Network monitoring software and solutions are nothing new, starting their humble beginnings with SNMP (Simple Network Monitoring Protocol) in the 1980s. Since then things have progressed to include easier to use protocols for monitoring such as WMI and syslog; as well as SNMP being upgraded to include authentication in version 3.
Despite its obvious advantages, network monitoring is not always at the top of a network managers shopping list; and is sometimes considered a nice to have. In this blog we take a look at the top ten features of network monitoring solutions which offer significant capabilities to IT teams; and how network monitoring is the cornerstone of a strong network.
Device Discovery - The most basic aspect of any network monitoring tool is that it can discover all of those dark corners of your network with the click of a button. Particularly in larger networks, understanding what you have and which IP addresses are in use, can be a difficult task. Taking it one step further, regular or even scheduled discoveries will alert you as to when rogue or unauthorised devices are being added to the network.
Network Maps - Post discovery, network monitoring solutions will be able to map out your network according to their physical and cabled links; or associations in the case of WiFi access points or virtualisation. No more following cables in server racks or wondering which virtual machine is on which hypervisor host.
Understand Device Health Status - Based on a single or multiple monitor types, network monitoring solutions can determine whether or not a device is offline or down. This could be based on a number of tests, such as ping or port tests. This is usually reflected in the network map as a warning or can be used to send alerting information to IT support teams for further investigation.
Long-Term Hardware Trends - With statistical information about hardware such as port bandwidth statistics, CPU utlisation, memory usage and hard-disk capacity being collected from each device. Historical reports can be built to view both retrospectively and as a tool to determine a short-term future. For example, if a report reveals that a server is consuming 5% of its hard-disk capacity each day, we can determine a trend-line to avoid a future problem.
Network Traffic Analysis - Using either NetFlow or sFlow, switches and routers can send packet data to a network monitoring solution for analysis. Network traffic analysis features will reveal more than just the utlisation of switch ports, for example they can show the top communicators and protocols over a given time. This can be used to determine not just that a network device is over-burdened but by what.
How familiar are you with netflow and network traffic analysis? Take a look at our blog - What is Netflow and Why Should I Monitor It?
Alerting and Incident Response - Knowing that a device is offline or down is great but what comes next? Any network monitoring solution worth using will have alerting and integration capabilities to help with incident response. For example, alerts which can be sent via email, SMS, Slack messages; or integrations such as running scripts, posting to support ticket systems such as ServiceNow; or interacting with virtualisation software such as VMware.
Manage Network Devices - Personally one of my favourite features available in network monitoring software. When given access to the configuration files of a network device, network monitoring solutions can be used to centrally back up, monitor for change, restore configuration files and even issue commands to network devices. For example, the creation of a VLAN or the disablement of a port. Network management has become truly centralised!
Cloud Integration - Keeping up with the times, network monitoring solutions have capabilities which allow them to utilise APIs for Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS. This extends monitoring into the cloud and can even track usage which can in turn be correlated against cost. Want to see what caused this months AWS bill to be higher than the last? You can.
Analyse Wireless Connectivity - With wireless networks becoming the norm, being able to monitor the signal strength as well as other metrics is paramount. Where particular areas of coverage are patchy or transmission speeds are slow, network monitoring solutions can show you statistics and measurements which could reveal the route cause. Better yet, get alerted to a growing problem before your users report it.
Monitor Application Health - For the most part, this blog has focussed on the benefits of using network monitoring solutions for hardware. As we all know, applications or software can cease to function, while the hardware is operational, causing a loss of availability. Network monitoring solutions often cover both aspects and can monitor well know applications for failures. For example, Microsoft SQL Server can be monitored for open ports, buffer sizes and transaction times to give a general indication of the applications health.
Want to learn more about network monitoring solutions? Take a look at our definitive guide to network monitoring and incident response.
So why do i think that network monitoring solutions should sit at the top of any network administrators shopping list? Ultimately it comes down to maintaining a high level of availability. Where organisations are reliant on data processing systems and their wider networks, the criticality of those networks being available and efficient is high.
I have worked in many an organisation where troubleshooting is a reactive fire fighting activity. On most occasions the IT team had no idea there was an issue to be rectified unless a member of staff reported it; and by this time the problem was at its worst state. Turning network and device management from a reactive job role to a proactive one means that you can identify potential issues and flashpoints early on and correct them before they affect users.
Network monitoring solutions let you do just that.
The features highlighted in this blog are all available in the widely known network monitoring tool, Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold. If you would like to learn more about this solution, you can book a 45-minute demo with one of our consultants.