How to Monitor Network Traffic: Best Tips for IT Pros.

How to Monitor Network Traffic: Best Tips for IT Pros

Table of Contents


What if I told you that monitoring network traffic is a lot less daunting than it actually seems? I think I have your attention. As a network has various moving parts, understanding it all can be a serious challenge. If something breaks or a component stops working correctly, implementing a quick troubleshooting process is essential.


If you can't fix the issue right away, this could be detrimental to your end users, leading to more severe complications. But when operating on these massive, complex networks, the troubleshooting process can take some time.


Not only can these issues lead to many problems for users, but they can also result in your email inbox filling up with complaint after complaint. Luckily, there are some key tips on how to master network monitoring. Keep reading to learn a few best practices for monitoring network traffic, including info about the best network monitoring tools in the industry.


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Here's more information on how to monitor network traffic effectively:



Key Takeaways

  1. Monitoring network traffic is crucial for quick issue resolution, preventing user complaints, and enhancing overall network performance.
  2. Real-time and historical data aid in monitoring, with AI-driven proactive alerts for potential issues.
  3. Different providers may need specific tools for a comprehensive view of network traffic.
  4. Performance optimization involves data analysis, forensic troubleshooting, and maintaining quality for voice and video.
  5. Routers can provide insights into traffic, but third-party tools might be necessary for detailed analysis.

Identify Network Data Sources

The first (and vital) step in the process is to see what's happening across your entire network. Especially if you operate in a large organization, this means gathering data from a variety of sources. Here are the essential data sources you'll want to identify:


Flow Data

Flow data is a very valuable type of data source. Various platforms can produce flow data, giving you full visibility into network performance. This access is provided over multi-vendor, multi-domain, and multi-cloud networked environments. Flow data can be an effective tool for resolving the majority of network traffic complications.


Packet Data

Packet data is needed when trying to solve high-level troubleshooting tasks. This data is used when in-depth analysis is required for complex network application problems. These metrics are commonly utilized with VoIP and video issues.


Wi-Fi Data

Wi-Fi is quickly becoming the standard networking method at remote sites and branches. Data used for performance analysis can easily be obtained with a wireless 802.11ac packet capture. This is a crucial data source for monitoring Wi-Fi network traffic.


Device Data

As an enterprise network is attached to various devices, these networks are pretty complicated. Companies often rely on vendors like Cisco or Aruba to provide network infrastructure and devices. Luckily, many devices allow network traffic monitoring through SNMP or API data. These metrics can be extremely valuable when trying to solve network problems on specific devices quickly.



Uncover the Devices and Applications Running on Your Network

If you want a clear picture of your network traffic, understanding the devices, interfaces, applications, VPNs, and users on your network is essential. It's helpful to use network topology mappers, which are networking monitoring tools that allow you to see who's on your network, a list of your network devices, and the bandwidth usage of your applications.


Aside from the auto-discovery features of a network topology mapper, it also provides key analytics. These metrics offer a clear, user-friendly overview of the network. Network topology mapper tools also provide:


  • Alerting features to simplify network traffic monitoring when policies are outside of SLA parameters.
  • An easy process for generating and exporting topology maps to share with your team.


Are you interested in learning more about Docker networking? If so, check out our Docker Networking 101 blog post.



Implement the Proper Network Traffic Monitoring Tool

Aside from your network topology mapper, successful networking traffic monitoring requires the use of a few more tools. These include:


NetFlow Analyzer

Originally created by Cisco, "NetFlow Analyzer" is now a generic term used to describe flow data from any vendor. The flow standard used by many vendors today is IPFIX. If you want to paint a clear picture of the traffic in your network, flow analysis is the approach to take. This allows you to see network traffic across multiple sites and devices. Due to these impressive capabilities, and many more, the use of flow analysis can resolve the majority of network traffic problems.


Packet Analyzer

A packet analyzer is a tool used to decode the actual packets of network traffic. While a NetFlow Analyzer can help tackle the most common traffic complications, packet analyzers are best used for more complex, high-level application troubleshooting. Given the advanced capabilities of these analyzers, they are commonly used when troubleshooting problems related to voice-over IP (VoIP) and video conferencing.


Network Performance Dashboard

An effective network traffic monitoring tool isn't complete without a user-friendly performance dashboard. This should provide a complete, detailed overview of what's happening with your network, including if there are any key issues that should be solved ASAP.


However, not every tool will have a similar dashboard with the same features. Some enterprise-level tools allow you to consolidate data from multiple data sets, giving you a complete picture of your entire network across every single domain.



Reporting is another essential component of network traffic monitoring. The process typically involves both historical and real-time data. Real-time reporting is vital to understand what's happening right now on your network. Historical data looks at the performance and traffic history, which can offer key updates for stakeholders. Historical data is also used when troubleshooting high-level issues within a network.


As the amount of data in a network can be substantial, these complex networking environments must have reporting solutions at scale. If these advanced, enterprise-level processes aren't in place, this can cause slow operating times with monitoring tools that can't handle the complexity.


Proactive Alerting

​Wouldn't it be great to learn about a potential networking issue before it happens? Proactive alerting makes that possible. Proactive alerts are key for solving network problems that need to be fixed right away. As a network may have a list of issues, this process can pinpoint which complications should be tackled first.


Proactive alerting is also run by AI and machine learning, which helps to correlate and isolate the various data sets in network traffic. This can lead to more meaningful alerts while ignoring what's irrelevant.



Monitor Traffic Based on the Specific Network Provider

Truly finding success with network traffic monitoring depends on the type of network monitoring equipment being utilized. For instance, if you use Cisco equipment, you'll probably need to use Cisco monitoring software and tools. This may include Cisco iWAN, Cisco SD-WAN, Cisco SD-Access, and Cisco DNA Center.


Many manufacturers will claim their offerings don't need special network activity and monitoring tools, but there are often exceptions to consider. To make matters even more confusing, most enterprise-level organizations use equipment from various vendors.


To effectively follow and monitor traffic from specific providers across your enterprise business, you'll need network monitoring tools that can gather metrics from multiple vendors across your network. This should paint a clear picture of the traffic happening network-wide at your company.



Optimize Network Traffic

​To effectively monitor networking traffic, you'll want to optimize it. You can do this in four different ways.


Here are the four categories involved in optimizing network traffic:


Optimizing Network Performance

If you're working with a complex network, it's best to correlate network data from multiple domains and/or applications. This provides a multi-segment performance analysis, including the ability to optimize and troubleshoot any issues.


Network performance optimization tasks also provide visual analytics, useful dashboards, informative reports, and valuable alerts that can help you discover the most common traffic problems, such as which applications are using the most bandwidth.


Get started with a quick demo of MetricFire today to take charge of your network performance! Go ahead and avail a free trial as well. We can integrate with your existing platforms to produce top-of-the-line performance metrics.


Forensic Analysis for Optimization

Flow and packet-level data are used to isolate and fix the most challenging network application issues, such as what's causing a slow, lagging network. Flow-level and packet-level troubleshooting is used when dealing with forensic-level problems.


Optimization of Voice, Video, and Unified Communications

Collaborative applications are one of the leading culprits for poor network traffic performance. When a network is operating slowly and utilizing voice, video, or other communications applications, end users may experience jitters or a loss of packets. This can result in low video or voice quality.


Implementing flow and packet analysis is essential for detecting network traffic issues and fixing them right away before becoming more serious.


Optimization to Quality of Service Levels

Quality of Service (QoS) deals with managing and monitoring data traffic to decrease latency on the network for a particular service level. It's important to implement QoS policies and continue to manage them, which ensures network resources get the bandwidth they need. Having established QoS policies in place sets a solid foundation for effective network traffic monitoring and optimization.



Utilizing Your Router for Network Traffic Monitoring

Aside from monitoring your network traffic with third-party monitoring software and tools, you could also gather these metrics directly from your router. However, the necessary steps to take depend on the brand and model of your router. Regardless of your router's brand and model, there are some general tactics that typically apply to all router types.


Here are the steps on how to use your router to monitor network traffic:


  • First, you'll need to locate your router's IP address. If you've never changed it, then your IP address is probably
  • If you're using Windows, you can find this address by opening a command prompt, then entering this command: C:\Users\Comparitech>ipconfig
  • To find your IP address, it should be next to Default Gateway.
  • If you have a Mac computer, finding your IP address takes a different process. Be sure to follow the specific steps for Mac computers to locate this address.
  • After locating this, head over to your Web browser and type your IP address into the search bar, then click Enter.
  • A page should populate asking for your router's admin username and password. If you didn't configure your own credentials, the username and password should be found in your router's documentation.
  • After logging in, you should see a dashboard with information about your network and router. The type of performance data you see on this page depends on who produced it. Try to locate a section that shows a status or list of devices.
  • After finding this area that shows network traffic, you can pinpoint the devices with the highest bandwidth usage. If you're unable to see this information or if there isn't much detail, you'll need to use third-party network monitoring software.


You can also monitor network traffic by using a packet sniffer, such as Wireshark. Wireshark is one of the most well-known Wi-Fi analyzers on the planet. Plenty of enterprise companies utilize this tool.


Looking for information about monitoring IoT? Check out this informative blog post: Monitoring IoT with Graphite and Grafana: a tutorial with Raspberry Pi 4.



How MetricFire Can Help

MetricFire offers a complete infrastructure and application monitoring platform. This includes a suite that's jam-packed and full of advanced open-source monitoring tools.


Start a free trial at MetricFire to reduce bottlenecks in your network and take your connectivity to new heights! You should book your demo right now!

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