A Complete Guide to Network Performance Monitoring (NPM)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 18, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Network performance monitoring (NPM) is an important process for measuring, visualizing, monitoring, and reporting on the performance of a network. Networks play an important role in modern organizations, and NPM helps businesses manage them effectively. Understanding how to use networking performance monitoring tools to identify and resolve issues can help you excel in your role. In this article, we explain what network performance monitoring is, discuss why it's important, explore metrics engineers typically monitor, and list tools you can use to do this efficiently.

What is network performance monitoring?

Network performance monitoring is a process of using different monitoring tools to monitor, visualize, optimize, and diagnose the quality and performance of a network and determine any changes. NPM primarily focuses on the links between any mobile devices, peripherals, servers, and workstations to determine any congestion and the total throughput. The aim is to evaluate performance and identify points for improving the network performance.

Tools used in this process include custom software to track real-time performance and analytical programs to evaluate performance over a specific period of time. In some cases, organizations also rely on hardware devices to track the performance of specific components within the network. In most cases, analysts use programs to collate network performance data to determine the frequency of outages. They also use business intelligence tools to review performance.

Related: How to Become a Network Engineer (With Job Roles and Salary)

Why is NPM important?

The primary benefit of monitoring a network is business continuity. A smooth functioning network helps ensure minimal disruptions and allows for better business performance. Employees benefit from uninterrupted access to the key tools they require to complete their responsibilities, while customers or suppliers can access the website or the company portal for transactions. Here's a list of several reasons NPM is important:

Helps businesses understand network integrity and capacity

Regular performance monitoring of the network allows businesses to define baseline figures. These are figures that indicate performance under normal circumstances. Businesses can use these figures for stress testing to understand the maximum capacity of the network and its overall integrity. If there's a significant deviation in the baseline figures, network engineers can react accordingly to determine the cause.

Plan for contingencies

Network engineers can also plan for contingencies better when they have reference figures for optimal network performance. For instance, if a business expects greater sales over a holiday period, it can work on strengthening the network or increasing server resources. This can prevent server outages and help ensure that the business is able to maximize its revenue without suffering from any disruptions. Similarly, if a company is opening a new department or hiring more resources, they can plan for it more accurately.

Related: How to Become a Network Administrator (With Steps)

Identify and combat security threats

Network security is a major concern for businesses. A secure network prevents interruptions and losses and ensures a robust performance. If a security breach occurs, network engineers can identify it immediately due to the deviation in baseline metrics. This allows them to take remedial steps to secure the network and important data. As most businesses keep all their data online, securing the network is critical for ensuring continuity.

Optimize device performance

Monitoring the network also means tracking the performance of all connected devices. Constant monitoring allows organizations to better understand depreciation, which affects device performance over time. This allows network departments to prepare in advance for devices that are at the end of their useful life and replace them before they malfunction. It also helps IT departments budget for upcoming replacements more accurately, which saves the company money.

What metrics do network engineers monitor?

There are several key metrics that network engineers monitor to assess the overall performance of the network. The primary focus is to combine and analyze raw data from multiple sources throughout the network to determine the efficiency and overall performance. Here are some of the main metrics that network engineers monitor:

Traffic

The most important metric that network engineers monitor is the amount of traffic on the server. If bandwidth increases, the server tends to slow down, affecting the entire network's performance. Network engineers carefully review traffic numbers to determine any increases or decreases and make adjustments to the bandwidth. They can also increase or decrease server resources to help ensure optimal network performance. Most network monitoring tools have an option to review traffic from multiple sources, allowing engineers to get a better understanding of idle resources and network capacity.

Device availability

For networks with multiple servers and contingencies, availability is also a primary concern. Many performance monitoring tools provide an immediate alert when a device is down, indicating sections of the network that might not be functional. Network engineers can use these monitors to implement fixes and help ensure maximum uptime. This is much faster than getting notifications from employees or customers.

Flow data

Flow data is information sent by routers or network switches, providing insights about connected devices, data packets, connection times, frequency of communication, and the rate of data transfer. Monitoring tools gather flow data to determine the performance of the network and adjust resources as necessary. Flow data also allows engineers to identify any bottlenecks and take preemptive action to prevent downtime.

Packet capture

Many performance monitoring tools also capture data packets in real-time for further analysis. They use data packets from cloud servers or dedicated data centres and use them for analyzing the network's overall performance, application-layer changes, and service issues that require attention. Real-time data capture and analysis are also important for monitoring network security and for preparing plans to respond to incidents.

Related: What Is a Network Firewall? (With Key Terms and Benefits)

Errors and packet discards

If a server reaches maximum capacity and doesn't have available memory, it starts rejecting data packets. Network performance monitors track packet discards and compare them to a baseline figure. Once that figure starts to increase, the monitor creates an alert, indicating that a server is no longer performing properly. More importantly, servers also reject data packets with improper formatting. As a server starts rejecting data packets, the network begins to slow. By using network performance data, engineers can identify the root cause of slow performance and take remedial steps.

Data packets contain a header and a payload. The latter refers to the contents of the packet, such as parts of an email or a voice recording. The header consists of metadata, indicating the packet's origins and its destination. Performance monitors can capture entire packets or certain parts for a more accurate analysis.

Tools to monitor network performance

Companies have two options to monitor network performance, which are to use a third-party tool or build an in-house performance monitoring infrastructure. Most companies prefer the latter option, as it's more convenient and cost-efficient. Here are several tools that companies can use to monitor network performance:

SolarWinds

The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is a monitoring tool that's flexible and scalable. It's easy to set up and features a fairly simple user interface for engineers to track network performance. It shows discards and transmit errors, and gives a detailed overview of hardware health. The tool also groups connected nodes by region or you can select different filters to gain better insights. Users can also compare different datasets simultaneously to better understand network performance. In case of a problem, the monitor also offers troubleshooting advice.

Zabbix

Network engineers often prefer open-source tools as they can review the source code, and because they're free. Zabbix is a network performance monitor that offers comprehensive insights and collects data from multiple sources, including network devices, servers, virtual machines, and other nodes. Zabbix offers server, cloud, application, and network-level monitoring through a single tool. For companies that use network devices from specific vendors only, Zabbix also ships with pre-configured templates.

Spiceworks

Another network monitoring tool that's freely available is Spiceworks. The platform has a graphical user interface that offers real-time network information and allows engineers to seamlessly manage and review data from multiple sources. It also offers support for tracking network inventory, letting engineers review and log information about MAC addresses, IP addresses, operating systems, and network connectivity data. Engineers can also set up alerts and receive notifications via email in case of a disruption or an anomaly.

PRTG Network Monitor

The PRTG Network Monitor uses packet capture and flow data capture to monitor network performance. It ships with an interactive dashboard that allows users to view any recent alarms, track critical devices, or see a list of healthy devices. It uses colour coding to view health status and shows any critical warnings on the dashboard. Users can also customize the dashboard, create new alerts, and use network maps to oversee network performance and take action in case of an issue.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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