Monitoring network traffic (which is defined as the data moving across your network at a given time) is important for any business looking to maintain a fast and efficient network. Automating network traffic monitoring and analysis with the support of a tool can help IT teams reduce downtime, identify the causes of bottlenecks, boost the efficiency of troubleshooting efforts, and more.
As with so many essential network management and monitoring tools, the market is becoming saturated with network traffic monitoring options. This can make the process of choosing the right one overwhelming. In this guide, we’ll look at the top tools currently available, so you can find the right solution for your business. If you want to skip ahead to the list, you can do so here:
- SolarWinds® NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (Free Trial)
- SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (Free Trial)
- SolarWinds Bandwidth Analyzer Pack (Free Trial)
- Paessler PRTG Network Monitor
- ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer
How to Analyze Network Traffic
Analyzing network traffic is the main element of measuring and managing a network’s bandwidth. It offers a way to monitor your network’s availability and activity effectively, empowering you to identify anomalies that could be tied to operational or security problems.
The network traffic analysis process begins with tracking and collecting data tied to your network traffic. Once you have the data, it’s time to organize and examine it, so you can identify patterns and gain insights you can use to find issues like bandwidth hogs.
You can leverage your network traffic data to:
- Find which users or applications may be causing a network slowdown
- Identify your network’s top talkers and determine the best interventions to minimize their impact on the network as a whole
- Determine if you’re distributing bandwidth effectively across your network
- Get insights into the actual state of your network, including accessing data on bandwidth usage by type of traffic, bandwidth usage by application, usage patterns over time, performance statistics, and end-user experience
To take your analysis further, you can use a network traffic analysis tool to correlate and compare your flow data and other relevant information from network sources. This can help you drill down on the cause of performance issues more quickly, since you can see all your data in one place. With a tool, you can get the benefit of having a bird’s-eye view of your network, with the ability to zero in on the smallest data points to quickly identify and troubleshoot issues when they arise.
The Importance of Network Traffic Monitoring
Network traffic monitoring and analysis is an essential component of network performance monitoring. It helps you determine whether your network’s bandwidth is working correctly. If there are issues, network traffic monitoring can help you solve the problem fast. When implemented correctly, network traffic monitoring can help you identify and resolve network bottlenecks, find your network top talkers, and boost your security—an unusually high amount of network traffic could be a sign of a cyberattack.
Beyond these benefits, network traffic monitoring is also important because it can help with capacity planning and resource allocation—two essential processes for maintaining the performance of a network. When a slowdown occurs, network traffic analysis can give you visibility into which applications are suffering from a lack of resources and which ones are hogging them. You can use this information to distribute resources better and clear up congestion. When your network is running smoothly, network traffic monitoring can still give you useful insights into whether you’ve set your network up correctly. You can use this information to plan for future provisioning as your network continues to grow.
The Best Network Traffic Monitoring Tools
Taking advantage of all the benefits of network traffic monitoring depends on leveraging the right tool for your specific environment. These are the top tools on the market. Take a closer look at each to determine which one is right for you.
1. SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (Free Trial)
SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (NTA) is an intelligent, scalable NetFlow analyzer and bandwidth monitoring tool offering services including network traffic analysis, bandwidth monitoring, advanced application recognition, VMware vSphere distributed switch support, application traffic alerting, and more. While its name may be specific to NetFlow, NTA is built to collect flow data for all the most popular vendors including Juniper J-Flow and sFlow as well as NetFlow v5 and v9.
NTA’s network traffic monitoring and analysis features let you analyze patterns and trends in your network traffic going back minutes, days, weeks, or months. All you have to do is drill down on the network element you want to investigate, and you’ll see the relevant historical data. You can access any historical data you want, including old network traffic reports, at any time. Even better, NTA will automatically identify areas of peak usage in your network and single out the endpoints responsible for consuming the largest amount of bandwidth, converting the collected data into intuitive graphs, charts, and tables, so you can get the insights you need with ease.
You can try a 30-day free trial of NTA.
2. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (Free Trial)
SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM) is another great option for anyone looking for a powerful network traffic monitoring solution that can grow with your business. The multi-vendor network monitor can deliver utilities that support network traffic monitoring, including cloud server monitoring, Cisco network monitoring, LAN monitoring, router traffic monitoring, link analysis, and more. As a broad network monitor, NPM continuously monitors your network for fault, availability, and performance of your devices and applications.
Like SolarWinds NTA, NPM really shines when it comes to simplifying data interpretation. The tool comes with a highly intuitive and easy-to-navigate dashboard. NPM can represent your data graphically, so you can better understand what’s happening in your environment. The tool can also deliver detailed monitoring reports and intelligent alerting to help IT teams stay on top of key metrics and support faster, more efficient troubleshooting.
You can download a 30-day free trial of NPM.
3. SolarWinds Bandwidth Analyzer Pack (Free Trial)
If you’re intrigued by both SolarWinds NTA and SolarWinds NPM, there’s a perfect tool for you: the SolarWinds network bandwidth analyzer pack (BAP), a network traffic monitoring solution that combines NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (NTA) and Network Performance Monitor (NPM) to both enhance and simplify the traffic monitoring process.
BAP gives you the tools you need to continuously monitor network traffic as well as availability, fault, and performance for the devices on your network.
BAP also includes features designed to improve visibility for IT teams including real-time alerts, a metrics dashboard, custom reports, and much more. These features give admins the information they need quickly, which translates directly into simpler, faster problem identification and troubleshooting (often before end-user issues have a chance to arise).
You can try BAP free for 30 days here.
Paessler PRTG Network Monitor takes a sensor-based approach to network monitoring. With thousands of different sensors to choose from, this approach empowers you to create either a specialized network traffic monitoring solution or a more comprehensive network management and monitoring solution based on your specific interests.
Out of the thousands of sensors offered by PRTG, a few are particularly useful when it comes to monitoring and tracing your network traffic. This includes a Packet Sniffer sensor, a Traceroute Hop Count sensor, SNMP sensors, and NetFlow sensors.
While PRTG lets you use up to 100 sensors for free, you need around 5 to 10 sensors per device (on average), so you’ll run out of those free ones pretty fast. Luckily, you can try the full edition of PRTG for free for 30 days here.
The last tool on this list is another popular, versatile network traffic monitoring and analysis solution. In addition to traffic monitoring, ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer can also function as a usage monitor, protocol analyzer, application monitor, web traffic monitor, Cisco ASA monitor, and more.
NetFlow Analyzer generates in-depth network traffic reports using flow data that is stored for analysis. It collects data from sources including sFlow, NetFlow, IP FIX, and J-Flow. The tool then correlates the data and displays it in a more user-friendly, readable format. Like other tools on this list, NetFlow Analyzer uses graphs and comprehensive reporting to help IT teams stay on top of network traffic behavior.
You can test out NetFlow Analyzer with a 30-day free trial.
Picking the Right Network Traffic Monitoring Software
Effective network traffic monitoring is important for any business looking to prevent slowdowns caused by issues with bandwidth. The tools on this list are all great options for anyone looking for a powerful traffic monitoring and analysis solution. Remember to take advantage of the free trial for any tool you pick to make sure you find the perfect solution for your network.