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Five Best Practice Tips for Effective Network Monitoring

Your network is the core of your operations so it’s important to ensure that everything is running smoothly and you are getting early warning of any potential problems. Many IT buyers put network monitoring and management tools in place and expect them to just work. However, monitoring tools are only as good as you make them.

Advances in technology means that busy IT teams are often overloaded with the maintenance and configuration of network devices, servers and services, as well as continual monitoring of the operation of all the devices within the network. Today’s business critical network environment also have to contend with relatively new challenges such as bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and the internet of things (IoT).

Here, we outline our top five tips for implementing an effective monitoring strategy which optimises your network.

1) Understand what you’re working with

To effectively manage the IT environment you need to have a detailed understanding of what devices make up your network. Many tools will do this for you by performing an automated discovery of routers, switches, servers, security and other IP devices. Even if it’s a more manual process you need to keep an up-to-date inventory of all the elements you manage. Network inventory management is a key factor in effective network monitoring, understanding what is on your network and how it changes over time can help you to identify potential problems and causes of reduced network performance.

Equally, you need to understand the behaviour of your network users. Baselining network behaviour over a couple of weeks or months will help the network admin understand what is normal, and enable you to set threshold values for alerts when network activity goes beyond this “normal” set profile.

2) Configuration & change management

Network management technology needs to be configured to specifically address the needs of a particular environment. If that doesn’t happen, issues on the network will occur. Even minor configuration mistakes can lead to network downtime or loss of data.

You need to set the parameters you want managed, thresholds you expect devices and systems to meet and configure devices and systems to either send data to management tools or allow management tools to take data from the device and system logs. Configuration and change management is the proactive part of network monitoring, preventing issues from occurring on the network.

You’ll find that your monitoring configuration will evolve over time as new systems, services, applications and hardware come online.

3) Make sure the right person is alerted to problems

One of the main reasons why network problems occur is down to human error. Increasingly busy IT teams are under pressure to prioritise and respond to issues on the network. Sometimes the monitoring alerts that are triggered by a particular issue go ignored and unresolved, especially in large enterprise teams where there can be multiple administrators.

Organisations of all sizes benefit from an alert escalation matrix which details exactly who looks after what and when. Based on the plan, the person who administers that element of the network, that is having an issue, will be alerted. If that person isn’t available, then the matrix decides how the alert should be escalated based on severity or resolution service levels. The implementation of a well-thought out escalation matrix prevents small issues from growing into large scale organisational-wide problems. Solutions such as SMS alerting can ensure the correct person gets the message as quickly as possible.

4) Monitor all your layers

It is important to use a monitoring system that supports multiple technologies to monitor at all layers. Only then can you get the understanding and insight into whether your performance problems are a network, server, routing problem, a bandwidth problem, software or a hardware malfunction.

Each element in the network that contributes to data transfer functions at one of the layers, such as cables at the physical layer, IP addresses at the network layer, transport protocols at the transport layer, and so on. You need full visibility of the entire system in order for monitoring to work effectively. For example: Simply knowing a server is offline doesn’t tell you the root cause, but understanding a service has failed on that server allows your engineers investigate and quickly fix the issues.

5) Prepare for future network expansion

As your organisation grows, your network will evolve based on business and technology requirements. An increase in business or additional employees for an organisation has an impact on the number of devices needed, network and WAN bandwidth, storage space, and many other factors.

Before deploying a network management system, factor in a network growth forecast analysis to leave room for more devices and interfaces to be monitored as they are added to your network.

Choose a network performance monitoring solution that has historic data as well as thresholding so you can receive alerts about projected capacity exhaustion for key metrics, such as bandwidth usage, memory usage or disk space.

In some cases, the server on which the monitoring system is installed may need upgrades to processing power and memory. Virtual machines may need more allocation of resources. In other instances, it might be the need to add-on infrastructure to increase functionality, or an increase in number of licenses may be needed. 

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