Network Traffic Analysis
What is Network Traffic Analysis?Why Network Traffic Analysis MattersNetwork Traffic MeasurementWhy is Network Traffic Measurement Important?Methods and Tools for Network Traffic MeasurementMethods of Network Traffic AnalysisTools for Network Traffic AnalysisBest Practices for Network Traffic AnalysisNetwork Traffic Analysis for Your Entire Network, with KentikLive Network IntelligenceData Deep DivesHow Kentik Supports Network Traffic MeasurementNetwork Traffic Visualization with KentikNetwork Traffic Visibility and SaaS
Understanding the details of network traffic is essential for any modern business. This article covers the essentials of Network Traffic Analysis (NTA)—the process of evaluating network data to ensure optimal network performance and security. We explore why it’s important, the tools and techniques used for network traffic measurement, and the different methods and solutions available for comprehensive analysis. Additionally, we summarize best practices for analyzing network traffic and describe how network observability platforms like Kentik can transform how NetOps professionals understand and manage network traffic.
What is Network Traffic Analysis?
Network traffic analysis is the process of monitoring, inspecting, and interpreting network data to gain insights into how and where network traffic flows. It is crucial for ensuring network availability, performance, and security. Network traffic analysis provides visibility into your network using tools and techniques to collect, analyze, and synthesize traffic flow data.
Network traffic analysis provides the ability to characterize IP traffic — understanding how and where network traffic flows — which is critical for assuring network availability, performance, and security. Network traffic analysis provides visibility into your network using tools to perform monitoring, troubleshooting and in-depth inspection, and interpretation with the synthesis of traffic flow data.
Why Network Traffic Analysis Matters
Network traffic analysis plays an essential role in managing and optimizing networks for several reasons:
Network Performance Monitoring: By analyzing network traffic, operators can identify bottlenecks, optimize resource usage, and apply Quality of Service (QoS) policies to ensure a smooth and efficient network experience for users. (Learn more about network performance monitoring (NPM) here.)
Network Security: Network traffic analysis is vital for detecting security threats such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, malware, data exfiltration, and other malicious activities.
Network Troubleshooting: Analyzing network traffic helps network operators quickly identify and resolve network issues, reducing downtime and improving user satisfaction.
Network Capacity Planning: Network traffic analysis provides insights into current and future network usage patterns, enabling operators to make informed decisions about network infrastructure investments.
Compliance: In regulated industries, network traffic analysis can help organizations demonstrate compliance with data protection, privacy, and security requirements.
Network Traffic Measurement
Network traffic measurement is a vital component of network traffic analysis. It involves quantifying the amount and types of data moving across a network at a given time. This function enables network administrators to understand the load on the network, analyze usage patterns, and effectively manage bandwidth. Network traffic measurement offers several benefits and leverages different methods and tools, making it integral to efficient network operation.
Why is Network Traffic Measurement Important?
Understanding Network Utilization: By measuring network traffic, operators can understand how much of their network’s capacity is being used. This can be invaluable for planning network upgrades, optimizing resources, and avoiding over or underutilizing network capacity.
Identifying Traffic Patterns: Network traffic measurement provides insights into usage patterns, such as peak usage times, popular services or applications, and the distribution of traffic across different parts of the network. This can help operators optimize network performance and manage potential congestion.
Troubleshooting and Security: With granular visibility into network traffic, operators can quickly identify and resolve anomalies, performance issues, or security threats. For example, unusual spikes in traffic could indicate a DDoS attack or other malicious activity.
Bandwidth Monitoring, Management, and Fair Usage: Operators can ensure fair and efficient use of network resources by identifying high-bandwidth users or applications and implementing appropriate Quality of Service (QoS) policies.
Methods and Tools for Network Traffic Measurement
Network traffic measurement typically involves two key methodologies:
Volume-based Measurement: This technique quantifies the amount of data transmitted across the network during a specific period. Tools for volume-based measurement include SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol). SNMP-based tools monitor and manage network devices and their functions, providing insights into device performance and traffic volumes.
Flow-based Measurement: In this approach, network traffic is analyzed based on “flows”, where a flow represents a set of data packets sharing common properties such as source IP, destination IP, and protocol. Tools for flow-based measurement include NetFlow, IPFIX, and sFlow, which provide granular insights into traffic patterns.
In addition, network packet brokers (NPBs) and traffic visibility solutions are used for traffic measurement. These network analysis tools aggregate traffic from different network segments, filter and decode packet data, and provide a unified view of network traffic.
Network traffic measurement is a crucial aspect of network traffic analysis that provides insights into network utilization, supports effective bandwidth usage, aids in troubleshooting, and bolsters network security. Network operators can effectively manage and secure their networks with tools like Kentik that offer advanced measurement capabilities.
Methods of Network Traffic Analysis
There are several methods for collecting and analyzing network traffic data, including:
Flow-Based Analysis: Flow-based analysis involves collecting and analyzing flow records generated by network devices such as routers and switches. Flow protocols like NetFlow, IPFIX, and sFlow provide key network intelligence for sophisticated network flow analysis and optimization.
Packet-Based Analysis: Packet-based analysis involves capturing and inspecting individual packets that traverse the network. This approach—sometimes called deep packet inspection—provides a detailed view of network traffic, allowing for in-depth analysis and troubleshooting.
Log-Based Analysis: Log-based analysis involves collecting and analyzing log data generated by network devices, applications, and services. This can provide valuable insights into network events, performance, and security.
Synthetic Monitoring: Synthetic monitoring is a form of active monitoring that involves simulating user traffic and monitoring the network’s response to identify potential issues and measure performance.
Tools for Network Traffic Analysis
There are a variety of network traffic analysis solutions and platforms that can help network operators collect and analyze network traffic data. Solutions range from network traffic analysis software and appliance-based network traffic analyzers to SaaS/cloud-based platforms for advanced network traffic analysis. Popular network traffic analysis solutions include:
Kentik: Kentik is a cloud-based network traffic analysis platform that provides real-time network traffic insights and performance data. Kentik’s powerful analytics engine, user-friendly interface, and open API make it easy for network operators to monitor and optimize their networks.
Wireshark: Wireshark is a popular open-source packet analyzer that allows network operators to capture and analyze network traffic at the packet level, providing deep insights into network performance and security.
SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor: SolarWinds NPM is a comprehensive network monitoring and analysis solution that provides visibility into network performance, availability, and fault management.
PRTG Network Monitor: PRTG Network Monitor is a network monitoring solution that helps operators monitor network devices, bandwidth, servers, applications, and more.
Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana (ELK) Stack: The ELK Stack is a collection of open-source tools that enable network administrators to collect, store, and analyze log data from network devices, applications, and services.
Best Practices for Network Traffic Analysis
To get the most out of network traffic analysis, consider the following best practices:
Establish Baselines: By establishing baseline metrics for normal network behavior, operators can more easily identify anomalies and potential issues.
Use Multiple Network Data Sources: Combining flow, packet, and log-based data sources provides a more comprehensive view of network performance and security. For more on this topic, see our blog post, “The Network Also Needs to be Observable, Part 2: Network Telemetry Sources”.
Leverage Real-Time and Historical Data: Analyzing both real-time and historical data allows operators to detect trends, patterns, and anomalies in network traffic, facilitating more informed decision-making.
Automate Anomaly Detection: Implementing automated anomaly detection via AI and machine learning can help network operators quickly identify and respond to unusual network activity, reducing the time and effort required for manual analysis.
Integrate with Other Tools: Integrating network traffic analysis tools with other network management and security solutions can provide a more holistic view of your network environment and streamline operations.
Continuously Monitor and Optimize: Regularly reviewing and updating network traffic analysis processes and tools ensures your network remains optimized and secure.
Prioritize Security: Network traffic analysis is critical in detecting and preventing security threats. Prioritize security measures and continuously monitor for signs of malicious activity.
Train Your Team: Ensure your network operations team is well-trained in using network traffic analysis tools and techniques. Regular training and knowledge sharing can improve overall network performance and security.
Document Processes and Findings: Document your network traffic analysis processes and findings to create a knowledge base for future reference, making it easier to identify patterns and trends.
Embrace Collaboration: Encourage collaboration between network operations, security analysts, and other IT teams. Sharing insights and best practices can lead to a more efficient and secure network environment.
Network Traffic Analysis for Your Entire Network, with Kentik
Network traffic analysis is essential to effective network management, security, and optimization. By leveraging advanced network traffic analysis tools like Kentik and implementing best practices, network operators can gain valuable insights into their networks, enabling them to make informed decisions that improve performance, security, and reliability.
Before Kentik, network visibility monitoring had been dominated by single or multi-tier appliance architectures. But as network data volumes grew exponentially, the inadequacy of these legacy approaches to provide network-wide visibility became obvious. Kentik uses a big data engine running on a scale-out, back-end cluster infrastructure and is designed for SaaS consumption via Kentik’s web portal and APIs. By leveraging cloud efficiencies, Kentik delivers visibility across your entire network with data and analytics at a scale, speed, and affordability that previous designs can’t match.
Live Network Intelligence
Analyzing flow traffic data in near real-time provides live network intelligence to facilitate network capacity planning, ensuring that resources are used appropriately to support organizational goals. Flow protocols such as NetFlow provide essential network intelligence for sophisticated analysis to optimize strategic network planning — for example, who to peer with, backbone upgrade planning, and routing policy planning. This network analysis also makes tactical network engineering decisions much faster, like adding additional network hardware or upgrading link capacity. In addition, Kentik’s network observability platform uses AI and machine learning techniques to automatically detect traffic, performance, and security anomalies across your entire network infrastructure. This all results in minimizing the total cost of network operations while maximizing network performance, capacity, security, and reliability.
Data Deep Dives
Kentik lets you dive deep into traffic flow details from any timeframe in the previous 90 days by collecting actual raw flow data in its private cloud rather than relying on summaries. You can focus on an individual device or any combination of devices. You can zero in on more than 20 metrics like packets per second, bits per second, unique IP addresses, and more via categories such as ASN, geo, port, IP, interface, VLAN, and MAC address.
Kentik also enables deep dive analysis using detailed flow data that can determine whether a traffic anomaly is, in fact, a DDoS attack. With Kentik’s powerful ability to drill down on actual flow details, you won’t rely on guesswork to address network performance issues or security threats.
How Kentik Supports Network Traffic Measurement
Kentik’s platform offers advanced capabilities for network traffic measurement. Kentik helps network operators make data-driven network management and security decisions by providing real-time visibility into network behavior, traffic volumes, and flows.
For volume-based measurement, Kentik provides a comprehensive view of network utilization across different network segments. It also allows operators to track usage trends over time and predict future network demands.
For flow-based measurement, Kentik supports a variety of flow protocols, enabling detailed analysis of traffic patterns and network usage. With Kentik, operators can drill into specific flows to investigate performance issues or security incidents.
Furthermore, Kentik’s powerful analytics engine can automatically detect anomalies in network traffic, highlighting potential issues that need further investigation. Abnormal traffic patterns can be an early indication of network security threats such as DDoS attacks. These behavioral analytics features make Kentik a valuable tool for proactive network monitoring and management.
By integrating network traffic measurement with other aspects of network traffic analysis, Kentik provides a holistic view of network performance and security. This helps network operators optimize network operations, ensure network availability, and improve user satisfaction.
Network Traffic Visualization with Kentik
Kentik provides a clear view of your entire network, both the parts you own and the ones you don’t. With its live network topology maps, you can see how everything connects. Whether you’re looking at on-premises networks or cloud resources, Kentik shows it all. You can quickly find out if network issues are affecting your apps. Kentik’s detailed visualizations let you dive deep—from checking how much data is being used, to ensuring security settings are right. With Kentik, you always have a current picture of your networks at your fingertips. Learn more about how Kentik’s network traffic analysis solution let you visualize all cloud and network traffic.
Network Traffic Visibility and SaaS
Kentik’s easy-to-use SaaS network traffic analysis solution is purpose-built to deliver real-time network traffic intelligence. Kentik’s approach to network traffic visibility provides detailed information at scale, with super-fast query response. Modern traffic analysis features include anomaly detection, an open, API-based architecture, and a user interface built by-and-for network operators.
Kentik’s public cloud ingests and stores hundreds of billions of flow records daily, making all incoming flow data queryable within three seconds of receipt. Instead of pivoting between several incompatible network monitoring tools to troubleshoot a network issue, network operation and security teams can now quickly detect and address a huge range of network-related issues from a single SaaS network observability platform.