Network monitoring is a vital IT function for the corporate world. From employee productivity to infrastructure maintenance, network monitoring can help businesses save costs in all corners of their corporate structure. While network monitoring is gaining popularity, however, many potential adopters are left wondering what exactly this technology is and how it can help them. If you’re looking for basic information on what network monitoring systems are, how they work and how you can use them, you’ve come to the right place.
What Is Network Monitoring?
Network monitoring is an important practice for network administrators. Networks are the lifeblood of any modern corporation, and slowdowns and breaches are costly. Monitoring is the practice of watching the internal network as a whole, including devices, traffic and servers. This helps identify and address potential problems as they occur, preventing network issues. For nearly all businesses, this monitoring occurs with the help of software systems.
Network monitoring systems, at their most basic, are tools that help administrators monitor their networks more effectively. The specifics of the system, however, vary widely based on the company’s size and needs. The following are a few examples of how network monitoring systems vary:
- Size and scale: Some network monitoring systems are simple, pinging hosts to check for availability. Some are even achieved using a patchwork of various software and hardware in tandem. More advanced systems, on the other hand, monitor all areas of even the most complex networks with a single comprehensive system.
- Ease of use: Interfaces vary wildly depending on the type and sophistication of the network monitoring system. While some offer only simple alerts and command-based interfaces, others may provide a graphical user interface to improve functionality. Many modern network monitoring tools have web-based and mobile-based interfaces.
- Automation: Basic monitoring systems rely on an administrator to see results and act on them, but many companies are turning to automated systems that handle events themselves. These systems are designed to trigger events when network data falls outside set parameters, functionally eliminating the middle man and improving response time for network errors.
One important point to network monitoring systems is that they are not necessarily security systems. While network monitoring can serve as a helpful tool to protect against network gaps and slowdowns that could lead to a breach, network monitoring systems are not intrusion detection systems or intrusion prevention systems. While these other systems detect and prevent unauthorized access, network monitoring systems let you know how well the system is running during regular operations.
What Does Network Monitoring Watch?
Choosing what to monitor with a network monitoring software is just as important as deciding to implement one in your business. You can use network monitoring to track a variety of areas in a network, but monitoring usually focuses on the following four areas:
- Bandwidth use: Monitoring network traffic, how much bandwidth your company uses and how effectively it’s used helps ensure that everything runs smoothly. Devices or programs that hog your bandwidth may need to be replaced.
- Application performance: Applications running on your network need to function properly, and network monitoring systems can test to be sure that they do. Network monitoring systems can test the response time and availability of network-based databases, virtual machines, cloud services and more to be certain that they are not slowing down your network.
- Server performance: Email servers, web servers, DNS Servers and more are the crux of many functions in your business, so it’s essential to test the uptime, reliability and consistency of each server.
- Network configuration: Network monitoring systems can supervise many kinds of devices, including cell phones, desktops and servers. Some systems include automatic discovery, which allows them to log and track devices continuously as they are added, changed or removed. These tools can also segregate devices according to their type, service, IP address or physical location, which helps keep the network map updated and helps plan for future growth.
Monitoring isn’t limited to any single type of network. Any network of any level of complexity can be monitored with a sufficient network monitoring system. Some of the most common network types include wireless or wired, corporate LAN, VPN and service provider WAN. Voice over internet protocol (VoIP), video on demand (VOD) and internet protocol TV (IPTV) are also common additions to modern networks that can add complexity to network monitoring. With monitoring, however, managers can allocate resources properly regardless of all the complexities of their network.
How Does Network Monitoring Work?
Network monitoring uses a variety of techniques to test the availability and functionality of the network. Some of the more common general techniques used to collect data for monitoring software are listed below:
- Ping: A ping is one of the most basic techniques that monitoring software uses to test hosts within a network. The monitoring system sends out a signal and records data such as whether the signal was received, how long it took the host to receive the signal, whether any signal data was lost and more. The data is then used to determine whether the host is active, how efficient the host is, the transmission time and packet loss experienced when communicating with the host and other information.
- SNMP: Simple network management protocol (SNMP) monitors individual devices in a network through monitoring software. In this system, each monitored device has monitoring software installed that sends information about the device’s performance to a central SNMP manager. The manager collects this information in a database and analyzes it for errors. This is the most widely used protocol for modern network management systems.
- Syslog: Syslog is an automated messaging system that sends messages when an event affects a network device. Technicians can set up devices to send out messages when the device encounters an error, shuts down unexpectedly, encounters a configuration failure and more. These messages often contain information that can be used for system management as well as security systems.
- Scripts: In networks with gaps in network monitoring software functionality, scripts may be used to fill small gaps. Scripts are simple programs that collect basic information and instruct the network to perform an action within certain conditions. A common example would be a scheduled task like resetting and reconfiguring a public access computer every night. Scripts can also be used to collect data for network monitoring.
Once this data is collected, the network monitoring software sends out an alert if results don’t fall within certain thresholds. Network managers will usually set these thresholds of acceptable performance, programming the network software to send out an alert if its data indicates slow throughput, high error rates, unavailable devices or slow response times.
As soon as the alert is sent out, one of two things may happen. If the system is a manual system, the network administrator will analyze the data and handle the error themselves. An increasing number of network monitoring systems, however, come equipped with some level of automation. In these cases, low-level errors may be automatically fixed by the network monitoring software, while high-level problems are brought to the attention of the network administrator.
Why Do You Need Network Monitoring?
Many corporations are skeptical of network monitoring. If your company’s network is running well, you may wonder if your business needs network monitoring at all. After all, it’s just one more thing for your network managers to keep track of. However, just because your current system works doesn’t mean that it’s working as well as it could be.
Network monitoring is all about optimizing and maintaining your network’s health. While the main goal is to make sure that your network is running, network monitoring can be an excellent way of improving your network performance. Below are just a few examples of what network monitoring can do for your business:
- Receive immediate alerts: While traditional systems may require an administrator to log in and manually run checks in order to see any network errors, network management systems can send out alerts as soon as an error occurs. This way, downtime is minimized and network errors are addressed as promptly as possible.
- Target patterns: Network monitoring systems are excellent at identifying patterns of performance. For example, they can help pinpoint specific groups of equipment that are underperforming so that network administrators can determine the cause and propose an effective solution.
- Identify weak links: Network monitoring can alert administrators to the presence of overloaded equipment or weak WAN links before they become problems, allowing administrators to adjust the network configuration as needed to decrease the burden and eliminate bottlenecks.
- Pinpoint waste: Just like network monitoring can spot overuse of equipment, it can also help identify underused equipment that could be eliminated or used differently.
- Minimize data loss: Error-prone networks can lose essential data for your business. From corrupted files to dropped mail sessions, these errors can severely impact your company’s productivity and efficacy. Network management can minimize this by identifying errors and their sources, allowing administrators to fix the problem.
- Maintain compliance: Network monitoring systems compile a massive database of information that can be extremely useful for compliance purposes. Potential compliance problems can be identified quickly, and your database can provide extensive information to be used for compliance reports.
All of the factors listed above feed into a business’s profits. Companies save money by minimizing downtime and errors and avoiding compliance issues, but also gain a greater level of efficiency and productivity by ensuring that their networks are as fast and available as possible. Companies can make even better use of their hardware and software, minimizing unnecessary purchases and making the most of existing resources.
How Do You Choose Network Monitoring Software?
If you’re ready to implement network monitoring in your business, consider these points when looking into network monitoring software:
- What data it collects: Any network monitoring software should be compatible with your network and collect information from various elements within your network. Make sure that any software you choose will monitor the type of data that matters to your business and is compatible with the network types, servers and devices your business uses.
- How it presents data: Any monitoring software must also process and present the data it collects in a way that can be used. User-friendly formats are essential to make the most of network monitoring. Look for monitoring software that offers configurable alert systems and presents relevant statistics in a way that your network administrators can easily understand and use.
- How much support it offers: If you can’t effectively configure your network monitoring solution, you won’t experience the benefits of network monitoring. When possible, look for network monitoring software and services that offer excellent support services and, ideally, configuration and set up services.
Wherever you get your monitoring tools, it’s best to thoroughly check how well they will work with your operating systems and network.
What Are Some Network Monitoring Best Practices?
When it comes to implementing network monitoring, keep these essential best practices in mind:
- Know your network: Be certain your network map is up to date. While some network monitoring software automatically tracks network changes, it is still essential for your team to track it themselves to ensure that all areas are covered. This map should include the types of networks that need monitoring, the servers and hardware involved, any remote devices and other factors. This awareness makes it easier to find an appropriate network monitoring solution and helps identify gaps and potential upgrade needs.
- Establish baselines: You can’t accurately determine what is abnormal in your network without knowing what is normal. Check on your network regularly to determine your network’s baselines and reassess your alert thresholds.
- Create alert plans: Network monitoring becomes a moot point when alerts don’t reach the right people. When setting up your network monitoring system, firmly establish who is in charge of different aspects of the network and set up systems to ensure that alerts go to the correct people. Additionally, create organizational policies pertaining to alerts — for example, if an alert occurs after hours, who handles it?
- Reassess regularly: Companies and networks change constantly, and your network monitoring should change with it. Every time a major change occurs in staffing, network configuration, company policy or company structure, reassess your network, network monitoring system and all associated issues to verify that everything is covered.
This can be quite a lot to consider for companies that are new to network monitoring solutions. If your business needs assistance choosing and implementing a network monitoring solution, Worldwide Services can help.
Why Work With an Expert?
When you’re implementing a network monitoring solution for the first time, the task can be daunting. However, working with an expert can streamline the process — they can help you determine what your needs are, what to look for and how to get started. The best companies can even provide continuous support throughout your partnership.
If you’re looking for a network expert, Worldwide Services is here. Our certified engineers are available to help you with your configuration support and system design needs, and we offer 24/7 remote technical support programs for our clients. We even provide extensive spare and repair services for our international clients. We hold ourselves to the highest standards in the telecom industry and can ensure that your business benefits from the best the industry has to offer.
Contact Worldwide Services today to learn more about our products and services and how they can help you get up and running with network monitoring.