PathSolutions has announced that its network performance management software will be able to respond to natural language queries in an upcoming release.
For example, a network engineer could type “What happened between New York and Chicago at 3:35 pm?” and the system will return responses that identify problems such as “Router Y experienced 12% packet loss” or “Interface 3 on switch X is down.”
The goal is to simplify troubleshooting and root cause analysis, and to enable junior engineers and help desk administrators to be more efficient at identifying and solving problems.
The natural language capability will be available in PathSolutions’ TotalView 8 release, which the company says will ship in September 2017.
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The TotalView software, which has been commercially available for a decade, uses SNMP to collect information about network devices, including the health, performance, and status of every interface on each device. It also collects 18 error counters to track issues such as CRC errors, cabling faults, and other problems.
The software includes a heuristics engine to analyze this data to identify and describe problems. By adding the natural language feature, the company aims to save engineers some clicks through the UI to more quickly surface up problems.
In addition to the text-based queries and responses, PathSolutions is also working on an integration with Amazon Echo to enable voice-based questions and responses. In other words, instead of typing “What happened?” into a screen, you can just ask.
My immediate reaction was that the Amazon Echo integration was a little gimmicky. I’m also suspicious of how easy and accurate this natural language capability is being portrayed as. Do queries have to be phrased in particular ways to get useful answers? What happens if you ask an open-ended question?
What about faults or failures that are part of a chain of systems and devices? And will engineers and administrators have to learn how to ask the right questions to get the right answers?
In a briefing with PathSolutions I asked some of these questions. Tim Titus, PathSolutions’ CTO, said that responses will be sorted by priority so that the most critical issues come first. He also noted that the software could identify related problems along a network path.
After more consideration, I think this is an interesting step forward in making monitoring and management solutions more human-friendly. Natural language and voice interaction is making inroads in the consumer market, so it’s no surprise to see it show up in the enterprise.
In addition, we have to start somewhere, so I’m glad to see PathSolutions taking a risk and trying something interesting. And even if early versions turn out to be clunky or obtuse, that may be a price worth paying to get to a truly natural and intuitive voice system, like the one envisioned in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where voice queries were a natural part of Enterprise operations.
We’ve got a ways to go, but it would be be cool to one day be able to say “Computer, run a level three diagnostic.”