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What Is Network Monitoring?

Network monitoring is the oversight of a computer network to detect degrading performance, slow or failing components and other potential problems. Network monitoring, not to be confused with network management, is typically performed by specialized network monitoring software that uses a combination of techniques to continuously test the network health and functionality, including network components like firewalls, switches, servers and virtual machines. The software tracks and collects data for various network parameters such as availability, throughput, packet loss and storage performance. If the collected data doesn’t fall within acceptable performance thresholds, the network monitoring system initiates an automated fix or alerts the network administrator so they can correct the problem.

As network infrastructure grows larger and more complex, it becomes harder for administrators to stay on top of component health, security vulnerabilities and other issues that can compromise network performance. Network monitoring simplifies the process by automating many of the checks a system administrator would otherwise have to perform manually, and surfacing performance information so IT staff can act quickly to resolve problems.

In the following sections, we’ll examine how network monitoring works, how it benefits organizations of all sizes, and how you can get started with a network monitoring solution.

What Is Network Monitoring: Contents

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What does network monitoring track?

Similar to performance monitoring, network monitoring software can track a variety of factors that can indicate the network performance issues and reliability of the IT infrastructure, critical for simple network management. Each organization will have to determine what is most important to monitor in their particular network, but common network monitoring practices include tracking the following:

  • Availability: Business today demands 24/7 availability of your IT infrastructure. Availability monitoring helps administrators track the uptime of switches, routers, firewalls and other critical system components so they can address problems before they impact the business.
  • Disk/storage performance: Given that all organizations store critical business data on hard drives and other storage devices, any problems with these devices can potentially be devastating. Disk monitoring allows administrators to identify storage performance for errors, ensure effective space utilization, track I/O performance and generally keep disks working optimally, while also further reducing downtime.
  • Hardware: Networking hardware is the foundation of your IT infrastructure, so the failure or malfunction of any of these components can severely compromise network performance. Regular monitoring of metrics such as CPU utilization, fan speed, device temperature and power supply status can help admins stay on top of hardware health and prevent any problems from hurting network performance.
  • Interface monitoring: An interface problem can be as simple as a bad cable that needs to be replaced or can be indicative of a larger problem in the network. By collecting network performance, error rates, and bandwidth utilization data, administrators can proactively resolve performance problems related to interface issues.

What are the benefits of network monitoring?

Network monitoring offers many benefits, including:

  • Less downtime: Many organizations fully democratize cloud services, giving numerous stakeholders the ability to source and operate their own cloud services as needed. While this gives the organization agility, it can also lead to duplicated effort, increased expenses and added complexity. When executing on your multicloud strategy, step one should be to determine every cloud deployment currently in operation at your organization, as well as its purpose and efficiencies.
  • Improved efficiency and productivity: Network monitoring is a proactive approach that helps identify and — with the help of automation — fix problems more quickly. It also reduces the amount of time and labor your IT team spends getting to the bottom of latency and other performance issues and frees them to pursue higher-value tasks.
  • More manageable complex networks: As systems extend or migrate to the cloud and incorporate an ever-expanding array of devices, transparency becomes increasingly difficult to achieve. Network monitoring provides a way to easily keep track of all your IT assets and ensure their optimal performance and security, while also allowing quicker and easier network upgrades.
  • Security threat identification: Data breaches rose sharply in 2020, with the average cost of a data breach in the U.S. hitting $8.64 million. While network monitoring doesn’t provide intrusion detection services, it can make it easier to recognize abnormalities, like the connection of an unfamiliar device to your network, that help administrators investigate an indication of a larger security incident and improve response times.
  • An established performance baseline: Understanding the network’s normal behavior is essential for determining its efficiency and how it can be improved. If the baseline is near the limit of your network’s capabilities on an average business day, for example, it might signal that you need to make some upgrades or improve network health so it can handle higher loads during peak usage times.
  • Demonstrated need for equipment upgrades. Network monitoring allows you to identify application performance and other trends and extract data that can be easily displayed in graphs and visualizations and used to justify the need for scaling and upgrading technology to meet business needs.

What is network monitoring vs. database monitoring?

Network monitoring refers to oversight of the entire network infrastructure. Database monitoring is concerned specifically with tracking the health and performance of databases.

Effective database monitoring offers several benefits. Like network monitoring, it’s proactive, allowing administrators to recognize warning signs of potential problems and deal with them before they reach users. It also increases efficiency; databases are one of the first places system administrators will look when apps have problems, and active database monitoring makes it easier for them to hone in on and fix those issues. And database monitoring strengthens security by identifying anomalous activity, checking data backups, and performing other security functions.

As with network monitoring and server monitoring, database monitoring strategies will vary depending on the types of databases being used — relational databases vs. NoSQL databases, for example — and the metrics they expose. In general, though, database monitoring should track the following areas:

  • Infrastructure: Database issues like poor query performance can be the result of other network events, so it’s important to monitor infrastructure metrics such as available memory and disk space, percentage of virtual memory use, network bandwidth for inbound and outbound traffic, and the percentage of CPU time used by database processes..
  • Availability: Ensuring the database is available allows administrators to deal with outages before they impact the customer.
  • Throughput: Measuring throughput during different workload periods allows administrators to establish production performance baselines. These metrics will vary by database platform, but the number of active database connections, the average time to complete a read query, and the number of completed transactions are some of the most common.
  • Scheduled tasks: Repetitive tasks such as backups, integrity checks, archiving and similar maintenance operations should also be monitored.
  • Logs: Log management should be a core component of any database monitoring strategy. Collected and parsed log data can reveal database system events, all user and system queries, scheduled job outputs and other important information.
  • Security: Database monitoring can provide the first level of protection by tracking metrics such as the number of failed login attempts, password changes and database configuration change events. Anomalies in these and other areas can signal potential security events that warrant additional investigation.

Most database monitoring tools will give comprehensive visibility into these and other performance indicators and ping administrators if there are any performance issues. The best tools will also provide insights into the root causes of those issues, enabling faster troubleshooting.

What are key principles of database monitoring?

Proactive database monitoring allows administrators to identify outages and other performance problems before users do. Some best practices for effective database monitoring include:

  • Monitor availability: Making sure all databases are online is the first and most important step of database monitoring. Availability should be checked at regular intervals around the clock.
  • Monitor resource consumption: Memory, CPU, disk and other infrastructure-related resources are second only to availability in importance as they can often impact database performance. A monitoring tool should alert administrators to low memory or disk space, abnormal network traffic and other infrastructure issues before they compromise database performance.
  • Measure throughput: Understanding a database’s workload under typical working conditions is important for determining what “normal” performance looks like and establishing a baseline to serve as an alert threshold. Baselines can be determined by taking multiple readings during different production times over an extended period, which can set alert thresholds that trigger investigations when netflow levels fall outside the desired range.
  • Monitor slow queries: Slow queries can affect the performance of the entire database. Tracking how long it takes for a query to complete, particularly for frequently used queries, as well as the query’s resource usage, is a good way to get insight into database performance.
  • Leverage database logs: While a metric can tell you the average number of queries made per second, for example, it can’t tell you which of those queries is consistently running slowly. Database logs, however, can reveal all the queries running in the database and the time it takes to complete them.
  • Track database schema updates: A new version of an app can add rows of data to a table without partitions, drop tables completely or otherwise change the ways data is structured. Structural changes can cause slow queries and other issues, so it’s important to track changes to a database’s schema to correlate them with new problems.

What is network security?

Network security refers to the protection of the integrity, accessibility and confidentiality of a network and its data. Network security matters because the growing complexity of IT environments is dovetailing with a threat landscape that’s increasing in size and sophistication. And organizations of every size need some level of network security to protect them against a growing array of cyberthreats.

Network vulnerabilities can be found virtually everywhere — in data, devices, applications, users and locations. A successful exploit in any of these areas can disrupt a network and cause financial and reputational damage to the business.

There are many technologies and techniques organizations can implement to strengthen network defenses and prevent or minimize the damage from a successful attack. Some of the more common include:

  • Access control: Network access control (NAC) lets IT set access levels for authorized users and block unauthorized users. Administrators, for example, may be granted full network access but blocked from accessing folders with sensitive customer information.
  • Anti-malware and anti-virus software: Virus, worms, trojans, ransomware and other types of malware are designed to spread across a network, often lying dormant for weeks or months after infecting a system. Anti-malware and anti-virus software can scan files when they enter the network to track malicious IP addresses and remove threats once they’re inside.
  • Firewalls: This longstanding security measure places a virtual barrier between the network and external traffic. Using hardware, software or a combination of both, administrators can configure rules that allow “trusted” traffic onto the network and block “untrusted” traffic.
  • Monitor slow queries: This longstanding security measure places a virtual barrier between the network and external traffic. Using hardware, software or a combination of both, administrators can configure rules that allow “trusted” traffic onto the network and block “untrusted” traffic.
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): A VPN encrypts the network connection between an endpoint and the web server or network. A common use for a VPN is to authenticate remote workers connecting to the company network from home and encrypt the data sent between the two points.
  • Application security: Both commercial software and apps built internally can contain vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit to get inside the network perimeter. Application security refers to the hardware, software and processes used to close these security holes and keep attackers out.
  • Email security: Many attackers use phishing campaigns to gain access to a company network. Email security tools, such as anti-malware systems, can block incoming attacks before they can cause damage.
  • Cloud security: Cloud security refers to tools and policies used to secure data and applications in cloud-based environments.
network monitoring

What is the role of database security in modern network monitoring?

The role of database security in network monitoring is to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data stored in the database. Because much of the data housed in cloud or on-premises databases or data centers is sensitive (e.g. customers’ personal, credit card information), a breach could cause significant damage to the data’s owner as well as the company storing it.

Consequently, database security is an essential component of modern network monitoring. Effective database security limits data compromise or loss by preventing malware and viral infections, blocking attacks and preserving the health and integrity of database servers and data files. Ensuring the proper storage and usage of sensitive data helps organizations achieve regulatory compliance, builds customer trust and confidence and minimizes legal and reputational risk from data breaches.

What are key features of a network monitoring solution?

A great network monitoring solution, or network monitoring service, will help IT professionals discover and understand what and how performance issues are affecting the network, where they’re located, and how to fix them. Here are some critical features to look for in a network monitoring tool:

  • Automatic discovery: Network monitoring requires comprehensive visibility into every device on the network. A tool with automatic discovery can simplify this by scanning the network for connected components and automatically discovering new devices as they’re added, so your network map is always current.
  • Network maps: Once network devices are discovered, the tool should be able to create a visual representation of the network. These network maps help administrators understand where devices are located and how they connect and relate to other devices within the network, making it easier to understand performance issues.
  • Real-time performance metrics: As the tool continuously monitors the network, it should be able to provide performance metrics in real time so IT staff can get a jump on potential issues.
  • Customizable dashboards: Networks can quickly become overloaded with the amount of data modern networks produce. The option to customize what data is displayed on graphs and dashboards allows users to ensure they see what matters most to their environment and in the way they want it displayed.
  • Intelligent alerting: The tool should be able to alert the appropriate administrator or other IT team members to performance issues so they can respond. The alert should include contextual information such as the location and severity, and be able to prioritize incidents accordingly.
  • Diagnosis and root cause analysis: A tool that can diagnose issues and identify their root cause will relieve IT staff of having to figure out problems manually. The time saved can be spent tackling other performance or security issues that improve the overall health and reliability of the network.
  • Scalability: A network monitoring tool should be able to scale as the business expands and grows. Depending on the tool, you may be able to add unlimited devices or there may be payment tiers based on the number of nodes.

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The Bottom Line: Network monitoring is crucial for every business

Network infrastructures continue to grow increasingly complex, making it more challenging to keep them performing optimally and protected from myriad threats. In light of today’s security threat landscape, network monitoring is essential. The speed and efficiency of a network and the applications that depend on it can give you a competitive edge. Network monitoring provides the full network visibility needed to stay ahead of performance problems and security threats — and resolve such issues before they impact users and the business at large. And it dramatically reduces the amount of time and money required to invest in manual oversight, while keeping your network ship-shape.

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