“The Internet is now effectively the enterprise backbone”: Ian Waters reveals why visual data is critical for business

ThousandEyes is a network intelligence company that produces performance monitoring tools to help businesses improve the quality of their online experiences. They achieve this by utilising innovative data visualisations that enable users to better understand the inner workings of their online infrastructure.

We spoke to Ian Waters, ThousandEyes’ Director of Solutions Marketing, to find out how the business was created, how it enhances client online performance, the continual growth of the internet, the future of CX and more.

Where did you see the gap in the market in the need to create a firm like yours?

Our co-founders, Mohit Lad and Ricardo Oliveira, had an idea to create technology that would create a Google Maps-type view of a company’s entire IT whilst at UCLA. During their studies, they learned about how the Internet has grown into a hybrid interconnected web of networks and services. Mohit and Ricardo saw that there were no tools out there that could visualise the complex mechanics of the Internet and allow businesses to get a comprehensive understanding of the Internet as a whole in order to understand connectivity problems.

They wanted to solve this problem and empower people to understand and improve their own networks. As such, ThousandEyes was born. The idea won them a research grant for seed funding from the United States’ National Science Foundation, a very unusual route to start a company.

On your website, it says, “Digital experience is only as good as the quality of the internet”, what specifically do you mean by that?

Today’s users have high expectations of their digital experience. They expect web and app response times to happen within two seconds or less. After three seconds, most users will simply abandon the interaction and move on, possibly to a competitor. Delivering a great user experience depends on Internet performance and third-party systems and networks. The need for visibility of application performance has never been greater and, as a result, performance monitoring tools have become critical to everyday life for many businesses.

How do you ‘visualise’ connection across the internet?

We have hundreds of Cloud Agents installed around the world collecting performance data from local transit providers right through to 4G LTE vantage points, broadband ISPs and cloud providers. Using these Cloud Agents, we’re actively monitoring and testing the network traffic paths across internal, external, carrier and Internet networks to give deep network performance and availability insights that are enriched with routing and device data for a multi-dimensional view of digital experience. Today, ThousandEyes measures more than 8 billion service paths per day, and more than 33 million network traces are collected per hour. This data is pulled into a customised dashboard that can meet an individual business’ needs. Widget configuration allows enterprises to map enterprise agents and their status, test applications and create reports.

What barriers have you faced so far and how did you get over them?

Generally, our customers have a set of traditional network monitoring tools that are fine for equipment or applications they own. However, as they transition to delivering a digital experience for their employees and customers across the Internet and third party or cloud provider Networks, they’re not aware they need to completely reassess this monitoring stack so it’s appropriate for modern networks. Demonstrating to customers that there are solutions that let them troubleshoot the complete end-to-end service delivery for their applications is often a genuinely eye-opening experience for them.

What can you tell us in terms of cloud performance across the globe and why location matters?

In 2018 we introduced the industry’s first and only comparative look at performance metrics of three public cloud service providers: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft Azure. In the 2019 report, we added IBM Cloud and Alibaba Cloud into the cloud application mix while also examining North American broadband ISP performance, connectivity to and from China as well as AWS’ Global Accelerator — raising the number of measurements to more than 320 million data points.

The main takeaways from our study were that some cloud providers rely heavily on the public Internet to transport traffic instead of their backbones, which can impact performance predictability. The report found that AWS’ Global Accelerator is not a one-size-fits-all solution and doesn’t always outperform the Internet. With regards to location and cloud performance, Latin America and Asia have the highest latency and variability across all clouds, whereas in North America, cloud performance is generally comparable. Ultimately, we found that choices need to be made on a case by case basis, what’s right for one company or one part of the world may not be right for all, and only with data and visibility can you make informed choices.

What can you tell us about the growth of the internet and why we are experiencing outages?

It’s important to understand that the Internet has grown into a network of over 60,000 Autonomous Systems all connected on a trust basis. The Internet has to be an open network, in order to give us the dynamic and global connectivity we all want, but being open leads to vulnerabilities, and also variability as not all of those networks perform to the same standards.

At the same time, enterprises are increasingly relying on Internet transport to connect their sites and reach business-critical applications and services. Gone are the days in which applications are solely hosted in private data centres.

What can you tell us about how the Internet is acting as an unregulated collection of independent networks and providers?

The Internet is now effectively the enterprise backbone, made up of a large and complex ecosystem of Internet-facing services such as CDN, DNS, DDoS mitigation, and public cloud. These services work together to provide great digital experiences but are also vulnerable to potential outages, which can be extremely disruptive to the business by preventing users from reaching your applications and services. Delivering a seemingly simple customer or employee digital experience is dependent on every link in the chain performing and with the complex and distributed nature of modern applications that chain is lengthening.

How does this affect the control that businesses have over it?

By relying so heavily on third-party service providers, from IaaS to SaaS to ISPs to CDNs to deliver a cloud digital service, companies are relinquishing much of the control they’ve previously had over their IT systems and infrastructure. When organisations controlled the infrastructure and the application they were delivering, they could potentially find and fix any issues. In today’s world, it’s very likely that you don’t own either the infrastructure or the application, so operating models have to change. Given that an estimated 96% of businesses use the cloud in some manner, nearly every company is now operating on networks outside of their ownership.

On the opposite end, connection is going from strength to strength, what do you see happening with the future of connection?

It’s interesting that you say “connection is going from strength to strength”.

Yes, it is, with the rise of 5G and edge computing, there’s currently a dramatic connectivity acceleration underway. However, we’re also experiencing a “Splinternet”, where some regions of the world are experiencing a lack of connectivity as the Internet becomes increasingly fragmented. In 2019, Russia passed it’s ‘Sovereign Internet’ law to block off its Internet from the rest of the world, and Iran implemented a near-total Internet shutdown. In the years to come, this “Splinternet” trend of a fragmented Internet will accelerate, as more countries will attempt to create restrictions of their Internet using government control overflows of traffic and internet-based services. The most likely candidates to extend these restrictions? Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Saudi Arabia.

What are the biggest things you are seeing happening with the digital experience right now?

What we hear from our customers is that they want to move away from supplier and service level management, where they measure individual components in terms of service delivery and focus instead on the end-to-end user experience. Ultimately it doesn’t matter that all your lights are green if your customer is not happy. The fact is that the modern digital user experience relies on partners to help you deliver it, and large companies will own and deliver less and less of the underlying technology going forward, so operational mindsets need to change and companies need end-to-end visibility informed by data, which gives them control without necessarily owning all parts of the journey.