Evaluating Essential Tools for Network Monitoring

A computer network is as crucial to a company these days as streets and highways are to a city: They must be kept working smoothly or everything grinds to a halt. That’s why network monitoring has become such a high-stakes undertaking for the world of business. 

Network monitoring tools help businesses guard against current and emerging cyber threats, which these days can feel like battling a plague of locusts with a fly swatter. It’s crucial, then, to determine which of these tools deliver the necessary level of cyber protection.

How a business monitors its networks can be an essential component that decides whether a cyberattack is a success or failure. This guide will examine the top tools for monitoring networks, how they work, and their pros and cons. 

What Is Network Monitoring?

Monitoring tools provide network administrators with real-time insights into the performance of network routers, switches, firewalls, servers, and virtual machines (VMs). They help admins identify any bottlenecks before they can cause network downtime or failure.

Tools for monitoring networks are built on protocols, rules, and directions that promote safe communication among connected devices. Network hardware relies on protocols for secure data transmission, and monitoring systems use them to identify and report on network performance issues.

What Is a Network Monitoring System?

A network monitoring system includes software and hardware tools to track network traffic, bandwidth utilization, uptime, and other operational elements. The system can track devices and any components that make up a network. It can also provide network status updates. 

Network administrators leverage these systems to detect traffic bottlenecks and other issues. The systems often use email or text alerts to notify admins about network problems and provide analytics.

How Does Network Monitoring Work?

The systems use pings, simple network management protocols (SNMPs), and other techniques to test the availability and functionality of a network. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • They collect data that the network monitoring tool evaluates based on predetermined thresholds for acceptable performance. 
  • The system alerts admins immediately if the data it receives does not fall within certain thresholds, such as signs of high error rates, unavailable devices, or slow response times. 
  • This initiates one of two responses, depending on whether a monitoring system is manually operated or automated. 

A manual system lets admins review data relating to an alert to determine the best response. An automated option may fix a network issue without assistance and generally brings only escalated problems to an admin’s attention. 

Why Are Tools Used to Monitor Networks?

Cybercrime cost the global economy almost $1 trillion in 2020 – and that’s roughly double the number from 2018. Those kinds of numbers compel businesses of all sizes and across all industries to protect against this ballooning problem, and network monitoring is a good place to start. Here are eight benefits for companies using these tools: 

1. Network Visibility

They provide a clear picture of all network devices, showing how data moves among them. This helps administrators quickly identify and address issues that can otherwise hamper network performance and lead to outages.

2. IT Resource Optimization

These tools can lessen the need for big IT teams to monitor network performance. They eliminate manual work for IT staff, freeing up time to focus on high-value tasks.  

3. IT Infrastructure Planning

Administrators can use monitoring tools to track the performance of network components over a set period. They can produce reports highlighting performance issues in their early stages and help network admins determine when to upgrade or implement new IT infrastructure.  

4. Cyber Threat Identification

“Normal” network performance can be defined thanks to monitoring systems. An unexplained increase in network traffic levels or other unusual activities can alert administrators, leaving them well-equipped to determine if cyber threats are present.    

5. Reduction in Mean Time to Repair (MTTR)

The longer it takes network administrators to repair an issue, the more damage the problem can cause. Monitoring tools notify admins as soon as performance issues arise. They allow admins to immediately assess these problems, leading to faster remediation and lower MTTR. 

6. Improved Uptime

There is no way to guarantee 100% service uptime, even with flawless monitoring. It can, however, help administrators see high traffic that indicates a network is about to fail and take preemptive action. 

7. Network Testing

Every device and component must perform as expected to get the best results out of a network. Monitoring tools enable administrators to test new or updated hardware and connections and configure them properly. 

8. After-Hours Identification of Network Performance Issues

Network performance issues can crop up 24/7. Monitoring tools continuously track network performance and alert network administrators about these issues immediately. 

A system for monitoring networks is insufficient on its own. It must be backed by solid administrators who understand the critical elements involved. 

Core Network Monitoring Functions

The principle behind all network monitoring tools remains the same. They offer five essential functions that let administrators track the overall health of networks and any changes that indicate problems are occurring:

1. Discovery

Administrators can use monitoring tools to search for network devices and components. They can get insights into these crucial parts of the system, including information into any potential issues that hamper their performance. 

2. Monitoring

Monitoring tools let administrators track device disk space, open network ports, and other information about network devices and components. 

3. Mapping

Admins have access to visualizations that highlight overall health across a network. These visualizations offer a quick view of a network’s performance. 

4. Reporting and Analysis

Network performance data is collected over time and can be exported into historical and comparison reports. Administrators can use this intel to understand the current network state and make data-driven predictions regarding future performance. 

5. Alerting and Corrective Actions

Notifications are sent to network administrators as soon as performance issues are identified. Remediation tasks can also be run to correct these problems.

Many systems go beyond these core features to offer enhancements designed to help businesses seamlessly monitor their networks. It’s difficult to imagine running a significant company in the modern world without them – and that makes them a product of interest to the savvy investor.

A person network monitoring by touch

Advanced Network Monitoring Features to Consider

It helps to look past the core features of network monitoring tools to learn how far they can go to secure a company’s digital assets. This allows businesses to consider advanced features that deliver added value for their investment. 

Businesses should perform a thorough evaluation of tools for monitoring networks. They may find that the best options offer the following features: 

1. Failover and Fail-Back Functionality

The top tools for network monitoring use a secondary standby server. This automatically eliminates the risk that a tool will malfunction if running on a server that crashes. 

2. Visualizations

A network monitoring tool should provide a 360-degree view of a business’s IT infrastructure. It should let network administrators classify different aspects of their infrastructure based on type or group.

3. Different Types of Network Monitors

Network monitors fall into three categories: active, passive, and performance. Active monitors display real-time data about the health of a network, while passive ones alert administrators if they detect changes on specific devices. Performance monitors collect information relating to disk space, CPU usage, and other hardware elements, helping admins identify data patterns and trends. 

4. Maps

Maps use color-coded indicators to show the status of network devices. They show physical and logical links between devices and the health of those connections. 

5. Customization

Network monitoring tools should support widgets used to track different aspects of network performance. Widgets can empower network administrators to troubleshoot issues quickly. They can also help admins remotely monitor network devices. 

Dozens of network monitoring tools are available, often designed to attack the problem from a different perspective. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, so you need to evaluate every option closely. 

5 Tips for Selecting a Network Monitoring Tool

Businesses should expect big things from their network monitoring tool. But failure to implement it properly can make it challenging for companies to realize their full value. Here’s how a business can deploy a system to meets its expectations. 

1. Evaluate Your Network

Conduct a network audit to see which devices you currently use. Put together a network inventory for these devices and keep it up to date moving forward. 

2. Determine Your Network Requirements

Once you know which devices you need to track, map out your monitoring requirements. Define the number of devices on your network, the applications you want to monitor, what operating systems your devices run, and your projected network growth over the next few years. 

3. Conduct Research

Identify the type of network monitoring dashboards and reports you’ll need. Your system should let you easily monitor servers, routers, switches, and other critical devices. It should also allow you to track printers and other non-critical devices.

4. Consider a Specialized Monitoring Tool

You may only need to monitor network bandwidth or other specialized metrics. A business can often benefit from a full-scale system, but it may find that a specialized solution is a superior option. This type of system won’t require a lengthy implementation process and may be more cost-effective. 

5. Evaluate the Effectiveness of Your Monitoring Tool

Your network needs can change, and you may need to update your system periodically. Keep an eye on your network performance and ensure your monitoring tool fulfills your requirements. Those who reach a point where it is no longer delivering their desired results should seek expert help. 

A network monitoring expert can help a business decide which system is the right one. The expert can also provide implementation tips and recommendations so the company can get the most value out of this tool from the get-go. 

Contact an Expert With Questions About Network Monitoring

Hacker attacks are somehow simultaneously ever-present and growing in number. That’s a problem for admins in charge of network monitoring – but it’s also an enormous financial opportunity. 

Option3Ventures assembled a team that blends expertise in national security and the investment world to find opportunities in cybersecurity. Our dual-bottom-line approach seeks to deliver solid returns and, at the same time, help to keep our country safe. Contact Option3Ventures today for cybersecurity investing information and tips.  

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