The life of an IT administrator is never without surprises. Every morning when you walk through the doors of your workplace, you have to expect the unexpected. The beauty (and challenge) of your job is that you have to regularly solve technology issues you’ve never encountered before. To do this, you need to embrace the surprise and equip yourself with the tools to get to the bottom of it—fast, preferably, to keep users and stakeholders happy.
A recurring mystery for IT admins is solving bandwidth issues: why is the network down? Who is using all the bandwidth? What do we do next?
Cracking these mysteries is crucial to protect your network from crashing. Getting to the bottom of the issue is best accomplished with the help of a NetFlow analyzer. Read on for the what, where, and why.
Bandwidth mysteries reign at work
At some point every IT admin has heard, “The Internet is not working! What’s going on?” or “The network is down!” These phrases cause network admins to spring into action to help diagnose and see if there is an actual outage or if non work-related bandwidth usage is actually saturating the lines.
These days, with technology as the basis for nearly everything we do at work and at home, it can seem impossible to point a finger at the responsible culprit for a bandwidth issue. All your employees are online, messaging, and using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as necessary parts of their jobs. On top of that, they’re watching the latest viral video on Facebook on their lunch break (or not), or streaming online radio.
Drawing the line on inappropriate bandwidth usage
Typically we feel like we can trust employees to focus on their work, limit non work-related network activity, and refrain from activities that would be a detriment to the company. For that reason, drawing a line on employee activity can prove challenging. How do you go about justifying making changes that are meant to improve network performance, but may also affect employee morale? Before pointing a finger at employees for slowing down the network, there has to be justification to prove that some are not always obeying the rules—and that their activity is having a measurable, negative impact on network performance.
In order to present employees with rationale for network bandwidth usage rules, companies are now taking very expensive steps to mitigate those potential performance impacts to their business—like investing in more risk management tools to identify the effects of these activities on business.
How to crack bandwidth mysteries
You hear “The network is down.” What next? Typically, network administrators will start troubleshooting by checking the primary Internet circuit to see if the line is down. Next, you want to take a look at the WAN interface, which can identify whether there is saturation which could ultimately affect performance. Historically, troubleshooting WAN interfaces has involved logging into the devices as well as checking device logs to try to identify where connections are coming from. The problem with this method is that oftentimes this is not a proactive approach, but more reactive to a possible issue.
One tool you’ve likely heard of that can help you perform bandwidth monitoring is NetFlow. NetFlow is a Cisco packet switching protocol that has been around since 1990, but it has been building up steam as the standard method for analyzing bandwidth utilization. Over the years, network management solutions have developed tools that have provided more mature, reliable methods for parsing and displaying NetFlow data.
What NetFlow does is collect and correlate the “chatter” between two devices as the data passes through the device that is doing your routing. This minimizes the need to interrogate the endpoints that are talking. Today, NetFlow has become the preferred method of analyzing bandwidth utilization. You can often use it in conjunction with your network monitoring software.
The great thing about a NetFlow data analysis tool is that with it, you can identify:
- Current, historical, and peak bandwidth usage patterns
- Who is sending and receiving the data traveling through your network
- Whether traffic is peer-to-peer, web-based, or internal
The protocol arms you with the information you need to prove your case: who, what, when, where, and why bandwidth is being consumed on your network. It gives network admins critical troubleshooting abilities and helps ensure that you can always get the real story of what’s going on on the network. No more false convictions or red herrings—just the cold, hard truth.