11 network monitoring best practices

11 network monitoring best practices

Network security and availability start with visibility, which is only possible with high-quality network monitoring solutions. The question is, what monitoring tools should you use, and how should you implement them?

This article dives into the world of network monitoring. We will explore monitoring benefits, look at network monitoring types, and round things off with 11 network monitoring best practices for all business networks.

Key takeaways

  • Network monitoring ensures secure and efficient network operations by preventing disruptions, identifying security threats, and meeting compliance goals.

  • The four main categories of network monitoring are configuration, performance, availability, and cloud infrastructure monitoring. Each plays a key role in maintaining network health and security.

  • It's essential to use various monitoring types to ensure comprehensive coverage, maintain stability, optimize performance, and adapt to evolving cloud infrastructures.

  • Network monitoring best practices:

  1. Establish a monitoring baseline

  2. Ensure the monitoring system is available at all times

  3. Audit tools to eliminate sprawl

  4. Prevent alert swarms that swamp IT teams

  5. Monitor many network devices for a complete picture

  6. Use a robust monitoring dashboard

  7. Take a proactive monitoring approach

  8. Create a systematic escalation process

  9. Integrate configuration management with monitoring

  10. Monitor every network layer

  11. Choose monitoring solutions for your network landscape

What is network monitoring?

Network monitoring involves understanding and continually assessing network architecture to improve security, reduce costs, and optimize performance. Monitoring typically has two components: mapping network assets and monitoring ongoing traffic and performance.

Why should you monitor your network?

Network monitoring is critical because modern companies rely on secure, efficient network infrastructure. Network failure can have catastrophic reputational and financial consequences. Even minor outages or security alerts disrupt workflows and reduce overall business efficiency.

A network monitoring system enables Network Operations (NetOps) teams to:

  • Troubleshoot problems before they become critical.

  • Ensure the availability of devices and apps for authorized users

  • Detect security flaws or intrusions and take remedial action.

  • Meet security and availability compliance goals.

  • Optimize network efficiency and reduce operational costs.

  • Add new network features securely and smoothly.

These benefits sound abstract on their own. However, the importance of a network monitoring solution becomes clear when we consider a few use cases.

  • Business expansion without service outages. Companies may need to expand their server and payment processing capacity. Expansion can lead to bottlenecks and - potentially - system downtime. A network monitoring system enables IT teams to plan server loads and model data flows, providing enough bandwidth for network traffic.

  • Responding to network emergencies. All network infrastructure is vulnerable to unforeseen outages. Monitoring your network lets you identify the cause of outages quickly. Technicians can isolate routers or servers and focus on achieving rapid system restoration.

  • Navigating cloud transitions. Network architecture may change as companies migrate to cloud services or adopt hybrid work models. Network monitoring maintains visibility over endpoints and cloud assets. Companies can change how they work without adding new security or performance risks.

  • Protecting sensitive data. Companies in sectors like finance or healthcare face strict data security regulations. Network monitoring enables security teams to track the status of critical data. Teams know who is accessing confidential information when they do so and what happens to data. Real-time alerts allow IT teams to respond to unauthorized access or security issues.

What are the 4 categories of network monitoring?

Network monitoring is not monolithic. Companies can choose between monitoring types or adopt systems that mix different capabilities.

#1 Configuration network monitoring

Configuration network monitoring tracks network assets that rely on configuration files. This monitoring technology records baseline configurations for stable and secure operations. Automated monitoring tools assess the status of applications or devices and identify when configurations change.

Configuration monitoring also compares similar network applications or devices. Real-time alerts inform IT teams and create tickets for technicians to investigate.

Benefits of monitoring configurations include the simplified rollback of apps and devices when configurations become unsafe. Network users have limited scope to depart from secure configurations, blocking insider threats and many cybersecurity agents.

#2 Performance monitoring

Performance monitoring assesses factors that affect network health and user experience. Common factors tracked by performance monitoring tools include network utilization, optimal path selection, and network latency.

Companies often use the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to track network performance. SNMP extracts data from network devices (such as controllers or switches) and alerts centralized monitoring tools when data flows breach pre-defined limits.

SNMP is not the only performance monitoring protocol. IT teams can use protocols to measure the rate of flow conversations or employ packet capture to assess deep traffic flows that are invisible to upper-layer protocols.

Logging tools also contribute to performance assessment. These tools collect network data and trigger alerts when metrics breach certain thresholds. Streaming telemetry is widely used to collect real-time data and enable rapid network fixes.

#3 Availability monitoring

Availability monitoring determines whether devices or apps are operational and ready to use. These relatively simple monitoring tools provide real-time status updates, confirming the health of critical services.

There are many availability monitoring techniques. The most common method is pinging devices via the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP). ICMP communicates with network devices, confirming they remain connected.

As mentioned above, SNMP performs a similar role but can also enable more complex performance tracking. Event logging also records device status and alerts IT teams when that status changes.

#4 Cloud infrastructure monitoring

As companies add virtualized network infrastructure, monitoring cloud systems is becoming essential. Organizations can sometimes extend existing tools to enable cloud infrastructure monitoring.

Cloud monitoring tools track user interactions with cloud assets. Monitoring tools identify problems with uptime speeds, server performance, and security status. However, engineering cloud monitoring systems can be problematic.

Tools designed for traditional networks may not capture data from distributed public cloud assets. Cloud service providers often provide monitoring systems with their products. These tools work well with specific third-party cloud systems but may not integrate with general network monitoring tools.

As a result, companies must choose between managing a suite of separate cloud monitoring tools or creating centralized cloud network monitoring systems.

Differences between network monitoring and security monitoring

Before moving on to network monitoring best practices, we should clarify the difference between network and security monitoring.

Security monitoring is essentially a sub-variant of network monitoring. Network monitoring tools capture many data types, including device status, server loads, and bandwidth issues. Network security monitoring protects network components and blocks potential threats.

Network monitoring takes an enterprise-wide view of the entire network. It aims to balance performance, availability, cost, and security. Security monitoring targets suspicious user activity. This task requires a tight focus on endpoints and practices like authentication and access management.

11 network monitoring best practices

Network monitoring can be approached in various ways, such as using SNMP-based tools, flow-based monitoring, or packet analysis. Here are NordLayer's best practices and why they are effective.

11 network monitoring best practices

1. Establish a monitoring baseline

Establishing a baseline is the first step in any network monitoring project. The baseline document defines what represents normal (or acceptable) network behavior.

Define maximum allowable values for monitoring metrics. List approved devices. Include devices directly connected to the network and those outside the perimeter that users routinely interact with.

Think of the baseline document as the plan for constructing your monitoring system. It outlines the rules for monitoring, what the system measures, and when tools should trigger alerts.

2. Ensure the monitoring system is available at all times

Network monitoring tools must be available constantly. Tools to measure device availability are useless if they go offline during general network outages.

Instead, users should segregate monitoring tools from other network assets. Build failover systems that kick in when monitoring agents or dashboards fail. Consider installing a dedicated monitoring data center to hold tools and logs in a secure location.

3. Audit tools to eliminate sprawl

Tool sprawl occurs when NetOps teams add monitoring solutions haphazardly. For instance, app-specific monitoring tools may multiply as public cloud deployments expand.

Sprawl is dangerous because it makes the monitoring system more complex and challenging to manage. NetOps teams take longer to extract relevant data and isolate network problems. In worst-case scenarios, they may miss network alerts entirely.

Avoid tool sprawl by choosing monitoring solutions that scale with your operations. If this is not possible, only add interoperable monitoring tools. Maintain a unified setup without loose ends.

4. Prevent alert swarms that swamp IT teams

Alert storms or swarms result from poorly designed monitoring architecture. In these situations, single network failures cascade through infrastructure. Isolate failures generate waves of alerts as they pass through the network topology.

Avoid this outcome by strategically placing monitoring agents. You do not need to monitor every switch. Monitor nodes that handle high-value data or represent potential bottlenecks. And configure alerts to detect and filter out false positives.

5. Monitor many network devices for a complete picture

While strategically placing monitoring tools is essential, you must cover multiple bases for a comprehensive picture.

Receiving data from many devices, components, or applications allows NetOps teams to compare data points. This comparison adds detail and results in more accurate network assessments.

Take time to plan monitoring setups based on critical goals. Define what you intend to measure. Locate network assets that allow this measurement to occur. Test your configuration to ensure it meets your goals and delivers high-quality data.

6. Use a robust monitoring dashboard

Network monitoring relies on complete visibility. Tools must display status updates, process alerts, and analyze monitoring data. Good network dashboards display the information you need in an easy-to-read format.

Use customizable dashboards that enable flexible visualizations to model performance and security issues. Dashboards should allow technicians to order devices on their network map in order of criticality. Ordering like this makes it easier to identify urgent alerts, providing at-a-glance assurance that all is well.

7. Take a proactive monitoring approach

Network monitoring is not a reactive or passive operation. NetOps teams must use the visibility provided by monitoring teams to improve network architecture and cut the risk of cyber attacks or network outages.

Review logs regularly to detect patterns in network traffic. For example, anomalies may indicate devices are part of botnets or expose previously unknown traffic bottlenecks. Schedule network audits to assess monitoring baselines and discover areas without monitoring coverage.

8. Create a systematic escalation process

NetOps teams need a process for responding to critical alerts and informing stakeholders. Create an escalation matrix documenting what constitutes a critical alert and when technicians should start the escalation process.

For example, monitoring may expose security problems with servers storing confidential client data. Exposure to confidential data may be a compliance issue requiring action from legal professionals and senior managers. Other alerts may need escalation to IT specialists alone

9. Integrate configuration management with monitoring

Many security teams use configuration management to change default settings on hardware and network apps. For example, it's advisable to update your firewall configuration regularly. However, changing configurations can cause problems for network management tools—and may compromise their visibility.

Avoid this by integrating network monitoring with configuration management. Align security goals with visibility metrics to ensure devices are updated securely.

10. Monitor every network layer

Robust network monitoring systems should monitor data at all relevant network layers. Choose tools that operate at the application, transport, internet, and network access layers. Ensure that monitoring tools can present network data according to its TCP/IP or OSI layer, allowing granular and insightful diagnostics.

11. Choose monitoring solutions for your network landscape

As we noted earlier, there are four general types of network monitoring solutions. Choose solutions that monitor the devices and apps your business uses. Assess critical assets to verify you have a suitable monitoring system in place.

Regarding protocols, ICMP and SNMP-based solutions are ideal for tracking on-premises assets. However, Remote Procedure Call (gRPC) suits cloud deployments with robust authentication and encryption functions.

Improve your network visibility with NordLayer

Our network monitoring best practices will help you design tracking systems covering every network niche.

Effective network monitoring systems improve network visibility. IT teams know the status of every critical device, component, or application. Specialists receive instant alerts when problems arise. There is far less risk of unforeseen emergencies such as data breaches or app outages.

NordLayer's monitoring solutions are scalable, simple, and customizable. Our network visibility solution monitors user activity, device postures, and server usage.

NetOps teams can set compliance rules for critical devices and model NordLayer server performance via flexible graphs. Activity monitoring tracks user behavior in granular detail, enabling network managers to make informed decisions about performance and security.

Share article


Copy failed

Take control of your network with NordLayer's help

Contact our team and create a simple, efficient network visibility solution.

Protect your business with cybersecurity news that matters

Join our expert community and get tips, news, and special offers delivered to you monthly.

Free advice. No spam. No commitment.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.