Network monitoring isn’t really a new concept in the world of computing. It goes as far back as the 1980s when the Simple Network Monitoring Protocol (SNMP) was invented. Monitoring has come a long way since those early days, with today’s tools being much more sophisticated in order to cater to the needs of complex information systems.
Despite the clear need for it though, network monitoring isn’t always a priority for technology managers. It often comes near the bottom of their application shopping list and is largely viewed as a nice to have. Yet, network monitoring software is vital. Here’s a look at some of the reasons why.
1. Device Discovery
Think of a large business with tens or hundreds of thousands of employees. Such a company would have thousands of computers, laptops, mobile devices, servers, and other hardware on its network. With such a scale, there are always multiple devices joining or leaving the network every day.
Network monitoring software can automatically discover the devices in the furthest corners of your network. It’s not only useful for letting you know what IP addresses are currently in use but also notifying you when unauthorized or rogue devices are introduced.
2. Network Maps
Understanding the structure of your network is the foundation for managing it effectively. Each time after a device discovery scan, your monitoring tools can create a visual map of the network’s topology that takes into consideration the physical and virtual connections between devices and nodes.
You no longer have to follow the arduous and time-consuming process of manually tracing each cable on your server rack to see which device it’s connected to.
3. Track Device Health
Every so often, one or more devices on your network will be down or offline. Sometimes, this is due to planned maintenance work in which case network engineers are likely aware. There will be times, however, when a device is unavailable for unauthorized or unintentional reasons. For example, someone may have tripped on a network cable and inadvertently disconnected a server or computer as a result.
Network monitoring applications can keep tabs on device health in several ways including port and ping tests. Devices that are offline would have a warning light on the monitoring dashboard that prompts network engineers to investigate.
4. Hardware Acquisition Planning
Network monitoring software gathers plenty of valuable information. Other than the online status of devices, the tool shows bandwidth consumption, memory usage, CPU utilization and hard-disk capacity for every device. Elaborate reports can be generated that show historical trends and forecast future use.
For example, if a server is seeing a rapid reduction in available hard disk space, the network monitoring tool can determine the time in the future when disk space will be exhausted. With this information, IT staff can prepare to upgrade capacity well in advance.
5. Traffic Analysis
Monitoring software receives statistics from routers and switches. This data can be subjected to deeper analysis that will show which ports are in use and by what applications. It can also reveal whether a particular router, server, or end-user device is unusually burdened by traffic and what kind of traffic it is.
With this information, network engineers can take appropriate action to regularize the traffic or, in the case of malware or hacking, block the rogue data packets.
6. Centrally Manage Devices
This is perhaps the one reason for using a monitoring solution that would be most appealing to IT managers.
When monitoring tools are granted access to the configuration settings of each device on the network, the tools can be used to not just monitor changes but also initiate a centralized backup, reset configuration files, or issue specific commands to all devices (or a group of devices) simultaneously. There’s no longer need to painstakingly perform these actions device by device.
7. Cloud Integration
Cloud computing has quickly proven itself as a better and more efficient alternative to traditional on-site server configuration. Consistent with this rapid change in the computing environment, network monitoring tools can tap into the APIs of leading cloud services providers such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure in order to track the status of the different physical or virtual components of the cloud-based network.
You could, for instance, easily establish why you received a higher bill on your Amazon AWS subscription this month compared to the previous one.
8. Inspect Wireless Connectivity
Smartphones have transitioned from gadgets that were solely meant for personal use into tools of everyday business. Organizations increasingly want their employees to be able to work from home, on the road, or from remote locations that cannot otherwise be connected to the network except via a wireless touchpoint.
Network monitoring applications can analyze the state of a wireless connection by zeroing down on signal strength, speed, stability, and security. Where coverage is poor, monitoring software can use various measurements and statistics to show you the root cause.
9. Monitor Application Health
The reasons we’ve looked at so far emphasize the role of network monitoring in managing your hardware. However, you cannot exercise effective hardware oversight if you do not also keep track of the applications that run on the hardware.
In fact, application problems are one of the first signs that there’s something wrong with the devices and appliances they are running on. Monitoring software, therefore, checks the status of your applications for any signs of failure.
10. Incident Response
It’s great that network monitoring tools can extract important insights from the devices on your network. Nevertheless, such information won’t matter much if there is no means of quickly acting upon it as needed.
If a device is offline, monitoring software can send out alerts that initiate the incident response process. The alerts may be relayed via SMS, phone call, email, or automated support tickets. The idea is to get someone working on the issue fast in order to keep downtimes at a minimum.
Given how reliant today’s corporation is on information systems, availability has a direct impact on the business’s bottom line. Ultimately, network monitoring is about proactively ensuring that a high level of system availability is maintained at all times.
Sam Makad is a business consultant. He helps small & medium enterprises to grow their businesses and overall ROI. You can follow Sam on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.