Everything about Network Monitoring

Unveiling the Power of Network Monitoring: Understanding its Definition, Importance, and Benefits for Your Business. Make IT Automation a breeze with SuperOps.ai

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Network Monitoring Defined

Network monitoring is a process that ensures the effective performance and operation of network resources by detecting and analyzing traffic and other attributes to detect performance issues, potential intrusion, or component failure and the quality of services operating on that network. Monitoring provides early warning of possible interruptions to service and network traffic trends that could be addressed before the interruption occurs and calls attention to error conditions that can be corrected before impact is felt. Network monitoring provides historical, and background information that helps network administrators understand how their network performs under optimal conditions.

The most common forms of network monitoring include:

  • Performance and Usage (including throughput speed and latency detection)

  • Device availability

  • Configuration

  • Packet loss, transmission retries, and connectivity

Network monitoring typically focuses on circuits, routers, firewalls, and wi-fi devices, looking at critical component errors and performance bottlenecks that occur during normal operations but should be expanded to include all appliances and endpoints connected to the network. This provides a holistic view that ensures performance issues don't originate within a specific endpoint, growing the practice from reactive to proactive management. 

Networking monitoring should also include monitoring network devices for compliance with configuration standards and alerting technicians if a device does not meet expected standards or if the configuration changes. Many organizations use these alerts to detect unauthorized devices or unauthorized changes made to their network. It can also be used to ensure device compliance and support audits that look at the organization's security management practices.

Network monitoring commonly applies to:

  • Data center operations: Monitor all data center devices and networks and keep them operating optimally and address any alerts that occur within the data center, or devices connected to data center resources

  • Cloud networks and virtual or containerized applications: Ensure applications running in cloud data centers are available and that sufficient bandwidth is available to drive optimal performance from the cloud data center to the end user's device

Importance of network monitoring:

Network failures and performance issues are among the highest-risk areas for business interruption as they can impact many services with a single point. A bad circuit or piece of network equipment can take down computer operations for the entire business or area. With network monitoring, technicians can get ahead of several issues and address them before they interrupt business operations:

  • Cyber-attacks, including denial of service attacks and intrusion attempts

  • Bottlenecks caused by a faulty device

  • Increased bandwidth utilization by a device or application

Network monitoring tools can be tuned to respond to these conditions using rules and machine learning, providing the ability to avoid manual intervention for common errors and optimizing technician effectiveness. They help the organization:

  • Identify issues anywhere on the network, whether the issue is device or network based

  • Provide historical data that helps identify cyber-attacks or degradation in performance

  • Optimize IT resources, reducing job stress and burnout

Of all the reasons to monitor, cyber-security is among the most critical as their occurrence continues to rise, impacting organizations of every type. Cyber-attacks frequently take place by attempting intrusion into network resources, and network monitoring tools can help prevent attacks from various kinds of sources:

  • Denial of service attacks: When an external entity bombards a network segment or device with traffic, monitoring systems can detect the activity and block the device or segment

  • Intrusion: An attempt to gain access to a network resource with repetitive attempts to log in can be detected and blocked

  • Known vulnerabilities: Monitoring devices for non-compliance, combined with patch management, lowers the number of devices that can be compromised using known security vulnerabilities 

  • New patterns of attack: Machine learning, when combined with network monitoring, can detect data exchange patterns that are new or different from patterns identified previously, indicating a potential breach

At a financial level, network monitoring protects revenue streams by increasing the performance and availability of computing resources but also automates numerous manual tasks, increasing job satisfaction and optimizing technical resources.

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What should be monitored?

A modern approach to network monitoring goes beyond monitoring network topology and ensuring all network devices perform optimally. Current network monitoring views the entire computing environment holistically, looking at the network from a topological standpoint, but using additional strategies to ensure the climate operates well.

Views or approaches in modern network monitoring include:

Technical: Monitor the topology of the network, observing device health, performance, or application delays and track patterns of network behavior

Functional: Monitoring devices and applications to ensure they are performing as expected based on their historical profiles, indicating changes that might indicate an issue

Business Process or Service: All components needed to deliver a business service are monitored, indicating any changes or degradation in service of any component or the network performance between components that might indicate a service degradation

Availability: Monitoring the status of all network devices and endpoints and addressing failures that occur with automation or alerts

Configuration: Ensuring the overarching network and all endpoints are properly configured using device policies and flagging devices that need attention

Performance and Usage: Monitoring traffic of each network segment and each device on the network to ensure performance is within expected limits and identifying infrastructure that is no longer in use

This inclusive view allows small changes that impact performance to be identified more quickly. For example, a slight change in how an application communicates to a back-end database might cause increased network traffic and bottlenecks. By seeing the increase in traffic immediately, technicians can back out of the change or increase bandwidth after analyzing information provided by network monitoring. Without this level of monitoring, the shift in performance would go undetected until end-users began complaining, and troubleshooting efforts would begin. This could result in days to weeks of degraded performance before the culprit is found.

Modern network monitoring's holistic approach is far more proactive than older network monitoring practices, increasing the reliability and performance of IT resources.

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Network monitoring best practices

The modern network monitoring approach is part of a set of best monitoring practices that includes all the methods mentioned.

Network devices can be monitored in many ways, and each condition that could impact a network needs to be monitored separately. At the device level, the following attributes or device health indicators should be included in the most basic network monitoring program:

  • Device status, including device update and time between failures

  • Interface errors

  • CPU and memory utilization

  • Network bandwidth consumed by the device

  • Device speed for throughput

Network circuits and segments should also be monitored for:

  • Throughput speed

  • Bandwidth utilization

  • Bottlenecks, slowdowns

  • Errors

Growing beyond the basics is then needed to support the dynamic needs of today's computing landscape. The network constantly changes with virtualization, multiple cloud data centers, and the hybrid work environment. Add to that the danger of cyber-attack, and it's easy to see that a network monitoring program needs to be robust, flexible, and automated to be practical. Once a determination of what to monitor, a good foundation and routine activities are critical. There are several sets of actions to be taken:

  • Lay the appropriate foundation

  • Consolidate tools and consoles

  • Understand how to consolidate data (control alert storms)

  • Include configuration management

  • Provide dashboards and reporting

Laying the foundation for network monitoring programs includes knowing what you have and how it operates:

  • Discover and document the physical network and its topology, including all network gear and an asset inventory of devices or endpoints that might connect to it

  • Monitoring the baseline of how devices perform and the level of network traffic between devices comes next, as this provides a baseline that can be used to detect anomalies

  • Setting thresholds for abnormal behavior using the baseline

  • Establishing a scanning frequency that enables effective monitoring without overwhelming the network (like one segment at a time)

Once this foundation is in place and thresholds have been established, the network monitoring tools should be automated to manage common errors and capacity concerns. For example, in a virtualized environment, high utilization might automatically make another virtual server available to an application, addressing the situation with no technician intervention or loss of productivity. To get to this level of automation, network and other infrastructure engineers will need to work together to review baseline information and determine the activities that can be automated, instrumenting these as policies with the network monitoring tools. 

Not only does this replication cause the potentialConsider a consolidated network management system that includes a comprehensive feature set. RMM or Remote Monitoring and Management tools provide a robust network monitoring system and can consolidate the environment by providing all the function monitoring tasks operational managers need. They can give or integrate results, providing a single management tool for:

  • Vulnerability scanning results and remediation activities

  • Device status and health

  • Device baseline information and history

  • Patch management activities

  • Software distribution

  • Network traffic

Intrusion detection for additional load on the network if scanning isn't tightly coordinated, but duplication of effort and siloed views of the data lower the overall effectiveness of a monitoring program. Using scalable tools with integration capabilities is better than many network management systems.

Alert storms can occur when critical devices encounter errors. For example, a single router pro