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What is Flow Monitoring?

Networking monitoring is key to optimizing network and application performance. Part of this strategy involves keeping track of what is going on in your network, which requires a detailed understanding of various data about network traffic. Flow monitoring helps your team accomplish this task and capture all communication going to and from a network device. To understand the importance of flow monitoring, it may be useful to know what a flow is in IT terms.

What is Network Flow?

When devices on a network need to communicate, they establish communication channels. The flow can be thought of as the communication between these two endpoints on the network. A network flow contains information about the series of communications between the endpoints while communication occurs. Some of the data in a flow includes IP protocol, types of service entries, and IP address information.

Monitoring this current of information enables IT teams to gather greater insights on their network.

What is Flow Monitoring?

The first network flow technology was developed by Cisco back in 1996 by Cisco. Flow monitoring is a method that measures the movement of data between two devices or applications on a network. This method aims to give IT teams information about the traffic that crosses through their network as well as how their network is performing on a daily basis.

Network flow shows who is sending data, how they are sending data, and when they are sending data. More recently developed network flow technologies also have expanded capabilities, such as full packet capture and deep packet inspection, both of which give additional insight into network and application performance. IT teams are able to access flow data from a variety of sources, including routers, firewalls, and switches. This information is powerful for network optimization and troubleshooting.

How Does Flow Monitoring Work?

Network information is first collected by a flow exporter as it enters or exits a network interface. The information is then sent to a collector, which processes and stores the data. The collector can be either a piece of hardware or a piece of software. Most commonly, the collector is a piece of software. Finally, an analysis is performed to create visuals and helpful statistics. IT teams then have access to actionable insights around network performance.

Why Do I Need Flow Monitoring?

If your network experiences high volume, older network monitoring techniques usually do not cut it. Your team needs access to the right data at the right time. Flow data provides more information as compared to other network monitoring techniques, such as SNMP-based polling. Flow monitoring is an effective way for IT teams to troubleshoot network issues and keep networks up and running. IT teams recognize network flow analysis as the standard for flow-based network traffic analysis.

Flow Monitoring Benefits

Organizations enjoy a number of advantages when implementing flow monitoring technology. Here are just a few benefits you will enjoy:

Optimize Your Network Bandwidth Usage
Organizations often make incorrect assumptions around their bandwidth usage. Luckily, flow monitoring allows you to monitor bandwidth usage in real-time in order to identify users and devices who are consuming bandwidth. Other monitoring techniques are known to provide incorrect readings that falsely indicate that you need more bandwidth—when in reality only a few users are responsible for most of the bandwidth usage. Flow monitoring ensures that you fully understand how your bandwidth is being used. IT teams can identify users who are consuming more bandwidth than average and take action to correct those issues.

Another bandwidth issue to consider is that you also need to be sure that your network will be able to handle future traffic volumes. IT teams can use historical network flow data to plan for future bandwidth upgrades.

Troubleshooting
Flow monitoring is a powerful tool when verifying or troubleshooting the performance of certain applications or parts of the IT infrastructure. IT teams use network flow information to take any necessary corrective action. Additionally, flow monitoring technology easily integrates with other network monitoring solutions to get an overview of troubleshooting alerts. IT teams receive alerts when issues arise—such DNS misuse or problems with TLS—all in one place.

Improved Cybersecurity
Monitoring traffic for hackers and malicious devices is a routine part of a network administrator’s day. Flow monitoring detects traffic that is already inside of the network, as opposed to detecting traffic at the boundary of the network. This enables your team to identify potential threats that other cyber defenses have missed.

Flow monitoring identifies traffic that deviates from normal traffic behavior. Although this network monitoring technique does not give all the detailed data for cybersecurity, it gives your team a starting point for deeper analysis. Your team will be able to proactively identify DDoS attacks, anomalous network activity, and more.

Improved Visibility
Data that is collected from flow monitoring provides a grander view of what is going on in your network, and flow monitoring allows your team to see the route that data packets take through your network. Your team will be able to understand the potential effects of a new application, network topology, or an increase in traffic.

LiveAction provides clients with LiveWire, which converts packet data into rich flow for the LiveNX flow solution. Clients can easily (and quickly) isolate problem areas and rapidly respond to high-severity incidents without the need for deep forensic analysis. If you’re interested in learning more about LiveAction flow monitoring solutions, reach out to our team to schedule a demo today!