What is Network Monitoring and Why is it Crucial for Your Business?
A company’s network infrastructure is the backbone of its operations. From emails to file transfers and remote work, a properly functioning network is essential for productivity and security. Without vigilant network monitoring, issues can go undetected and cause major business disruptions.
What is Network Infrastructure?
A network infrastructure refers to all the hardware and software that enables networked communication within an organization. This includes routers, switches, firewalls, servers, cables, protocols, and more. Some key components of a network infrastructure include:
- Servers – These are computers that host applications, websites, databases, file shares, and other services accessed by users over the network. File servers, print servers, email servers, and web servers are common examples.
- Routers – Routers transmit data packets between different networks and subnet masks. They select the most efficient path to route traffic to its destination.
Why is Network Monitoring Important?
Network monitoring provides complete visibility into the performance and health of the infrastructure. Without effective monitoring, network managers are essentially flying blind. Network monitoring is crucial for several reasons:
Detect Problems Proactively
Active monitoring enables issues to be identified and resolved before users are impacted. This reduces downtime and prevents minor problems from snowballing into major outages.
Monitoring tools provide insights into current network performance and capacity. Trend data can predict future infrastructure needs and prevent overutilization.
Continuous oversight is required to detect security breaches and policy violations. Monitoring enables tracking of unauthorized access attempts, malware activity, and suspicious traffic patterns indicative of an attack.
Gain Insights for Planning
Ongoing monitoring generates data that informs planning and strategy. Traffic analysis indicates growth patterns and where infrastructure expansions are needed most.
Meet Compliance Requirements
Many regulations and standards like HIPAA, PCI DSS, and SOX mandate network monitoring and logs. These demonstrate compliance and support audits and investigations when needed. Monitoring is required for compliance.
Monitoring data helps pinpoint the root cause of problems like faulty hardware, misconfigurations, overloaded links, DNS issues, and more. IT staff can isolate the source and quickly restore normal operations.
How Does Network Management Work?
Network management encompasses the tools, practices, and administration involved in overseeing the infrastructure. Robust management is enabled by network monitoring and vital for efficient operations. Key aspects include:
A well-designed network is fundamental for performance and manageability. IT architects plan the infrastructure with business needs in mind and allow for scalability. Logical organization and segmentation improve control and security.
Standardized device configurations ensure consistency and prevent many issues stemming from ad hoc changes. Version controlled configuration files and change monitoring help maintain desired state.
Network utilization, latency, errors, and other performance metrics must be tracked to optimize speed, reliability, and capacity. Performance data aids troubleshooting.
Problems must be rapidly detected, diagnosed, and corrected to minimize disruptions. IT staff need insight from monitoring tools to pinpoint and address faults.
Vigilance is required to protect against internal and external threats. Monitoring for suspicious activity is coupled with defined security policies and controls.
Change and Release Management
A structured process for network changes prevents unexpected outcomes. Changes are strategically planned, tested, implemented gradually, and monitored closely.
The service desk fields user problems, provides technical support, and funnels issues to second-level IT teams. Alerting and diagnostics data accelerates resolution.
How Can I Monitor My Network?
There are many approaches and tools available for monitoring your infrastructure:
Network Performance Monitors
These collect traffic data including utilization, errors, discards, latency, and more. They track network health metrics and identify congestion points or misconfigurations.
Log Analysis Tools
Log data from network devices provides valuable performance and security insights. Collecting and correlating logs in a SIEM tool like Splunk enables search and analysis.
Analytics and Packet Inspection
Deep packet inspection reveals traffic details including usage by protocol, application, source, and destination. Network analytics uncover trends and outliers.
Simulated traffic sends pings and transactions that mimic user activity. This tests reachability and performance from endpoints. Platforms like Catch Point and Thousand Eyes provide this.
Agent software on devices tracks metrics like utilization, processes, disk space, log data, and more. This augments network-focused monitoring.
The SNMP protocol allows network devices to report status and alerts. Monitoring systems can poll devices via SNMP for status updates.
Real User Monitoring
RUM captures performance experienced by end users, such as page load times. It highlights problems not detectable by other means.
A combination of tools and approaches provides comprehensive monitoring with layered insight into infrastructure health, performance, availability and security.
Important Recent Changes to Network Monitoring
Network infrastructure has continued advancing in recent years, compelling evolutions in monitoring techniques:
Monitoring for Virtual Environments
Virtualization and software-defined infrastructure have become ubiquitous. Monitoring systems like Veeam ONE and SolarWinds Virtualization Manager are purpose-built for these environments.
Monitoring the Internet of Things (IoT)
With the proliferation of network-connected devices, monitoring IoT presence, activity, data flows and security is crucial. Tools like Axiom Cyber bring IoT visibility at Internet Protocol (Ip) Address .
Shift to Cloud Monitoring
Assets and workloads migrating to public clouds require shared responsibility monitoring. Native cloud tools plus platforms like Data dog provide cloud oversight.
Unified Monitoring Solutions
IT teams need holistic visibility across diverse, hybrid environments from a single pane of glass. Unified monitoring delivers consolidated data.
AIOps and Automation
Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, AIOps platforms automate aspects of monitoring analysis and workflow for greater efficiency.
Advanced analytics offer dynamic insights into performance issues and security events as they occur. This enables rapid response.
Monitoring complexity has increased in step with modern heterogeneous networks. Next-gen tools apply intelligent automation for smoother network management.
What are the Challenges of Network Monitoring?
Although network monitoring is critical, several common challenges can hinder effective implementation:
Overwhelming Volume of Data
Networks generate massive amounts of performance and security data. Monitoring systems must collect, filter and analyze this firehose of information efficiently.
Parsing Disparate Data Sources
Data comes from an array of heterogeneous sources like routers, cloud services, endpoints and applications. Consolidating this into unified views is difficult.
Ensuring Uptime of Monitoring Tools
Outages of monitoring systems render the network blind. High availability architecture and redundancy limits this risk.
Detecting Intermittent Issues
Transient glitches and breaks may evade monitoring if not frequent or prolonged enough to cross detection thresholds. Deep historical data and packet-level analysis improves visibility.
Lack of Context Behind Issues
Pinpointing root cause often requires drilling down into granular data and correlating insights across multiple monitoring streams.
Monitoring systems produce more alerts than understaffed IT teams can handle. Reducing false positives and automating aspects of correlation and workflow are necessary.
Securing Monitoring Infrastructure
Attackers look to undermine visibility by compromising monitoring systems themselves. Strict access controls and vaulted storage help secure data.
How to Perform Network Monitoring Effectively?
For maximum benefit, network monitoring should follow certain best practices:
Choose Comprehensive Solutions
Look for robust tools that cover all infrastructure segments and provide holistic visibility. Consolidated data enables better correlations and efficiency.
Set Proactive Alerting Thresholds
Configure alerts to trigger before minor issues become major outages impacting users. For instance, alert at 60% capacity instead of 90%.
Validate Monitoring Coverage
Audit monitoring scope regularly and expand it to track newly added infrastructure. Eliminate blind spots where issues could hide undetected.
Establish Strong Baselining
Learn what “normal” is for traffic patterns, utilization, and other metrics during problem-free periods. This enables detecting anomalies.
Correlate Insights Across Tools
Aggregate data from multiple monitoring streams to gain context and pinpoint root cause of problems faster.
Monitor Network Changes Closely
When upgrading infrastructure, changing configurations, or adding services, watch closely for any resulting issues. Roll back changes if needed.
Automate What is Predictable
Leverage AIOs, scripting, and integration capabilities to automate repetitive tasks like report delivery, baseline updates, and initial ticket creation.
Foster Collaboration Between Teams
Bring together network, server, application, and security teams to share insights and achieve end-to-end visibility.
Make Monitoring Proactive Rather than Reactive
Get in front of issues through careful oversight, capacity planning, and migration of workloads. Don’t just wait for things to break.
Continuously Improve Monitoring Efficiency
Periodically evaluate and tune monitoring tools and processes. Leverage new features and capabilities as they emerge. Monitoring should evolve with the infrastructure.
Following best practices helps optimize monitoring implementations for robust protection of network availability, performance and security.
Benefits of Effective Network Monitoring
Organizations that implement rigorous network monitoring accrue many advantages:
- Fewer outages and less downtime disruption
- Faster diagnosis and resolution of issues
Studies show companies lose an average of $260,000 for every hour of network downtime. The risks of lax monitoring are too great.
Network Monitoring vs. Network Management
Network monitoring and management are closely aligned, but there are some key differences:
- Monitoring focuses on data collection and alerting to detect issues. Management encompasses monitoring data as well as the associated workflow, administration, planning and policy.
- Monitoring is ongoing and operational. Management has a strategic long-term orientation.
Monitoring serves as the “ears on the ground” that empowers effective management. Both are essential for robust network operations.
Network Monitoring Primary Use Cases
Network monitoring has branched out over the years to serve several distinct use cases:
1. Availability Monitoring
Ensuring infrastructure remains accessible and operational is the most basic, fundamental use case. Monitoring systems track key metrics and send alerts when devices go down, when utilization crosses thresholds, or performance degrades below acceptable levels.
2. Baselining and Anomaly Detection
By studying infrastructure behavior under normal conditions, monitoring can distinguish unusual patterns indicative of emerging issues.
3. Capacity Planning
Collecting network load data over time provides the visibility needed to anticipate future capacity requirements. Monitoring informs upgrades and expansions to supply adequate bandwidth.
When users report issues, comprehensive monitoring provides diagnostic details to rapidly pinpoint root causes like overloaded links, misconfigurations, DNS problems, faulty equipment, or bad cables. The reporting also aids post-mortem analysis.
Many regulations mandate retention of network activity records and audit trails. Monitoring data demonstrates compliance and accountability to oversight entities.
6. Security Oversight
Monitoring helps detect malware communications, unusual traffic flows, unauthorized devices, weak encryption, and other policy violations with security implications.
7. SLA and QoS Monitoring
For critical applications and services, monitoring verifies quality of service and compliance with service level agreements. Measuring latency, jitter, packet loss and uptime confirms appropriate service levels.
Evolving from basic connectivity monitoring, modern tools now serve a diverse array of use cases spanning operations, capacity planning, troubleshooting, security, compliance and more.
Network outages inflict heavy tolls on productivity, revenue, costs, and customer satisfaction. Network monitoring provides the visibility that empowers IT teams to avoid and respond quickly to performance and security issues.
In today’s highly networked world, few tasks are more crucial than vigilant network monitoring and management. Businesses cannot afford to leave infrastructure health, utilization and security to chance.
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