Experts agree that monitoring is essential for maintaining overall network performance, health, and security. But exactly which features should a network monitoring tool offer, and how should the technology be used to achieve maximum effectiveness? As both networks and network management goals advance and evolve, these questions are becoming increasingly difficult to answer, making it challenging to locate and deploy a monitoring technology that covers all of the essential bases.
The network underpins the entire business. "When it goes down, so does business productivity and, ultimately, business revenues," observed Kathie Lyons, executive vice president and general manager of ParkView, the automated support division of Park Place Technologies, a data center maintenance service provider. "It's vital to have a network monitoring tool for end-to-end visibility and management of the entire network," she added. Constant, reliable monitoring allows IT and other managers to understand how well the network is supporting critical applications and business goals.
A network monitoring tool should be flexible and easily customizable to meet the needs of specific types of end-users. "Through custom dashboards, analytics, and reports, IT organizations need to be able to manage what’s important to them," Lyons said. She noted that the tool should also be able to cover the entire IT network ecosystem, including servers, storage, and network devices, in both physical and virtual forms. "As a company grows, whether it's by organic or acquisition [means], the tool should offer easy, unlimited scalability and extensibility for the entire network," Lyons stated.
The key feature to look for in a network monitoring tool is coverage, advised Edmond Baydian, CTO of Optanix, an IT service assurance technology provider. "Gaps in visibility ... can create major issues in the management of the infrastructure," he warned. Scalability is also important "so that the tool can keep up with your growing needs," Baydian noted. Complete interoperability is also essential, he suggested, to allow the monitoring technology to interact seamlessly with existing management and reporting tools.
Since their inception, most network monitoring tools focused on performance, capacity management, and basic security operations. Today, a new generation of monitoring products and services place an equal or ever greater emphasis on security and compliance functions. "Network functions are no longer about moving traffic between locations; they also must incorporate risk reduction to protect the business," observed Nick Bianco, a senior solutions architect at Sungard Availability Services, an IT disaster protection and recovery services provider. "As a result, network monitoring must focus ... on utilizing security controls, such as reputation-based IP analysis, data loss prevention, threat intelligence feeds, user behavior analytics, and machine learning, to assess whether traffic is [intended] for legitimate business purposes."
Network monitoring technology is also getting smarter. "The network monitoring that tends to be the most effective is the type that's able to successfully leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to keep up with the increasingly complex nature of business networks, as well as the rapidly evolving cyberthreat landscape," said Attila Tomaschek, a digital privacy expert at online privacy research firm ProPrivacy.com. "Human IT staff and legacy systems ... can no longer adequately monitor a network for connectivity and security issues on their own without effective automation and the help of AI and machine learning," he added.
The big picture
The modern IT infrastructure is multidimensional, which makes it necessary to view network monitoring tools as part of a larger ecosystem. "The most effective network monitoring solutions offer an integrated combination of tools that not only tailors to your organization’s specific needs but works in concert to comprehensively manage the infrastructure," Baydian explained.
Leading-edge network monitoring tools can draw insights from multiple data sources—wire, flow, infrastructure, and user—for integrated presentation on a single coherent dashboard supported by advanced analytics. Yet network dashboards should never be viewed as a one-size-fits-all solution. It's important to support all IT stakeholders with a dashboard that presents—at a glance—the data needed to support job-related responsibilities. "For example, a line-of-business leader generally requires high-level situational awareness of all resources," said Brad Reinboldt, enterprise and cloud solution manager for VIAVI Solutions, a network test, measurement, and assurance technology company. "In contrast, Level 3 support must have seamless workflows to problem resolution, which may, depending on the issue, require deep-dive access to specific network conversations or IT asset KPIs."
A final thought
Perhaps the biggest mistake organizations make when choosing a network monitoring tool is selecting a product or service that can't be properly scaled to the organization’s future needs and evolving network requirements. "If an organization expects to grow, then it should also expect that its network will evolve and grow in complexity over time," Tomaschek advised. With a network monitoring solution that's incapable of keeping pace, organizations can be left unduly prone to network connectivity issues and downtime, while simultaneously opening themselves up to a range of cyber threats."