Keep an eye on all network interfaces
A powerful network is essential for business operations. The performance depends to a large extent on the functionality of the switches used. This is why businesses should focus on network monitoring. By monitoring the switches, an organisation ensures that its network is performing well. At the same time it gets an overview of all network interfaces. This helps on the one hand to identify and solve problems quickly, and on the other hand supports capacity planning in times of growing networks.
Why you should monitor your switches
A holistic overview
Get an holistic overview of all interfaces and devices in the network – no more flying blind. It helps to increase the security because the admin is able to see which ports are used and which should be blocked.
Monitoring of the status and utilisation of switches
Switch monitoring gives you an overview of the network’s port status and utilisation, as well as the bandwidth, packet and error rates on every single port.
Quick problem solving
The holistic overview enables the administrator to identify and solve problems that affect the network immediately.
Early detection of capacity bottlenecks
The monitoring of all network interfaces helps to detect capacity bottlenecks in times of growing networks.
The advantages of a switch monitoring
A company that monitors all of the switches used in its network benefits from several advantages. For example, the company’s IT team not only has a holistic view of all interfaces in the infrastructure, but also has an overview of the status and performance data of the devices used. In this way, possible capacity bottlenecks – both in switches and in the number of ports available – can be detected early on.
By monitoring the performance parameters of the switches – such as CPU, memory, etc. – switch monitoring makes it easy to identify weak or overloaded switches. Thanks to this monitoring data, the administrator can precisely identify and eliminate such bottlenecks, for example by replacing the switch with a more powerful device or adding additional switches.
On the other hand, the monitoring of all interfaces helps the network administrator to keep track of the port usage in the network. Driven by the IoT and BYOD, the number of devices that need to be connected to it increases. An overview of all switch ports helps to identify which ports are currently in use – and which are not. In this way the administrator can keep an eye on port capacity in the network, and react to possible bottlenecks in advance. At the same time, by blocking unused ports, they can increase security in the network and prevent unwanted port usage.
Insights into port usage
By monitoring packet and error rates, as well as the status and bandwidth of each port, the network administrator obtains important information on utilisation and error recovery. The monitoring helps him to detect broken patch or installation cables, dirty fibre optics, defective firmware, and configuration errors such as duplex mismatches. Without proper monitoring, these problems slow down network performance and efficiency and often lead to inefficient mitigation attempts. For example, the cause is wrongly sought in the server hardware or in the applications used, but the real source of the error is not detected.
In addition, monitoring software can provide important information about the port itself. Is the bandwidth of the port connecting a large access port still sufficient to satisfy the data hunger of the WLAN subscribers?
However, monitoring not only allows the bandwidth of the corresponding ports to be checked for possible bottlenecks or irregularities. Enriched with historical data, it also provides much more context. For example, it can be seen whether a port is in use or – if not – since when has the port not been in use. Even unusual peaks can be easily identified. Most monitoring solutions process and present the historical data graphically, so that trends or peaks can be identified even more easily.
This gives the administrator extensive insight into the use of each port on the network, making it easy to see if they may have forgotten to unplug the cable on a port that is no longer needed. On the other hand, the administrator will not remove the cable from an access port where the user may be on holiday.
For these functionalities, the data that the monitoring solution can retrieve from the switches via SNMP is sufficient. If an administrator needs a deeper insight into his network, he needs a solution that offers more profound functions, such as an analysis of the network flow. By monitoring the network flow, for example, they can see which network devices or applications communicate with each other, and what bandwidth they are using. This allows, for example, conclusions to be drawn regarding the top talkers and top listeners in the network.
Challenges in the monitoring of all switch ports
The monitoring of all switch interfaces in a network environment is always a challenge. If the network administrator does not take a little time with the configuration, it can quickly sink into a flood of false alarms. One reason for such false positives can be the monitoring of access ports. These are ports to which a user is connected with his terminal device. If the user shuts down his PC, the status of the access port changes from online to offline and triggers a (false) alarm, as it is a normal process for users to shut down their end device. This does not mean now that a network administrator should not include it in the monitoring, but there are other settings that are needed to trigger an alarm only if there is a real problem.
Monitoring all of a network environment's interfaces therefore also requires some administrative effort to avoid unnecessary notifications and alerts from the monitoring system. However, due to the sheer number of ports, it does not make sense to manually manage every single port in a corporate network. Instead, a monitoring solution that works with a rule-based configuration can show its strengths here. This enables the administrator, for example, to define a policy for monitoring in a few simple steps. This enables him to monitor only the error rate of all access ports, for example. On our blog, you will learn how such a rule-based monitoring can be set up with Checkmk, which distinguishes between access ports and non-access ports.
Another problem is to integrate all ports in the company’s network into the monitoring. A normal port scan is usually not sufficient for this, because at the time of the scan, for example, not all access ports are online and therefore do not appear in the monitoring. It is therefore highly recommended to perform a detailed port discovery in order to include all existing network interfaces in the monitoring, including those that are offline at the time of the scan. With Checkmk, such a port discovery can be carried out in the entire network environment with a few simple steps. In this way the user also receives a documentation of his own network.
For a company that wants to ensure a powerful and efficient network, there is no way around holistic switch monitoring. Not only can it ensure the smooth operation of its own network infrastructure, but with comprehensive monitoring tools, such as Checkmk, it is also possible to use the monitoring data for capacity management – for example, to increase the number of ports in the network, or to replace network components operating at full capacity with more powerful devices at an early stage.