5 Advanced Network Troubleshooting Tools

Go beyond the basics with tools like protocol analyzers to streamline troubleshooting.

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Network administrators must be prepared to troubleshoot a wide range of problems across the entire enterprise infrastructure. One minute they may be troubleshooting why a PC can't authenticate to the wireless network, while the next they may be trying to figure out why a BGP neighbor is flapping. While network pros have long relied on basic tools troubleshooting tools such as ping, traceroute and DNS lookups, more advanced tools can streamline the process. Here are five tools that make network troubleshooting easier and more efficient.

1. Protocol analyzer

If you're troubleshooting difficult network issues that require you to investigate data flows down to the packet level, a protocol analyzer is your absolute best choice. A protocol analyzer is a piece of software that intercepts and logs packets so  you can closely review them and see specific interactions between clients and servers. For example, if a particular PC has a slow connection to an application residing on a server, you can use a protocol analyzer to identify any communication problems, latency issues or other problems that could be the root cause.



Protocol analyzers such as Wireshark are simple applications that you can install on a laptop and position on a network switch using port mirroring to collect specific data on a case-by-case basis. Alternatively, you can deploy commercial network-wide protocol analyzers that have the ability to capture a much wider range of data.

2. SNMP monitoring tools

The Simple Network Monitoring Protocol (SNMP) is a way to monitor infrastructure equipment. In enterprise environments, SNMP tools such as SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor, HPE's Network Node Manager i (NNMi) or CA Spectrum monitor the health of network devices and specific interfaces. Alerts can be set up to notify network engineers when a specific interface or device goes down. This helps administrators quickly zero in on the root cause of network outages. Bandwidth utilization on network interfaces through the use of SNMP collection tools also helps create a traffic baseline. When data flows clearly change outside of the baseline, it’s an indication that a problem has occurred in this area.

3. NetFlow analytics

NetFlow is a protocol that was originally developed by Cisco Systems to collect IP network traffic in order to create an end-to-end picture of individual traffic flows. Most enterprise-class routers and multi-layer switches can be configured to generate flow data and send it to a centralized NetFlow collection server. Once the data is collected and indexed, an administrator can then use NetFlow analytics tools such as Plixer’s Scrutinizer or SevOne’s NetFlow tool to drill into the data for a number of uses. From a network troubleshooting perspective, NetFlow analytics can quickly track things such as top applications, top hosts and changes in network flow behavior to spot problems such as bandwidth hogs.

4. Centralized log management

The practice of deciphering network device logs is an extremely useful troubleshooting technique. Centralized log management tools such as Splunk and Graylog streamline this practice by collecting and storing all network device logs into a central repository then using analytics to correlate log events from multiple devices to identify and quickly resolve network problems. Centralizing log analysis significantly speeds up the troubleshooting process, especially when the problem is complex and difficult to pinpoint. You can also use a centralized log management system to automate the triggering of various notification alerts.

5. WiFi analyzers

An organization's wireless network is rapidly becoming the primary connectivity method for end-user network access. Because of this, administrators are under increasing pressure to maintain a WiFi presence that is highly reliable and ubiquitous. WiFi relies on the use of the unlicensed 2.4 and 5GHz frequency spectrums, which are prone to interference by everything from neighboring WiFi devices, microwave ovens, airport radar, and obstructions such brick walls. Tracking down the cause of interference can be tricky without the right tools. Professional WiFi analyzers such as Netscout AirMagnet or Ekahau Spectrum Analyzer allow network administrators to identify interference that causes degraded WiFi performance so it can be quickly eliminated.


About the Author(s)

Andrew Froehlich, President, West Gate Networks

President, West Gate Networks

As a highly experienced network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, particularly in the United States and Southeast Asia, Andrew Froehlich has nearly two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Froehlich has participated in the design and maintenance of networks for State Farm Insurance, United Airlines, Chicago-area schools and the University of Chicago Medical Center. He is the founder and president of Loveland, Colo.-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build outs. The author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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