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What is Network Monitoring Software?
Network monitoring software is a type of network management software that constantly monitors a computer network to identify slowdowns, bottlenecks, network device issues, DoS attacks, and other anomalies. Most network monitoring systems prepare dashboard reports of a network’s health based on important metrics such as:
- Network CPU utilization
- Disk memory
- Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) retransmission rate
and other speed and efficiency metrics that indicate a network’s overall smooth operation.
A network monitoring system sends alerts to an IT systems administrator—usually via email or text message—in the event of an issue with network speeds or server hardware malfunctions. Network issues can be debilitating for businesses. The sooner an admin knows about an issue, the easier it is for them to take appropriate actions to evade a network failure.
While basic network monitoring tasks can be executed using ping tests and Simple Network Management Protocols (SNMP), network monitoring software provides much more detailed, comprehensive information about a network’s status. For this reason, network monitoring software is primarily used by enterprise-level organizations such as hospitals and universities that require widespread network coverage powered by servers located around the world.
These distributed servers must be able to handle a number of client requests from laptop and desktop computers, mobile devices and tablets, cloud computing systems, internet of things (IoT) devices, voice over internet phone (VoIP) applications, and others. With the heavy workload this puts on the network, servers can become overloaded if not properly managed, leading to crashes and—in worst case scenarios—network failures that seriously disrupt business operations.
Features vary widely across different network monitoring software vendor solutions, but all solutions should at least offer a similar core set of features. Any modern network monitoring solution will offer device monitoring, alerts, reporting, and forecasting, but additional features that expand upon or simplify these basic features are often available as well.
In terms of network monitoring, a device monitoring feature specifically tracks a server’s hardware infrastructure, which is required to operate a network. These devices include firewalls, routers, slow processors, memory, and hard drives, tandem switches (core switches), server performance, and client systems. A network monitoring system will not only tell you the current network speed, but it will also identify which processes are using particularly high percentages of CPU power, for instance.
IT systems administrators appreciate having access to real-time network performance metrics, but the truth is, admins don’t stare at network monitoring dashboards all day. This is why network monitoring solutions send alerts to admins when problems arise. A system sends an alert if it detects a slowdown or if there appears to be a hardware issue within the server. Alerts are traditionally sent via email, but with the proliferation of mobile phones, the majority of systems now also send alerts via SMS and push notifications, if the system has a mobile app.
In addition to the dashboard features offered by many network monitoring solutions, most systems also allow you to generate reports. Reports can be useful for spotting trends, evaluating IT response times to alerts, grouping alerts over a specified period of time to reduce notification volume, and more. In most network monitoring solutions system administrators can pull reports on demand, but many systems also allow admins to schedule periodic reports.
Similar to reporting, forecasting notifies system administrators of problem trends so that admins can be proactive. Forecasts work by aggregating historical data to help system administrators understand when they can likely expect to see the problems again. There may be holidays or other recurring events that cause unexpected spikes in network activity, which often result in overwhelmed servers and slower network speeds. But admins can also give network monitoring systems a customized forecasting objective based on a desired training data set, making forecasts highly tailored to your business’ specific network needs.
Major User Types
Network monitoring solutions display metrics about network performance in dashboards, but these solutions are arguably more useful for sending alerts to high-ranking stakeholders. It’s easy to pull up metric dashboards, but network issues require immediate attention, and scanning dashboards all day and night for potential issues is impractical. Once an alert has been sent, IT staff will need to see details about an issue to fix it, but most other users will be primarily interested in alerting.
IT Systems Administrators
IT systems administrators are responsible for managing computer and networking infrastructure and are therefore the primary users of network monitoring software. Admins will likely be the only employees who access this system, and they will probably be the only employees to receive alerts about network issues.
Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
IT systems administrators are the primary users of network monitoring software, but a company’s chief technology officer (CTO) will also require access to the system. While a CTO may not receive network issue alerts, they will respond to outage reports from IT systems administrators in the event of a network outage or another big event that requires top-down action.
A company’s CTO will also be responsible for sending company-wide alerts regarding outages and will keep other C-suites informed of updates. For this reason, CTOs will also need to pull reports from the system to give detailed outage reports to the CEO and other executives.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
In most situations, a company’s chief executive officer (CEO) won’t require too much in-depth knowledge of network issues unless the issue affects major parts or all of a company. For widespread issues such as network outages, a company’s CEO will want to receive alerts so that resources can be pulled from across the company to help solve the issue or so that damage control procedures can begin.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Similar to a CEO’s level of access, chief financial officers (CFOs) will probably only need access to a network monitoring system for alerts about widespread, high-impact outages. Network outages can seriously disrupt business processes, which have a direct impact on a company’s finances. If an outage is large enough that it affects sales or revenue or requires significant unbudgeted expenses, a CFO will need to know.
Benefits and ROI of Network Monitoring Software
Today’s network monitoring software offerings include a variety of features. While these are useful for maintaining a healthy network, they can make it tough to make a decision. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you need a network monitoring solution, there are two main benefits you should consider when making your decision.
Reduce incident response time
Apart from ping tests and SNMP, there is a free, low-tech alternative to network monitoring: waiting until your employees or customers complain. This is obviously not an ideal solution by any means, but it can work for smaller companies who can’t yet justify an investment in network monitoring software.
By the same token, reducing customer and employee complaints by taking quick action is one of the biggest benefits of network monitoring software. The faster your IT team knows about an issue, the faster they can jump into action on a solution. Most modern systems also offer advice on the best courses of action to take when certain metrics deviate from your baseline, which further reduces the amount of time you spend devising a fix.
Tighten network security
Though tighter network security is one of the top benefits of network monitoring software, it isn’t always given proper credit or consideration in the buying process. Like many important things in life, you probably won’t appreciate cybersecurity until it’s gone. Data breaches can be a nightmare situation for companies, even putting them out of business in many cases. Network monitoring software can help reduce your chances of a data breach by alerting IT staff of suspicious activity.
Also Read: Your Data Is At Risk (white paper)
For example, in January 2019, Basecamp became the victim of a mass-login attack aimed at stealing customer login credentials and other sensitive information. Basecamp’s CTO, David Heinemeier Hansson, shared how the IT team noticed a massive uptick in login attempts, allowing Basecamp staff to slow down malicious IP addresses and ultimately put a CAPTCHA in place to stop the attack. Had Basecamp’s IT staff not responded immediately, thousands of customer’s personal information could have been compromised.
Network Monitoring Market Overview
The network monitoring market is growing fast, and given current business and consumer trends, it’s easy to see why. Most companies nowadays prefer cloud-based over on-premise solutions. The lower cost and improved convenience of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phones make them more attractive than landline phones. Network-connected internet of things (IoT) devices help businesses improve visibility and efficiency. And unfortunately, cyber criminals see increased opportunity as more business processes migrate online.
According to a 2019 report from Global Market Insights, Inc., the market for network monitoring software will continue to expand through 2024, with Asia Pacific on track to be the fastest-growing region for network monitoring adoption. This is largely due to a rapidly growing middle class in countries such as China and India and the increased demand for electronic, network-connected devices and the industry growth to support those devices.
China and India will supplant the United States as the world’s largest economies by 2030, according to the International Monetary Fund. This means that Asia could represent ⅔ of the global middle-class population by 2030, increasing total middle-class spending worldwide by up to an additional $29 trillion.
Out of this increased demand, the 1 and 10 Gbps bandwidth segment will hold the most market share, with governments, healthcare companies, enterprise-sized businesses, telecommunication companies, and cloud service providers accounting for the bulk of network monitoring software demand. Enterprises currently account for the largest demand segment of closely-related server monitoring software.
In terms of network interconnects, Ethernet (composed of copper cables) will probably represent the biggest opportunity for network monitoring. Ethernet still suffers from its early reputation as a slower alternative to fiber optic cable (composed of tiny glass strands), but nowadays Ethernet is valued for its relatively low cost and high speeds. Ethernet even wins out over InfiniBand (composed of either copper or fiber optic cable) in some enterprise data centers where affordable, high speed data transfer is crucial to maintain reliability.
More so than fiber optic and InfiniBand, Ethernet technology offers higher bandwidth with better scalability and less latency, making it a top choice for data centers around the world as they seek better solutions for handling the growing number of cloud-based systems. Network monitoring will follow this trend, offering more options for Ethernet monitoring as it becomes more widespread.
The market outlook is strong for network monitoring software, but there are multiple trends that will play a bigger role in how software is developed, deployed, and who uses it. Taking these trends into consideration will save you time and money in the long run, as they are only expected to play a bigger role in how IT staff manages networks and the features and capabilities they will need to effectively do their jobs.
More and more companies are moving online business processes to the cloud, which is more reliable, secure, and scalable than traditional on-premise servers. Servers located in large data centers on every continent (including Antarctica) make cloud computing possible, which means IT systems administrators will heavily rely on network monitoring software to stay informed about network and device performance.
Network monitoring software developers are keen to this trend, as many solutions now offer cloud monitoring. This includes Amazon Web Services (AWS), whose network monitoring tool, CloudWatch, lends visibility into network activity for Amazon’s cloud computing clients. Given that a plethora of businesses and organizations from Workday to the FBI use AWS for cloud computing, other network monitoring vendors would be remiss not to offer similar product features.
Voice Over Internet Phone (VoIP)
As cable-cutting continues to extend to phone lines, more businesses are moving their phones from the established public switched telephone network (PSTN) to voice over internet phone (VoIP). VoIP offers several advantages over copper wire phone lines that require locally configured networks and phone jacks. VoIP is less expensive, more flexible, and mobile-friendly.
But from an IT perspective, network performance is VoIP’s main drawback. Quality phone audio depends on low latency, wide bandwidth, and high network speeds, and VoIP is one more process using network CPU. For consistent phone performance, networks must remain in good health and operate at peak performance. Network monitoring will play a critical role in ensuring networks can support VoIP.
Internet of Things (IoT) Devices
Many devices that previously operated alone now connect to the network as well. You’re no doubt familiar with smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, but many businesses now use internet of things (IoT) devices as well. Plenty of businesses use smart lighting and HVAC to reduce energy waste, smart locks for tighter security, and barcode readers and RFID scanners for the most up-to-date and accurate inventory counts.
All of these devices connect to the network, increasing not only network strain, but also a business’s dependence on top-notch network performance. Network monitoring software helps identify which IoT devices are connected to the network in addition to identifying any cybersecurity risks they might pose.
Of all the trends outlined above, perhaps the most important one to pay attention to is the growing threat of cyber attacks from malicious actors. As more business and government activity is conducted online, individual hackers, hacking groups, and even state-sponsored hackers will ramp up the frequency and sophistication of their attacks to steal valuable personal information, trade secrets, and plans from businesses, private citizens, and other governments.
While many other preventative measures should be taken to shield yourself against such attacks, network monitoring software will continue to offer more advanced security features to alert you of security concerns before a serious breach occurs. Network monitoring software developers will also take more online and physical security measures to ensure that customer data remains protected.
Best-in-Class Breakdown of Network Monitoring
|Product||Industry Rating*||Pricing Tier||Mobile App||Free Trial|
|PRTG Network Monitor||4.47/5||average||Y||Y|
|Spiceworks Network Monitor||4.43/5||low-end||Y||Y|
* Industry rating is based off an average of ratings from industry-leading B2B software review sites.
Network Monitoring Software Case Study
Company: Resolvit IT & Management Consulting
Solution: PRTG Network Monitor by Paessler AG
Headquartered in Washington, D.C. and with offices in New Orleans, Cincinnati, Raleigh, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, Resolvit is an international technology consulting firm that works with clients in the life sciences, manufacturing, financial services, and more to provide enterprise data and analytics, among other services. Given the wide variety of clients Resolvit serves, it needed a highly-scalable network monitoring system that can quickly adapt to device changes and monitor network activity on cloud-based sharing and storage solutions. Resolvit also cited cost-effectiveness as an important factor that would play into their purchase decision.
After weighing their options, Resolvit decided to go with PRTG Network Monitor from Paessler AG, a German developer of monitoring software for IT administrators. PRTG Network Monitor seemed like a good fit for Resolvit due to its auto-discovery option that offers visibility into devices entering and leaving networks and its ability to monitor Windows servers. This allows Resolvit to remain agile when working with a variety of enterprise-sized client networks and to analyze network activity on clients’ cloud-based systems.
“Don’t be a firefighter, be a marshall,” the Director of Information Systems at Resolvit, Edgard Concha, said in a statement to Paessler. “When you can’t see what’s happening in your network, everything is a surprise and you spend much of your time responding to urgent, emergency requests to put out fires. When you have visibility over the network, you can concentrate not only on preventing such emergencies, but also in determining how to most effectively use your team and resources strategically. At the end of the day, network monitoring—and the ability it gives you to see what is happening across your IT infrastructure at any given point in time—is what enables you to transition from being reactive to being proactive.”
Resolvit is happy with the big-picture visibility and scalability PRTG Network Monitor has given to their business. Edgard noted that the solution will likely continue to be helpful as more and more businesses move from legacy systems to cloud-based systems and applications. The insights and forecasting tools from the solution are another major benefit for Resolvit, as Edgard said he works with his team to take proactive steps to avoid network issues.
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