniker for the product. Mobile Operational Intelligence is only one part of the NetMotion family of products and is underpinned by NetMotion’s Mobility, Diagnostics and Mobile IQ solutions.

The company’s goal with Operational Intelligence is to bring visibility to the connections used by mobile devices, allowing administrators to see what is occurring over wireless connections in real time. The product provides a plethora of analysis, reports, controls and statistics all related to connectivity and should prove to be an excellent tool for those looking to operate and support mobile teams using both public and private networks.

A Closer Look at NetMotion Operational Intelligence

As with most platform offerings today, Operational Intelligence is cloud-based, making installation a simple matter of signing up for the service, configuring some basic settings and then deploying a small client application to your endpoints. The client application allows a device to act as a sensor, providing a constant stream of real-time data into the platform. The company offers client applications for Mac, iOS, Windows and Android, covering the majority of mobile devices on the market.

For testing, we installed the client applications on several different devices, including two iPads, a Samsung Galaxy phone, three iPhones, two Dell laptops, a MacBook Air and a Samsung Tablet, all connected on a variety of networks, including Optimum WiFi, T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon. Installation of the client proved straightforward, with NetMotion offering some tools to push the clients down to the devices. Interestingly, the client also works on wired connections, which could prove to be handy for comparing wired network performance with wireless devices or monitoring remote connections that take place over broadband.

We used the devices over several days to gather data and evaluate what Operational Intelligence can do and how it helps to solve wireless problems.

Primary Features

Netmotion: (image: Inventory Details)

There is no denying that Operational Intelligence is chock full of features; however, if those features miss the mark, there is no point in using them for starters. In NetMotion’s case, the quantity of features did not prove distracting, and each capability seemed relevant to the task at hand.

Take, for example, provisioning devices and adding them to an inventory, which proved to be a simple process. After a new device contacts the service, administrators can use a simple wizard to incorporate the device into inventory. All sorts of pertinent information is captured, and administrators can add extra data such as asset tags or other information.

The details collected include manufacturer, OS version, adapter details and so on. After devices have been provisioned and have been collecting data for some time, the Device Details screen offers many more data elements, including an activity log, a physical map of the device’s location and the status of the device. Administrators can further drill down into performance metrics, threat defense audits and cost control reports. Simply put, an administrator can find out anything about that device once it has the client software installed and can view both real-time information and historic data. Ultimately, administrators are able troubleshoot connectivity problems in real time or investigate connectivity problems using the gathered data.

Of course, device activity and health are only one part of the equation. Operational Intelligence was designed to address three primary concerns about mobile devices and connectivity; performance, threat defense and cost control.

Performance Dashboard

Netmotion Network Health

Operational Intelligence offers several customizable dashboards and reports that are used for performance issues. Measuring performance means gathering a significant amount of data that the client sensors provide. The factors impacting performance include throughput, signal strength, disconnects, network failures and persisted connections.

The product offers a network health dashboard, which sums up all activity related to performance and allows administrators to drill down into more detail. The dashboard is easy to comprehend and lets administrators know what’s going on with a glance.

Several other performance dashboards are available as well, such as network bandwidth, network failures, connection failures and a slew of diagnostic reports.

Administrators can use the Performance dashboards to track down performance and connectivity related problems; each dashboard supports filters that can limit data by date range, device or most any other criteria. The location information also can be used to determine if the performance issue is due to poor signal strength, interference or any other measured factor. The performance measurement capabilities also prove valuable when selecting cellular carriers or when placing WiFi access points.

Threat Defense Dashboard

NetMotion Diagnostic Report

Supporting a mobile workforce increases an organization’s exposure to threats. After all, the world is filled with WiFi hotspots with unknown provenance, burner cell phones and other technologies that can be used to infiltrate wireless networks. What’s more, there is always the specter of theft or device loss haunting mobile workers. With that in mind, administrators supporting a mobile workforce must up their game when it comes to protecting sensitive information from malicious intent.

Operational Intelligence offers administrators several tools to help keep things secure; those tools are housed within the Threat Defense dashboards. Administrators trying to track down suspicious activity can turn to the Real Time Traffic Audit dashboard, which gives a detailed view into device and application activity. The dashboard offers location information, user information, device information and even an FQDN (fully qualified domain name) for the device. Administrators can filter by different criteria, such as Device, User and Application, to narrow down the results.?

Threat Defense also offers several other security-related dashboards, such as Traffic Destination Audit, VPN (virtual private network) Security Audit, VPN Status and WiFi Security Audit. Each of those dashboards supports filtering and brings forth additional data points allowing administrators to determine if unsecure connections were made. Of particular interest is the WiFi Security Audit, a dashboard that shows the number of unsecured WiFi connections, the location and other pertinent facts.

Cost Control

The Cost Control dashboard is sure to make any administrator worried about the costs associated with mobile access happy. The primary dashboard, Mobility and Diagnostics Impact, offers calculations on productivity time saved and traffic reduction, providing measurable ROI on the Operational Intelligence. Calculations for network interruption reduction, minutes saved and resolved anomalies can be used to determine savings, thus proving that the capabilities offered by Operational Intelligence were worth the investment.

Other dashboards include Cellular Network Usage, WiFi Network Usage and Ethernet Network Usage. Any of those dashboards can be used to identify top users, most-used applications and frequency of roaming, among others. All of them can be translated into financial data to help administrators determine where costs can be reduced. For example, if a majority of wireless users are provisioned on a particular cellular carrier, perhaps switching to a lower-cost carrier can reduce monthly cellular bills.

Conclusions

NetMotion Operational Intelligence brings forth the big data model and applies it to the conundrum of network connectivity. The data gathered and the dashboards used to display it can provide the intelligence that should allow any administrator to master the intricate elements of managing wireless connectivity for mobile users. What’s more, the product offers insight into activities that were once lost to the ether and brings forth actionable data that can be used to improve connectivity and potentially reduce costs. Pricing is based on deployment size and starts at $2,250 perpetual or $105/month annual subscription.