The lowdown on network monitoring tools

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What are they? Network monitoring tools are software or software/hardware appliances that keep tabs on network traffic down to the last packet. They help you detect network misconfigurations and security problems and determine applications' quality of service.

Typically, they include some form of reporting tool to help analyze traffic; some include advanced functionality that ties directly to network management or other enterprise systems management tools.

Who needs them? If you have a WAN or support multiple LANs, or support network-intensive applications such as voice over IP or multimedia conferencing, you need network monitoring. It is also an essential element to build tight network security.

What do I look for? You might need more than one. Point-solution tools provide good forensic capabilities for investigating nagging security and service problems. But to manage a large network, you'll need distributed monitoring so you can see what's going on across your network. Ideally, you'll want integration with other network management tools so you can quickly act on the information from monitoring tools, or automate responses through event- or rule-driven systems.

Must-know info? As more government networks mandate IPv6 internally, handling quality of service and security will become a lot easier. But the rest of the world is going to be using IPv4 for some time to come.

Look for further integration of network monitoring with automated network management systems to create self-healing, self-maintaining networks that continually optimize themselves based on monitoring data.

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