How to get started with network monitoring

At trade shows, I’ve spoken with many network administrators that have no network monitoring system in place. They sometimes ask me for advice on how to implement a simple and easy-to-use solution to get them started. When this happens, I wonder how they are able to successfully manage their network and support their users without such tools.

Then I realized that most of them worked for businesses that have little dependency on network connectivity and performance. Perhaps their employers belong to industries that were not disrupted yet by cloud and SaaS applications or perhaps they just have a stable enough environment to feel very little need for proactive monitoring.

Before recommending a solution (which may or may not be NetBeez), I want to get a sense of their basic requirements so I start with two important questions. I’ll go ahead and share these questions to help readers tasked with implementing a network monitoring solution for the first time.  Here’s the first question:

What Are You Monitoring?

If you are looking to monitor device health and status, you will need a tool that provides SNMP information about routers, switches, and access points. If your network equipment vendor doesn’t provide such tools, then you can consider open source solutions like Nagios and Zabbix, or commercial ones like SolarWinds and PRTG. Monitoring device health is very important but is not sufficient for quickly detecting and troubleshooting outages that impact users.


If you are looking to monitor bandwidth consumption and usage, then you need a flow analysis tool that collects netflow, cflow, or IPFIX data from your routers and switches. There are open source solutions like Ntop that do a pretty good job with that, and commercial but expensive ones, like NetScout or Riverbed. Being aware of how much traffic your network is handling gives you information about the top talkers and top applications clogging your network links. However, it doesn’t tell you if users have lost connectivity and is not the fastest way to detect and troubleshoot network and application issues.


If you are looking to verify that your users can connect to the network and use the applications, you will need an active monitoring tool. These tools perform continuous tests over the network and against the applications to make sure that everything runs properly. They rely on software agents or hardware appliances installed at remote offices where the users connect. By doing so, they provide the status of the network and applications from the user perspective, reducing guesswork during troubleshooting. Put simply, what your tool sees is what your users are experiencing in real-time. You can check out open source solutions like SmokePing or commercial ones like NetBeez (there’s also a free version in case you want to test it).

I wouldn’t be surprised if you realize that you need all three classes of tools above. Most network administrators do, in fact. If you’re wondering why you’ll  have to purchase three different solutions, let me give you that my perspective on this. I think that it’s very difficult to find one solution on the market that does all three things well and at a reasonable price. The reason behind this is that these companies tend to focus on one core technology.

Here’s the second question:

Do you want an open source solution or a commercial solution?

Now you need to decide whether you will go with an open source or a commercial solution. For some users the choice is clear; for others, it’s not. Open source solutions are free, but support is not included and they require more time to install, configure, and support. If you don’t have a budget, an open source solution is probably your only option.

However, if there’s a shortage of time at your company, then it’s worth reviewing priorities with your manager. You need to decide if the time you spend configuring, managing, and supporting the solution is worth the money needed for a commercial solution. My gut feeling is that, for most network administrators, going with a commercial solution is the best option.

Another risk to consider about open source solutions is that when the network administrator leaves, the knowledge on how to configure, support and manage the tool is lost. Oftentimes, this requires the new arrival to start from scratch, and this could have unpleasant consequences on your support and overall network performance.

I hope this quick post was helpful in getting you started with network monitoring. I would be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments section about your most important monitoring requirements and what solutions you are using to meet them.

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