Network monitoring is the process of constantly monitoring a computer network for problems such as slow traffic or component failure. Network Monitoring tools are always scanning the network and are designed to automatically notify network administrators via text, email, or other application such as Slack when a problem occurs. Network monitoring software differs from network security or intrusion detection systems in that network monitoring is focused on internal network issues such as overloaded routers, server failures, or network connection issues that could impact other devices.
Network monitoring solutions can also initiate failover to remove problem device or circuits from duty until remediation can be performed to repair the issue. Ideally, a proactive network monitoring solution will prevent downtime or failures before they occur by identifying anomalies that could lead to outage if unchecked.
Continuous monitoring is critical to maintaining network integrity. The best network monitoring tools provide visualization or a dashboard that provides at-a-glance status of monitored network components, indicating any out-of-norm parameters that require further examination or components such as switches, routers, firewalls, servers, and software services, applications, or URLs that could be the source of network disturbances. For maximum effectiveness, a network monitoring system should include high availability components so that a hardware or software failure of systems running the network management tool can be automatically remediated by fail-over to another network monitoring installation. Network Monitoring should provide:
- Visualization of the organization’s complete IT and network infrastructure
- Monitoring, troubleshooting, and remediation of network performance issues.
- Root cause analysis tools when problems occur.
- Dashboard with clear visualization tools and reports
The most important benefit of network monitoring is visibility. Having an easy-to-understand, at-a-glance picture of all connected devices across the organization is important, but visualizing the flow of data across devices and networks enables network administrators to quickly identify and remediate any problems – emergent or potential – before outages occur.
Automating this critical task leads to a higher utilization of critical IT resources. Time not spent putting out network fires can be spent working on projects that create bottom-line value for the organization.
Network monitoring also provides an early warning indication of the utilization of existing infrastructure, giving IT a heads-up indicating the need for upgrading or adding capacity to given network components.
Finally, by comparing traffic to known baselines for a given time of day and season, network monitoring tools can identify unexpected spikes in network traffic that can indicate a problem brewing, whether due to increased demand or cyberattack.
Network failures can impact overall IT performance and cause availability issues across the organization. Network monitoring has several important benefits to the organization by enabling early detection of issues including:
- Cost savings realized by reducing downtime and speeding remediation by assisting with root cause analysis or displaying network elements that are being over- or under-utilized. Network resources can focus on productive tasks instead of constantly looking for problems.
- Performance problems can be caught before they impact business operations or lead to a degraded customer experience.
- Network security enhancements can be realized by detecting unexpected traffic or unknown devices connecting to the network. These could be early indicators of cyberattacks or ransomware attempts.
- Usage spikes such as logon storms or seasonal traffic jumps can be indicated early on, enabling network administrators to take remedial action to ensure that usage is not impacted.
- Rogue application usage can be caught. Each business unit may have a group of applications they want tracked and network monitoring can establish which applications and users are doing what on the network.
There are many types of network monitoring. For instance email network monitoring might involve sending test emails and measuring the response time, while web server testing could entail sending an HTTP request to access a given page and log the time until it is served.
First, devices and network connections are identified as are their related performance metrics. Next, the organization determines how frequently to monitor each function. For example, client laptops and printers are not ‘network critical’ and can have much longer monitoring intervals than routers, switches, and servers that comprise the network backbone.
Most network monitoring tools utilize the simple network management protocol (SNMP) to manage and monitor the elements of the network. Most network components are delivered with an SNMP agent which can be used to reconfigure devices, take them offline if they are performing erratically, or to collect information about the device’s performance. Network monitoring systems ‘ping’ the various system ports, and If a device reports a parameter outside of the established threshold an alert is automatically generated so remediation can occur before device failure. Typically, network components are pinged between once a minute and once an hour.
Some network devices such as routers and switches utilize the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) to relate information regarding internet protocol (IP) operations and to create error messages when devices fail.
Different devices and protocols are used in network monitoring.
Network packet analyzers examine the data in each packet moving through the network, and the information within the packets can determine if they are being routed correctly, if employees are visiting prohibited websites, or if sensitive data including personally identifiable information (PII) such as social security number is being exfiltrated from the network.
Application and services monitoring focuses on those systems and devices needed to maintain network integrity to ensure they are operating within normal limits as well as indicating which applications are being used by which business units organization-wide.
Access Management monitoring ensures that intruders are not granted access to network resources, for example if an employee suddenly logs on from an IP address on another continent. This can quickly spot network vulnerabilities and help remediate them and detect intruders before they can do harm.