Modern enterprise networks are getting increasingly complex with the addition of numerous personal devices, a plethora of cloud-based applications, access points, virtual servers, and more. IT Teams have to manage bandwidth and quality of service carefully, implement load balancers for high availability, create a redundant environment for backups and failovers, and ensure several components in a hybrid environment work in a synchronized manner.
Amidst this complexity, IT administrators often lack clear visibility into their network. This is where network analysis tools come into the picture. Network Analysis helps teams understand what’s happening in their network, how the data is getting transferred between different nodes and ports, and spot the areas experiencing issues.
Previously organizations used traditional network monitoring methods like Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), packet sniffing, net flow analysis, etc. to perform basic tasks, collect limited data, and work independently. Modern network analysis tools collect data from numerous sources and analyze this data against various thresholds in real time. These tools can help you:
- Effectively troubleshoot networking problems
- Keep track of bandwidth usage and bottlenecks
- Check Wi-Fi speeds and availability
- Detect and mitigate security threats
- Troubleshoot faulty connections
Modern network analysis tools provide a detailed view of the traffic flow and can identify the spots causing issues like network latency and jitter. Some network analytics tools also suggest possible ways to improve the performance of the network. When compared with traditional tools, these solutions offer proactive monitoring and early response to mitigate threats and resolve network issues. These tools also help in advanced capacity planning and allocating a certain budget for networking tasks.
Top Network Analysis Tools
As discussed, the network analysis tools and practices are constantly evolving. To meet changing demands, vendors add new features to their network analyzers every year. We’ll review some of the best tools available in the market below:
- SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor
- SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer
- SolarWinds Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack
- PRTG Network Monitor
1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor
SolarWinds® Network Performance Monitor (NPM) includes an extensive set of features to monitor network faults, ensure high availability, and troubleshoot performance bottlenecks of all network devices and applications in a network. You can create and customize dashboards to view real-time and historical network performance metrics. For instance, the Quality of Experience (QoE) dashboard provides a simple view of traffic, response times, critical transactions, etc. to help you determine if its network issues or an application bug degrading the experience. With this dashboard, you can also detect traffic anomalies easily.
NPM’s NetPath™ feature can help you resolve network latency related issues. It tracks the movement of packets in a network from origin to destination, giving you a granular view of traffic, device configurations, and performance metrics in real time. Another important feature is the heat-mapping feature which helps you get a real-time view of Wi-Fi signal strength across your premises. Unlike other tools in the market, NPM offers smart alerting with reduced false-positives. You can learn more about the tool and get a free trial here.
2. SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer
SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (NTA) is a specialized Wi-Fi and network traffic analysis tool. NTA allows admins to analyze wireless LAN controller traffic and helps them to keep a tab on those applications on your network causing congestion. NTA can also send timely notifications whenever there is a sudden or unexpected change in the traffic of applications. The tool allows admins to discover traffic patterns and provides greater visibility into malicious traffic flows. To start your evaluation, you can get a fully-functional free trial of NTA for a month.
3. SolarWinds Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack
SolarWinds offers a Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack (BAP) combining both NetFlow Traffic Analyzer and Network Performance Monitor. With BAP, you can monitor and analyze the performance of the network and pinpoint the users choking the bandwidth or eating up the capacity of the network. By implementing both these SolarWinds products, you can track response times, uptimes, and availability of all SNMP-enabled networking devices, use NetPath feature to track traffic flow and monitor bandwidth consumption with intuitive visual dashboards. It’s a perfect solution for setting up your network operations center. You can learn more about these products and start evaluating the product with a free trial here.
4. PRTG Network Monitor
PRTG Network Monitor supports end-to-end network analysis and monitoring with SNMP, NetFlow, and Packet Sniffing features. The tool gives you a bird’s-eye view of your network, showing bandwidth consumption by different applications and devices. You can also track consumption across different IP addresses and protocols to get a granular view of bandwidth usage and troubleshoot issues efficiently. Further, NetFlow technology puts a limited load on your CPU consumption. With SNMP monitoring, you can keep track of traffic levels across your networking hosts, routers, and hubs. The tool offers a wide range of “sensors” to track various performance metrics in a network. The pricing of the solution depends on how many sensors you deploy to monitor and analyze your network.
Netspot is a free Wi-Fi analyzer and professional tool for Mac OS X and Windows. This tool is simple and easy to use. It displays useful Wi-Fi data using two different modes, i.e., discovery Mode and survey Mode. The discovery mode shows every minute detail of a Wi-Fi network, while the survey mode displays color-coded interactive heat maps to show the strength of Wi-Fi connections. It allows users to identify zones of low connectivity. NetSpot is a perfect solution for network engineers as it also helps them check security settings, unauthorized workstations, cross-channel interference and rogue access points. All you have to do is to mark your location on the map, and NetSpot will start analyzing the wireless signal immediately.
To ensure organizations maintain a proper balance between their security, connectivity, and productivity needs, IT teams need the best of the breed solutions for managing and analyzing their networks. A robust network analysis tool in place will allow you to move to next-generation network architectures seamlessly. Further, you should aim to implement scalable and future-ready solutions to simplify network analytics and give you better actionable insights to make smarter, business-oriented, and customer-centric decisions.