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We all live on the internet now. It's where we access our news, entertainment, and whatever other distractions we need to get through the day. It's where we do our work, and it's where we communicate with loved ones we haven't seen in person for months.
Especially when it comes to work, keeping networks functional is critical. Just a few years ago, in 2016, the cost of one minute of network downtime was nearly $6,000. In 2020 and 2021, when the internet is essential for most business functions, The cost of lost productivity and sales is much higher, if only because the stakes of lost connections are higher and much more frustrating.
To avoid outages and downtime, you need to stay on top of your network performance at all times. For constant access to network data, you need to employ network performance monitoring.
Network performance monitoring (NPM) is the act of keeping eyes on your routers, switches and networks devices to:
To effectively monitor performance, network management tools use Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), flow data, and packet capture to collect and analyze performance data. Combining all this data, you can get a full picture of how your network performs.
SNMP provides the most basic, least detailed data points for network monitoring—it gives an overview to your network devices to help you identify which one is doing what, monitor their performance, and keep track of their statuses. While that’s not all SNMP does (here’s a good technical explanation of SNMP), that function is most relevant to answering what network performance monitoring entails.
To explain the interaction of devices with each other on your network, you need to understand flow data. Flow data helps you understand which devices are communicating with each other and how they pass information along. Garland’s network TAPs sync well with tools like Flowmon when optimizing network performance monitoring, particularly when it comes to monitoring infrastructure for potential malicious actors.
Packet capture provides the most granular data points to monitor network performance. Packets include information similar to flow data, such as starting and endpoints. However, with the help of a packet analyzer, you can also understand more about the types of content—such as an email or sharing a post from social media—sent over your network.
When you know which devices are on your network, how they're communicating with each other, and what type of information they're sharing, you can gain a holistic understanding of what's happening on your network.
Your network needs to be up and running at all times if you want to serve your customers and employees well. Network performance monitoring tools can alert you when your network is down or experiencing slow response times so you can fix any issues.
Similarly, network monitoring tools can alert you when your network is running slowly due to bandwidth issues. By digging into your flow data, you can see where you're experiencing bottlenecks so you can return your network to normal speeds.
CPU and memory
If devices on your network are using lots of memory, that can slow down their performance, making it seem like a network issue. However, your SNMP data can help you identify whether it's actually the device that's creating the problem or another cause (or origin).
Errors and discards
When a device doesn't have enough available memory, it starts discarding packets. Low network bandwidth can also result in packet discards. However, packets with errors, like incorrect formatting, will also get discarded. Whatever the root cause, packet errors and discards result in slow performance.
Digging into all of your network performance data helps you determine why you're experiencing these errors and discards.
Wide area networks (WANs) connect networks and devices across networks. For instance, the internet itself is a WAN, while your home wireless network is a smaller, local area network (LAN). Devices on your LAN can communicate with other devices on their own LANs because they're connected by a WAN. Poor WAN performance can result in dropped connections and latency issues between LANs.
Let's say your remote workers use a VPN connection to communicate with co-workers. If they're experiencing connection issues, you need to dig into your network performance data to figure out if the problem is with load allocation over your WAN, an issue with your VPN, or with your employees' LANs.
The ultimate benefit of monitoring your network performance metrics is that when your network is running well, your business can run well. Employees will have the tools they need to communicate with each other and do their work, while customers will be able to access your company site and communicate with your business.
However, outside of a smoothly running business, network performance monitoring can also benefit you in a few other ways.
As your business grows, so will your network. You'll add new devices, end users, applications, servers, virtual environments—whatever IT resources your company needs to function. Without understanding how your network functions, you won't be able to manage it to scale with your business. And as we've already mentioned, a functional network is a critical tool for a functional business. A network that doesn't work for your business puts your business out of work.
When you know how your network functions under "normal" circumstances, you can establish baseline metrics to measure day-to-day performance against. When those metrics deviate from your baseline, you'll know something is wrong and needs to be fixed.
Using those baselines, you can also predict when an issue might occur. For example, if you want to run a new application but your SNMP data tells you your servers are running low on memory, you'll know that application will likely cause latency issues.
When you know what your network traffic typically looks like, you can better identify any irregular patterns or spikes. Those irregularities can signal a security breach. The more quickly you can identify those anomalies, the better you can protect your network against malicious actors.
When you understand your network capacity, you can better allocate loads to avoid issues—and even use your network more efficiently. Optimizing your network results in better performance. And better performance results in a better end-user experience.
Finally, keeping an eye on your network also means keeping an eye on the devices accessing it. With constant monitoring, you can better detect depreciation, which will result in poor performance over time. Knowing when you need to replace or upgrade devices helps contribute to your IT department's ability to function well by including necessary upgrades in their budgets.
Network performance monitoring involves digging into layers of data from the hardware level to the granular packet level. For the best possible network performance, you must have access to both the data that gives you the big picture, as well as the data that helps you see the brushstrokes.
Those finer details only become clear when you dive into performance at the packet data level. And without the proper tools, you won't have access to packet data.
Network TAPs provide full packet data so you can monitor your network thoroughly, and are easier to deploy than you may think. Just set it and forget it. SPAN ports may seem like an easy solution, but dropping packets and creating traffic bottlenecks can easily throw off your NPM analysis.
Looking to get more out of your NPM tools, but not sure where to start? Join us for a brief network Design-IT consultation or demo. No obligation - it’s what we love to do.
Neil is a Systems Engineer at Garland Technology focusing on customer challenges with network visibility such as resilience, interoperability, and integration into data center topology. Wilkins is a seasoned network professional with 30 years of experience globally within the computing industry, in product marketing and technical support, for both the commercial and public sectors