Staying connected 24/7 is now mission-critical for companies in our digital world. Email, VoIP, video conferences, cloud apps – all rely on always-on network availability. But without vigilant network monitoring, that connectivity can quickly be disrupted, grinding business operations to a costly halt.
Network monitoring refers to the round-the-clock tracking, recording, analyzing and reviewing of your company’s network performance and operations. Going far beyond basic uptime monitoring, comprehensive network monitoring provides complete visibility into the health, efficiency and security of your infrastructure and devices. It delivers the actionable insights you need to optimize network operations, avoid expensive downtime, and address weaknesses before they’re exploited.
In this article, we’ll look at what network monitoring involves, why it’s becoming indispensable for modern enterprises, how to choose the right monitoring tools, and some best practices for implementation.
Table of Contents
What Does Network Monitoring Entail?
At its core, network monitoring is about keeping constant watch over the availability, throughput, latency and overall performance of your business network. This includes monitoring:
- Network uptime/downtime – are critical servers and infrastructure available?
- Bandwidth utilization – is the network getting overloaded?
- Traffic patterns and data flows – is usage aligned to business needs?
- Latency and responsiveness – are apps speedy or sluggish?
- Individual component health – are routers, switches, firewalls functioning optimally?
- System logs and event histories – are errors or anomalies occurring?
Advanced monitoring also examines deeper performance metrics and user experience. The overarching goal is to detect potential issues early and troubleshoot rapidly to avoid productivity or revenue losses.
Why Has Network Monitoring Become So Critical?
There are a few key reasons comprehensive network monitoring is now a strategic imperative:
- Ensures smooth business operations – Outages bring productivity and revenue streams to a standstill. Proactive monitoring prevents disruptions.
- Allows early detection of problems – Spotting even minor latency or bandwidth issues before they spiral into crises avoids massive headaches down the road.
- Strengthens security – Unusual traffic flows or suspicious system activity may indicate malware or malicious intrusions. Effective monitoring aids threat prevention.
- Provides performance insights – Analyzing usage patterns and network demands allows optimization and capacity planning.
- Supports tech troubleshooting – Data like system logs helps IT teams diagnose issues quicker.
- Verifies SLA compliance – Reporting proves promised uptime and performance levels are being delivered.
The Components Involved in Network Monitoring
Comprehensive network monitoring requires keeping tabs on all the critical components that comprise your infrastructure, including:
- Servers – Tracking availability metrics and system health is crucial for these productivity powerhouses.
- Network devices – Routers, switches, firewalls, and more must be monitored as they direct flows.
- Individual node connections – The status of each endpoint on the network matters.
- Software apps and services – Shared tools like email and CRM require high availability.
- Operating systems – OS-level logging provides low-level performance insights.
- Virtual private networks (VPNs) – Remote access depends on VPN reliability.
- Cloud services – Hybrid networks include vital cloud components.
Specialized tools capture reams of performance data from each element at regular intervals. Metrics like bandwidth use, latency, system logs, and network traffic flow are analyzed in real time.
Key Differences: Network Monitoring vs. Network Management
While related, network monitoring and network management serve different primary purposes:
- Monitoring involves passive data gathering and analysis to uncover issues. Management entails the active administration and modification of networks.
- Monitoring is diagnostic while management is corrective. Monitoring tools track metrics and raise alerts. Management platforms allow technicians to remotely configure devices, push updates, trigger failovers, and actively troubleshoot.
- Monitoring is ongoing, while management happens at key intervals or in response to alerts. The insights from monitoring inform management priorities.
Approaches to Network Monitoring
Network monitors take a few different approaches to keep watch over infrastructure:
- Passive monitoring – Analyzing and inspecting regular network traffic flows to extract performance data.
- Active monitoring – Simulating user traffic or using automated tools like SNMP to proactively gather metrics.
- Real-time monitoring – Constantly tracking metrics like uptime and throughput to instantly detect abnormalities.
- Periodic polling – Gathering usage logs and health data at custom intervals to identify trends over time.
Leading Network Monitoring Tools and Platforms
Many solutions are available for monitoring various network components:
- SNMP Monitoring Tools – Simple Network Management Protocol allows devices to self-report status data.
- Traffic Analyzers – Packet sniffers intercept data for deep inspection. Protocol analyzers decode traffic.
- Log Management – Collect and correlate log data from servers, devices and systems.
- Network Performance Monitors – Multi-protocol platforms like SolarWinds, PRTG or Paessler provide unified views.
- Bandwidth Monitoring – Manage bandwidth hogs and guarantees quality of service for critical apps.
- Network Behavior Analysis – Detect anomalies indicating potential zero-day threats.
- Web Monitoring – Track website availability and simulate user journeys for insight into web app performance.
- Endpoint Monitoring – Check the status of end user devices.
- Unified Monitoring Tools – Single dashboards with visibility across infrastructure and apps.
Factors to Consider When Selecting Network Monitoring Tools
With many monitoring platforms and protocols available, focus on choosing what best fits your environment:
- Scalability – The flexibility to handle expanding networks, locations and devices.
- Customization – Tailor monitoring to track infrastructure critical for your operations.
- Automatic discovery – Map network topologies and detect devices without manual tracking.
- Intelligent alerting – Trigger contextual notifications when specific thresholds are crossed.
- User experience monitoring – Simulate how end users see application performance.
- Unified views – Consolidated data and dashboards across the monitoring environment.
- Reporting – Helpful for diagnostics and to prove compliance to service contracts.
Common Challenges Companies Face When Monitoring Networks
While essential, network monitoring comes with some inherent challenges:
- Lack of full visibility – Blindspots due to unmapped legacy systems, shadow IT, etc.
- Data overwhelming – Massive streams of monitoring info can be difficult to interpret.
- Too many tools – Disparate platforms with disjointed views of network activity.
- Manual processes – Tedious and unreliable compared to intelligent automation.
- Complex configurations – Poorly optimized can lead to bottlenecks, false positives in monitoring.
- Expertise gaps – Many struggle to utilize monitoring capabilities fully without deep networking skills.
Best Practices for Effective Network Monitoring
Follow these tips to maximize the value of network monitoring for your business:
- Pursue total visibility – Discover all devices and infrastructure components in your ecosystem. Eliminate blindspots.
- Set intelligent thresholds – Trigger alerts based on deviations from baselines rather than static numbers.
- Implement device grouping – Monitor components with similar roles collectively to simplify management.
- Automate asset discovery – Continuously scan for new devices added to the network.
- Assess user experience – Check performance of apps and network from end user vantage points.
- Correlate insights – Combine device data, traffic analysis, logs and user experience metrics for unified visibility.
- Prioritize issue identification/resolution – Use monitoring intel to enable rapid troubleshooting and prevent escalations.
- Report compliance – Collect historical records required to demonstrate promised uptime and performance per SLAs.
The Bottom Line
In today’s “always on” business environment, network availability and performance are paramount for success. Companies cannot afford disruptions to connectivity and cloud services their operations depend on.
By implementing continuous, intelligent network monitoring aligned to business priorities, IT teams gain end-to-end visibility and can stay ahead of brewing issues. The time for viewing network monitoring as a nice-to-have is over. It’s now an essential component powering responsive, resilient and secure modern enterprises.