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Graphic User Interface for Optimum Network Visibility and User Experience

Yigal Amram By: Yigal Amram November 27, 2018

As the saying goes: “Seeing is believing”. Seeing gives you the ability to react very quickly to what you view – on a required basis. In contrast, it also enables you to take your time to thoroughly study a situation (maybe viewing it from different angles and perspectives) before you go ahead and decide to act. This is the power of the user interface (UI) – specifically the graphic user interface (GUI). It optimizes the user experience (UX) and empowers Network Visibility – and this is what we’re going to discuss today.

Engineers generally like to drill down into a network by sending relevant text queries via the command line interface (CLI) – and then inspect the results that the network management application generates in response. The same goes for configuring the network, fine-tuning, testing, and receiving alarm notifications. Because, unlike a GUI, a CLI doesn’t introduce latency and delay the way a software program does.

CLI, however, is not the right tool today for handling the significantly increased complexity of network infrastructures which typically have extensive distributed monitoring and control components. Network traffic is more dynamic and security issues much more acute and multifaceted. This all demands a centralized and simplified control methodology with agile functionality and a large toolbox of functions and commands that can be handled via a GUI’s interactive screens.

GUI – The Right Way to Navigate and Control the Network

A major problem with the GUI user experience (UX), however, is that, more often than not, navigating to the correct screen for implementing a task is not intuitive enough. A user may need to navigate through several screens in order to implement the required command(s) or to get the appropriate visual to understand a specific situation.

Frequently, the GUI is not tailored to specific user needs – or is not as user-friendly as one would hope for – with regard to specific use cases. In order to solve such problems, more and more GUIs are offering user-customizable dashboards for setting up the required rapid-access and essential views to make the GUI as effective as possible.

The learning curve – what with the large set of functions and features, views, and commands – is also a factor in the UX that users need to ‘overcome’ and may find a bit daunting at first. It’s just a question of time, however, and the users typically adjust and learn how best to navigate the GUI in an efficient manner.

Not withstanding some of the above issues, the user’s network visibility interface provides a powerful tool for managing the network, from initial configuration and getting all network software and hardware elements up and running – to critical tweaking and fine-tuning throughout its life.

The very fact that the network is made up of many different components – each with its own particular configuration requirements, “quirks”, and “sensitivities” – makes the GUI essential for quickly configuring and setting up each component vis-à-vis the network, for seamless integration and functioning in tandem with other network components. The GUI essentially circumvents the need to spend time learning the device’s specific CLI syntax.

Thus, the GUI enables the user to avoid having to navigate the murky waters of complex CLI commands. For this alone – empowering the user to reduce errors in configurations and improving the time to complete them so as to have everything up-and running within an optimum time-frame – the GUI becomes an essential tool among the various ones needed for network management and visibility. But there are more benefits from learning and knowing how to use the GUI.

GUI Added Value and Benefits

There are numerous advantages and benefits of why one would opt to use the graphic presentation interface over the CLI. Following is a list of some of the most beneficial network visibility GUI strengths and capabilities:

  • A picture is worth a thousand words – The actual display of information in graphical form – including differentiating on-screen elements (representing actual network components, wiring schematics etc) with color-coded icons or graphic representations.

  • Color-coded elements – Special color-coding can be set for obvious things like alarms (usually red), as well as for dynamic activity such as  traffic flow. This offers unique real-time network visibility into the traffic flow including visually representing data-packet traffic moving at normal rates, potential overload that may be taking place, and network points close to reaching flow thresholds – or are already being overwhelmed.

  • Pop-up and mouse-over information – Clicking component icons/graphics or hovering over them with the cursor brings up either specific item information or a menu for further action such as drill-downs.

  • Drill-Downs – The ability to drill down and expand specific elements or areas of the network for a detailed ‘zoomed-in’ view greatly enhances network visibility by enabling network administrators to hone-in on possible trouble spots.

  • Simulations – Running simulations of ‘what-if’ scenarios of configuration changes as well as redesigning of the network, for example, adding, removing, upgrading, and moving network elements, are an added benefit that use of a GUI provides to network designers and administrators to visualize, ahead of time, the impact of such changes on network operation.

  • Reports and Logs – On-screen reports and logs (with multiple views) that can be quickly generated, sorted and re-sorted by column for immediate comparisons and analysis, and bringing up essential information.

  • Context sensitive help – If the GUI is designed right, when you access the “help” module, you can access only the information you need without being overwhelmed by a full user guide spanning hundreds of web pages.

Summary

The GUI’s visual cues and providing insight into your network, its interactive user interface, and real-time facility, are an essential part of today’s network visibility tools. In addition, the power of visualizing the network at multiple levels, drilling down to quickly get on top of problem areas, rapid access to network operation metrics, and ease of configuration allow the GUI to be a critical tool for ongoing IT data center operations.

CLI has its own value and will continue to be useful for managing discrete devices, GUI – with its more sophisticated functionality and features is the way network visibility has come into its own. It is a critical component of the network administrator’s toolbox that supports analysis and resolution of network problems in real-time.

Niagara Networks’ own network visibility UX/GUI offering is our state-of-the art NVC (Niagara Visibility Controller) with its centralized management GUI, and FabricFlow traffic mapping interface. For more information on NVC and other networking products, feel free to consult with our network specialists..

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