Network Monitoring 101: How To Monitor Networks Effectively

You want your networks to operate seamlessly, but how can you guarantee that your network is performing optimally and without disruptions? 

Network monitoring can help.

Network monitoring means overseeing a network's performance, availability, and overall functionality — allowing you to identify and resolve issues before they impact end-users. Read on for a full understanding. 

What is network monitoring?

Network monitoring is the practice of tracking your computer network's performance, availability, and uptime. You can identify and troubleshoot problems before they impact users. To do so, some tools collect data from network devices such as routers, switches and servers, and analyze them to identify potential issues.

Regardless of your business size or industry, you must monitor your network because it helps to:

  • Ensure that the network is always available for users
  • Identify and troubleshoot problems quickly
  • Improve the performance of the network
  • Meet compliance requirements
  • Reduce costs

Network monitoring is an important part of IT operations. The staff responsible for your network likely support your network operations center (NOC).

Types of network monitoring

There are four primary types of network monitoring, each with its own focus and purpose. Here's a breakdown of each type: 

  • Performance monitoring focuses on the network's performance, such as bandwidth usage, packet loss, and latency. It examines bottlenecks in the network and optimizes performance.
  • Availability monitoring ensures that the network is available to users. It identifies outages and troubleshoots problems that are affecting the availability of the network.
  • Configuration monitoring makes sure that the network configuration is correct and up-to-date. It shows you misconfigurations that could lead to problems.
  • Cloud monitoring focuses on the performance and availability of cloud-based applications and services.

(Know the difference between network performance monitoring & application performance monitoring.)

Network monitoring vs. network security monitoring

At this point, we’ll pause just to clarify one more point: network monitoring and network security monitoring. You could say that one is a subset of the other.

  • Network monitoring is used to monitor all activities on a network, and it collects data from bandwidth usage, packet loss, and latency. You can use this data to identify and troubleshoot problems with the network. 
  • Network security monitoring (NSM) detects and responds to security threats on a network. It collects data from network traffic patterns, unusual login attempts, and malware infections — all this data you can use to detect and respond to security threats.

How network monitoring systems work

A network monitoring system is a set of software tools that allows you to monitor your network infrastructure constantly. It monitors aspects like traffic patterns, the availability of services, and performance metrics. 

When a problem occurs, the system automatically notifies network administrators via text, email, or other applications like Slack. Here's what a network monitoring system helps you with:

  • Fixing issues faster
  • Gaining immediate ROI
  • Staying ahead of outages
  • Identifying potential problems before they occur

Network monitoring protocols

Protocols are rules for devices on a network to communicate with one another and transmit data. The two standard protocols of network monitoring are SNMP and ICMP.

Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) 

SNMP is an application layer protocol that maintains network elements. It exchanges and extracts management information shared between network devices such as switches, modems, WLAN controllers, and routers. This information is used to monitor the network's performance based on:

  • Bandwidth utilization
  • Interface status
  • Latency
  • CPU usage 

(Read our full guide to SNMP monitoring.)

Internet Control Message Point (ICMP) 

ICMP reports errors. It's used in network devices to send error messages indicating that a requested service or host is unavailable — or that a router along the path to the destination is not functioning properly.

Importance & use cases of monitoring your networks 

IT monitoring is a foundational practice that, when applied strategically and effectively, you can power all sorts of important use cases for technology to drive business. Here's why every business, from small software companies to tech giants, monitor their networks.

Helps you stay ahead of outages

If you position your monitoring teams right, they will identify potential issues before they occur, so you can solve problems before they impact users. 

Suppose your network is about to go all slow due to an overloaded bandwidth and impact your business operations. But if you've already implemented an efficient monitoring strategy, your team can detect and troubleshoot this issue before it affects your operations.

Fixes issues faster than ever

When your network is down, time is money. If you're dealing with a configuration error or weird traffic fluctuations, working with the right software can help you figure out what's happening and solve the problem immediately.

Manages network complexity

Operating systems, virtualization and hybrid cloud environments make your network complex. This complexity introduces new vulnerabilities and challenges. To navigate through these issues, network monitoring helps you with:

  • Allocating resources to ensure your system receives the required bandwidth.
  • Identifying bottlenecks and preventing them.

Uses IT resources more efficiently

The combo of hardware and software tools in systems reduces manual work for IT teams. This makes it easier for staff to devote time to critical organizational projects that require their attention.

Gives early insights into performance issues

It gives you the information that network administrators need to determine, in real-time, whether a network is running optimally. Administrators can identify deficiencies, optimize efficiency and do much more with monitoring software.

Ensures proper security and compliance with laws

You can detect security breaches, unauthorized access attempts and abnormal behavior by monitoring network traffic patterns and anomalies. This helps to: 

Challenges with monitoring your networks

Your business can face diverse network monitoring challenges, and you’ll need the right strategies to prevent them. Here are a few problems to be aware of:

Lack of network visibility 

When issues arise, troubleshooting seems like a guessing game without proper visibility. You don't know where to look for the root cause of problems — this is the point where a lack of visibility occurs, and network admins can't visualize every area, including the devices and connections it comprises. (Observability is the solution to this problem. You might also hear it described as applied observability or full-stack observability.)

Use a network monitoring tool with a network mapping option to draw a visual representation of the entire network. This will help you to identify the devices and connections in your network.

Setting performance baselines 

As networks grow and evolve, traffic and resource utilization patterns can change. What was considered normal in the past might not be applicable anymore. So, your one-size-fits-all baseline will not work. 

Invest in monitoring tools offering automated baseline settings to analyze historical data and trends to generate baselines more efficiently. And test their accuracy by making controlled changes and observing how the monitoring system responds.

Baselines are not static. So be prepared to adapt and refine them as your network evolves and its usage patterns change.

Handling huge performance data 

Networks generate a massive amount of data every second, including: 

  • Traffic statistics 
  • Device status
  • Bandwidth utilization

This sheer volume overwhelms monitoring systems and leads to performance bottlenecks. Since not all data is equally important — you should implement filtering mechanisms to capture only relevant data points. And aggregate it to reduce volume while retaining essential information. 

Locating faults & enabling root cause analysis

The complexity and dynamic nature of modern networks makes locating faults difficult because they consist of many interconnected components, devices and protocols. And when you can't locate faults, you fail to pinpoint the exact source of performance issues.

To avoid this, implement end-to-end monitoring to track data flows from source to destination. Doing so will help identify bottlenecks or disruptions along the path and help your teams to determine the root cause of an issue.

Comprehending network diagrams

Network diagrams display the relationships and connections between network components, devices, and infrastructure elements. But this architecture's complex and technical nature makes it challenging to interpret network diagrams. 

To overcome his problem, establish standard guidelines, including consistent symbols, colors, and terminology. Then, create diagrams with different layers of information, such as logical layers, physical layers and operational layers. 

This focuses your team on the relevant aspects without letting unnecessary details cloud the view.

Planning capacity

Networks host diversified applications, each with different bandwidth and resource requirements. And their traffic changes over time—depending on factors such as time of day, day of the week, and special events. 

This variability makes it difficult to predict future capacity requirements accurately. So, you should employ predictive modeling techniques that use historical data and current trends to forecast future capacity requirements. These models will help in planning for future needs.

Eliminating network blind spots

Encryption and security protocols for data transmission bring in encrypted traffic that monitoring tools cannot quickly inspect. This creates blind spots—critical points where potential security threats and performance issues might occur but go undetected because of low monitoring coverage.

To eliminate this problem, develop a monitoring strategy that covers all critical points within your network. And deploy monitoring tools at key network junctions, data centers, and entry/exit points to ensure they cover all the spots.

Managing distributed networks 

If you support distributed systems and networks, the lack of centralized point of control makes implementing consistent monitoring and management practices difficult. Distributed networks have numerous sections, including: 

  • Multiple remote sites
  • Branch offices
  • Data centers
  • Cloud environments

You should implement a centralized monitoring platform providing a single-pane view of the entire network — so you can consolidate data, analyze performance, and identify issues more effectively.

Best practices for network monitoring tools & software

So, you’ve read this far and you’ve probably realized: it’s impossible to monitor complex networks easily, so long as you’re trying to do it manually or piece by piece. There are plenty of solutions available to help organizations monitor networks.

One approach, though, is to consider observing all parts of your network and systems together, and not as individual components each requiring their own monitoring. Splunk Observability is here to help you do just that.

Learn about Splunk Observability

Network monitoring means tracking a computer network's performance. No matter what your business size is — you should monitor networks to identify and troubleshoot problems before they impact business and user activity.

What is Splunk?

This posting does not necessarily represent Splunk's position, strategies or opinion.

Laiba Siddiqui
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Laiba Siddiqui

Laiba Siddiqui is a technical writer who specializes in writing for SaaS companies. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and at contentbylaibams@gmail.com.