Everything You Need to Know About Network Probes

Learn what network probes do, how they retrieve data, and why you need them to monitor network equipment.
August 24, 2016
Here’s how network monitoring probes work and why they’re important.


In a world of lightning-fast data transfer, the concept of a messenger seems old-fashioned. Nobody’s sending people on midnight horseback rides anymore. And anyone running 26 miles just wants to cross a finish line, not deliver a message.

A network probe is really just a messenger. Its job is to deliver a question and return with information really fast (no horse or physical activity required). While a probe's function may be simple, the power it gives IT and network administrators to monitor performance in real time is critical. 

What is a network probe?

The definition of a network probe can vary depending on the network management application you're using. In general, you'll come across two types of network probes. The first are software plug-ins that come built into your network monitoring tool. These are basic text files that poll your devices. The second type of probe is installed separately on the equipment you want to monitor.  

The main job of both types of probes is to talk to your network devices and bring back answers. Once the probe tests a device, it'll receive whatever data the vendor of that equipment has made available. The probe brings that data back to your network monitoring application in real time. If any pre-set performance thresholds have been exceeded, the probe will take any actions you've specified, like triggering an alarm or automatic activity.  

Many network monitoring tools come with a variety of common probes. Some allow you to create your own probes too to monitor more devices. 

Related Content: Unlimited Network Monitoring with Intermapper Probes

How do probes work?

Probes use SNMP and other types of Internet protocol, such as TCP, HTTP, or command-line, to retrieve data by polling a device. Once data has been received, the probe feeds data into a display within your network monitoring software solution.

Probes poll devices within a matter of seconds. Even in that short amount of time, here’s what’s happening with every poll. A probe will: 

  • Send a request for an object identifier (OID)
  • Make any necessary conversions with data it receives (like changing Fahrenheit temperatures to Celsius, or vice versa)
  • Check received values against previously-set thresholds
  • Determine device status based on thresholds
  • Trigger a notification (based on severity and user configurations)
  • Feed data into the display window to indicate the device’s current status and metrics

What can a probe monitor?

Probes can monitor any network infrastructure with two conditions:

  1. The device must have an IP address.
  2. The vendor must allow the device to be probed.

As long as these two conditions are met, you can use probes to get performance data about whatever network infrastructure you care about most. Whether that's standard devices like routers, printers, or servers, or non-standard equipment like security cameras and smart thermometers, probes are flexible to monitor all types of network infrastructure.

Vendor-specific probes can help you monitor your Apple or Cisco devices. You can also create metrics to monitor specific data like CPU loads, memory or disk usage, or temperature.

Why do you need probes for network monitoring? 

Network probes do the heavy lifting to get information about specific device performance so you don’t have to. As long as you’ve configured alerts to notify you about concerning issues, you can focus on other IT priorities. Network probes will keep polling your devices in the background and will work with your monitoring solution to notify you if anything is wrong. 

Using probes for network monitoring helps prevent bottlenecks, slowdowns, or downtime that can bring your day-to-day operations to a half. With their ability to get and receive nearly real-time information about the network incredibly fast, network probes keep information current so you can be the first to know about any network trouble and act quickly to remedy the situation.

When you try Intermapper free for 30 days or download the free version, you'll have access to free Intermapper probes created by your peers to help you monitor more equipment. 

Want a More Technical Overview of Intermapper Probes?

Download a copy of The Ultimate Guide to Intermapper Probes to take a closer look at how to take advantage of probes and get greater insights into your network's health.

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