The functions and services of a network are elementary to control operational processes. Disruptions or even a failure of this network can have severe consequences for companies. That is why network monitoring monitors the various network functions and uncovers systematic problems at an early stage. Professional network monitoring can also ensure the best availability and optimal performance of the computer network in the long term.
Definition: What exactly is network monitoring?
A network connects several computers or other electronic devices with each other to enable data exchange. In the private sector, for example, all Internet-enabled devices such as the PC or the TV are usually connected via a router. In a company, several locations can be connected via a network and exchange data in real time.
In day-to-day business, companies depend on this data exchange to function smoothly and prevent data loss. Reliable network monitoring is therefore needed to detect problems at an early stage and to be able to diagnose them quickly.
Network monitoring can be divided into internal, external and cloud-based monitoring.
Typical use cases of network monitoring
Network monitoring is basically needed wherever a network is installed. Because networks are needed for streamlined information exchange, they can be found in almost every company.
However, the more complex a network becomes due to the number of connected devices, the more the overview threatens to get lost. Parallel servers and IT services, for example, contribute to this. In the event of failures in large networks, it is therefore a considerable effort for the IT department to locate and identify the fault in the first place.
An example of a use case:
A router reaches its performance limits within a network. A threshold value is stored in the network monitoring tool that triggers an alarm at a load of 80 percent. The administrator can therefore act in good time and prevent the router from failing.
Advantages of network monitoring: Is the investment worthwhile?
You do not yet operate network monitoring and need to make a decision whether this investment is worthwhile for your company? Whether you are a start-up or a large corporation, the answer to this question can practically always be “yes” because your IT network is a vital function of your business. If it fails, the entire business stumbles.
To stay with the medical picture: You can compare network monitoring to a patient in intensive care whose heart function and oxygen supply are continuously monitored. If a value drops, the doctor can quickly intervene and restore the patient’s stability.
That’s why network monitoring is worthwhile for you:
- Overview of the network
- You have an overview of the individual network components at all times and can identify problems and performance delays directly.
- Prevent downtime
- Timely warnings prevent downtime. According to one study, network disruptions cost large companies with more than 10,000 employees about $25 million annually.
- Respond quickly to problems
- If disruptions occur, they can be quickly resolved through effective network monitoring. Long waiting times for fault diagnosis are avoided and downtime is reduced.
- Detecting security threats
- Modern network monitoring tools are also able to identify security threats within networks. This prevents costly damage from malware and viruses.
- Control broadband utilization
- The more your bandwidth utilization is exhausted, the slower connections will become, which may have a negative impact on productivity within the company. If the utilization approaches a critical level, the network monitoring tool will send an alert.
- Resource planning
- User needs are constantly evolving, and growing companies in particular need to plan and deploy their resources properly. Network monitoring allows you to better allocate existing capacities.
- Relieve IT teams
- Automated network monitoring significantly reduces the workload of your administrators. On the one hand, the IT team retains control of the network and, on the other, can attend to innovation processes that serve revenue growth.
Are there disadvantages to automated network monitoring?
Installing a network monitoring solution is a crucial step towards greater security and operational efficiency. However, depending on which solution you choose, installation can be time-consuming and costly.
Some solutions also require IT managers to make a variety of configuration decisions. This makes it all the more important to take a close look at and compare individual tools in advance.
In this context, it can make a lot of sense to call on external expertise for implementation. Specialized managed security providers usually have much more know-how from many previous projects than is available in-house.
These tasks are performed by network monitoring
As a sub-area of network management, network monitoring takes on the important task of monitoring all processes that take place within the network. This includes monitoring the individual components that make up the network, but also the events and logs as well as the services provided. The most important of these functions are presented below.
1. finding the network via the monitoring tool
A network is not an object that is visibly located in space. That is why the network monitoring system helps to find the individual devices in the network. This includes servers, routers, computers, printers and firewalls. Good network monitoring systems not only detect a device within the network, but can also automatically assign a function to it.
2. mapping of the network for a better overview
An operational network is often very complex. Here, a visualization of the network can help to locate errors faster and to keep track of the individual devices that are located within the network. A good network monitoring tool is therefore able to create network maps. These can then display both the devices and their current status.
3. monitoring of individual network components
If faults within the network are diagnosed quickly, administrators can act in time and often prevent further failures. At the same time, network monitoring makes a decisive contribution to process optimization by continuously monitoring various functions of individual devices. This includes the ping availability of the component as well as the utilization of the CPU, the main memory, the data carriers as well as the interfaces. Hardware components such as fans can also be monitored automatically.
4. timely warnings
An essential function of monitoring is the warning function. Network monitoring tools send real-time alerts to administrators. This is done in the form of emails or logs. Administrators can set specific thresholds for when a monitoring tool should send alerts. For example, network monitoring can be set to alert when the router’s CPU load reaches 80 percent. In this way, a complete failure of the router due to overload can be prevented in good time.
5. reporting for subsequent analysis
Network monitoring tools have an analysis function in addition to their monitoring function. They generate reports that network administrators can use to check the performance of the network, for example. These analyses reveal trends, but also problems. Clear dashboards can be used to capture the most important functions at a glance.
How does a network monitoring tool work?
Network monitoring is performed by certain tools that continuously request performance data from the individual components. Standard logs are then created from this information. The network is monitored using either SNMP or WMI.
- SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol)
The SNMP protocol is used to both control and monitor the network. In order for this tool to be used, the individual network components are equipped with SNMP agents that send out important information via interfaces. If no more messages arrive, an alarm is triggered.
- WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation)
If a network is Windows-based, then WMI protocols are usually used. The big advantage is that this system can access almost all settings and functions of Windows computers. Since the year 2000, WMI has therefore been integrated into all Windows applications as standard.
For Unix and Linux servers, on the other hand, SSH is mostly used.
Cloud monitoring vs. on-prem monitoring
A network monitoring tool can collect and monitor a wide range of data and parameters of a network. The most important information is the load of individual network components and all devices connected to the network. There are two ways to retrieve this data.
The advantages and disadvantages of network monitoring and cloud monitoring
Requirements for good network monitoring
There is a wide range of network monitoring tools available today to help you keep an eye on the security and functioning of your network at all times. Due to the wide range of products on the market, it is difficult to choose a suitable solution for your own company. It is therefore all the more important that you are first clear about what requirements you have for your own network monitoring. The following five criteria form an initial starting point:
- Visualization of the network via mapping. Can the tool graphically represent the entirety of your network in the form of a diagram?
- Ease of setup and installation. How complex is the setup of the tool?
Scalable solution for small and large networks. Is the tool equally suitable for different network sizes?
- Real-time data collection and alerts. Can anomalies and faults be automatically detected and escalated?
- Compatibility with individual network components. Will all components of your network be detected by the solution?
Finally, the network monitoring tool must reliably detect hidden problems that can negatively impact operations. It must enable holistic monitoring and enable the administrator to rule out potential sources of problems at an early stage.
What are the best tools for network diagnostics?
There are a variety of helpful monitoring tools for establishing network security in your own company. Often, these are offered as open source solutions. We have taken a closer look at three of the most popular representatives for you.
Nagios Core: The classic monitoring solution
Nagios Core is a monitoring solution whose first version was already developed in 1999. Positive features are the active developer community and the easy implementation of external plugins, which can be used to monitor the hardware and software of the network. Effective server monitoring, network monitoring and application monitoring are possible via Nagios. A disadvantage is the high complexity of the GUI.
Cacti: Network monitoring with helpful community
The open source solution Cacti is another popular network monitoring tool that allows data collection from almost every network component. If a device is not compatible, there is always someone from the community who can develop a solution. However, a comparatively high installation effort is necessary.
Zabbix: Network monitoring with a straightforward GUI
The setup of Zabbix is complex, but the GUI is simple and straightforward. The tool enables agentless monitoring using the latest technologies. Zabbix monitors networks based on Linux distributions, the Windows operating system and Oracle Solaris. The best feature of this open source software is its customization based on any scripting and programming language.
Besides open source solutions, there are also numerous commercial solutions. For these, free trial versions are usually offered, which allow you to check in advance whether the solution can actually meet your requirements. In contrast to the open source solutions, the implementation effort is usually lower here. Missing features do not have to be set up manually.
What to look for during implementation
When implementing effective network monitoring, there are a number of best practices to follow to make the project a success.
1. analyze the current state of your network
As a first step, find out where your company currently stands in terms of network security.
To do this, ask yourself the following questions:
- How large is my network?
- What system are PCs, printers and the like running on?
- What data protection requirements do we have?
- Is monitoring already taking place?
- What are the benefits of implementing a new strategy?
- What can my IT team do?
- What typical problems crop up again and again?
This information is important for selecting the right provider later on. You will then already have prior knowledge and be in a better negotiating position with your potential provider.
2. cloud solution or own infrastructure?
This is an important decision that you should generally make for all areas of your business: Do we prefer cloud-based or on-premises solutions? Through a managed cloud, you don’t need to provision your own IT resources. For example, you obtain all monitoring services from the cloud via Microsoft Azure, which are then set up individually for your company by a managed services provider. The important thing here is not to create isolated solutions, but to have a basic cloud strategy.
3. select the right partner
Pay particular attention to the following aspects when selecting your network monitoring partner:
- Competencies: Is the partner really familiar with infrastructure and monitoring solutions? Find out in detail about the potential provider’s offerings and services.
- Support: How accessible is the provider when questions arise? Take a look at the accessibility, the size of the support team and the guaranteed response time.
- Web interface: Does the provider offer you a central online platform that you can use to keep track of all your services yourself?
- Product diversity: Does the provider offer other managed services in addition to network monitoring tools? Ideally, you get all IT solutions from a single source.
- Scalability: Are you a fast-growing company? Then it is even more important that the targeted services are scalable and that capacities can be quickly increased as needed.
- Pricing structure: What exactly are the costs for the services you want to use? Is the scale transparent?
- Contact person: Is there a consistent contact person for your company that you can approach at any time?
4. put change management on your agenda
The digital world is changing at a rapid pace. Especially since the Corona pandemic, this transformation has picked up considerable speed and now demands complex decisions from companies. However, a high level of digitization also brings decisive advantages for companies. They can react faster to changes in the market, save resources and improve IT security standards within the company.
With all these changes, however, people must never be forgotten. Many employees are initially critical of changes and find it difficult to accept new processes. Therefore, you should definitely practice conscious change management.