An important part of the work of an administrator is to monitor the network in terms of performance, traffic usage, disruptions and availability. If there are problems, the administrator must be able to react quickly. A network monitoring tool is software or a combination of hardware and software that monitors the network from one end to the other. It collects hundreds of performance metrics. These include bandwidth, latency, responsiveness, and the host's CPU usage. A comprehensive basis for monitoring a network also includes monitoring the behavior of the network. If something is wrong, this will ideally be reported immediately. Reasons can be the drop in performance to a level that is no longer acceptable or peak loads.
Most network monitoring products work well in small and medium-sized environments. It doesn't matter whether it's wireless or wired. In more complex networks, i.e. corporate networks and distributed environments, things are different. Here you need a comprehensive platform that provides insight into the physical and virtual servers. This also applies to WAN connections (Wide Area Network), SDN architectures (Software-Defined Network), cloud services, network-based applications and a rapidly growing number of mobile devices that also connect to the network.
How Network Monitoring Works
It is best not only to monitor the general health of a network, but the monitoring also supports proactive strategies in the best case. For example, hardware or infrastructure upgrades are easier to justify. Thus you prevent chronic bottlenecks in the network. Of course, this feature can save money in the long run by reducing the amount of troubleshooting that the company has to do, which can be repetitive.
Assume that companies rely on a service provider to monitor parts of their network connections. Then they can use network monitoring so that the service level agreements (SLAs) to which the provider has agreed can be enforced. If companies cannot exactly see the performance of the network, enforcing an SLA is difficult, if not impossible.
A well-functioning network naturally increases user satisfaction. This means that the help desk receives fewer calls and there are generally fewer problems.
There are all kinds of built-in tools for network monitoring and free tools from the open source area are also available. For example, the ping program can be used to check simple host connections. Microsoft Network Monitor provides capture and analysis of packets. An administrator may consult them to troubleshoot problems with the network. Nagios is open source and a popular tool for network monitoring. It's not that easy to configure, however, provides a lot of accurate data for all possible metrics. With free tools, however, it is often the case that they require extensions or plug-ins. Only then do they deliver all the expected functionalities or performance features. Automatic warning messages are an example of this.
The free tools approach sounds attractive, but is often not very efficient. Companies need robust products for network monitoring. This is the only way to guarantee uptime, uninterrupted access and easy use.
Network Monitoring Functions
A comprehensive product for monitoring should be able to monitor and analyze the network in real time. This also applies to the relevant devices. This means that an administrator can react promptly to warnings and alarms. It should also be reasonably easy to implement and configure the tool. Support for devices from multiple providers is also beneficial. The product of your choice should at least include automatic detection, inventory of nodes and devices, as well as automatic and configurable alarms.
All of these functions can ideally be managed via a web-based and central management interface. This interface should contain a so-called dashboard with easy-to-understand graphs and tables. This gives you various insights into the status of your network. Furthermore, a topological map for the network should be available or at least one should be able to be created. Commands for modifying network settings and solving problems are also required. Some interfaces only provide insights and reporting.
Due to the current transition to IPv6, it goes without saying that the selected tool for network monitoring must support both the IPv4 (Internet Protocol Version 4) and IPv6 and the associated traffic.
You also have to think about the monitoring approach. Should it be based on so-called agents or not? A network monitoring tool typically uses agents or sensors that collect data and transmit it to a console for further analysis. Agents do, however, require some resources to run. This may have a negative impact on performance. If a product works without an agent, there is little or no effect on currently running processes.
Many, but not all, solutions for network monitoring are application-aware. So you can see applications and services that operate on the network. That is an important advantage. This allows administrators to see very quickly whether a problem is caused by the network performance itself or an application. A network monitoring tool that is application aware allows IT to view application response times in real time. This also includes processing on the server, network queries and responsiveness.
Desirable Features For Network Monitoring
If a tool can identify trends, this can be very valuable for the administrators. This applies to both historical events and predictions. An administrator can use trend data to review the performance of the network. When it comes to predictions, it is easier to assess future performance. The whole thing is based on the behavior of days gone by.
Automatic capacity planning is a useful feature, but not needed in every environment. It takes advantage of the management and optimization of the network infrastructure by sending an alarm to the administrator. This always happens when memory, bandwidth or network capacity are running out.
Look around for a comprehensive product for network monitoring that satisfies your current needs and also offers enough scalability for the future. There is a lot of choice in both the commercial and open source environments. Open source costs nothing and is freely available. However, commercial products usually bring all the desired functions with them in a single package.