SMB owners know exactly how costly a slow internet connection can be. It’s undoubtedly frustrating when you can’t send that critical email, can’t load your web console to see your online orders, can’t track your inventory position, or do any important network-related activity. Unfortunately, fixing this connection problem isn’t easy either and can take a lot of your time and effort. But, using a network analysis tool can take some weight off your shoulders.
Network analysis tools will proactively monitor your networks and identify the gaps you can fix before they impact your business. In this article, I’ll explore what network analysis tools are, their benefits, and the top features they must include. I’ll also give you a rundown of the top 5 network analysis tools. First, let’s start with a brief understanding of network analysis.
What Is Network Analysis?
As the name suggests, network analysis includes all the measures you take to analyze your network and the traffic passing through it. It helps you identify a faulty hardware device, spot malware, recognize a DDoS attack, understand bandwidth issues, etc. Here are some additional benefits of these tools.
Benefits of Network Analysis Tools
Network analysis tools can benefit your business in many ways:
- Identifies security gaps to reduce the chances of cyberattacks
- Spots potential attacks so that you can remediate them immediately
- Saves time and effort in troubleshooting
- Takes a proactive approach to avoid losses due to system downtime
- Generates reports for auditing, capacity planning, and compliance
Now, going back to our example of a slow connection, a network analysis tool will determine the source of the problem. It’ll show if the problem is with your router, internet service provider (ISP), bandwidth, etc. You can then troubleshoot and fix the issue accordingly.
Before I move on to the must-have features of any network analysis tool, I’ll discuss the different types of network monitoring tools. Network monitoring is inextricably linked to network analysis, so you need to know the different types before you pick a solution.
4 Types of Network Monitors
Network monitors analyze the network data to provide the contextual information you need to understand the status and issues in your network. Many network analysis tools combine two or more network monitors. Make sure you know which ones you need for your business. The different types of network monitors are as follows:
1. Performance Monitors
Performance monitors use the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to query the network and get the critical information you need for troubleshooting. You can use this type to detect network faults and the health and performance of all compatible devices. With this information, you can narrow down the issue to a device or a specific part of the network, like faulty hardware. In essence, performance monitoring is a proactive approach that detects and diagnoses issues like slow internet connections.
2. Network Testing Tools
Network testing tools continuously scan and evaluate specific aspects of your network, like performance, bandwidth usage, etc. Ping and traceroute are popular network testing tools that help identify problems like failed connections and latency issues. These network testing tools also provide insights into whether your data packets reach the destination servers and the time it takes.
You can determine the reason for your slow internet connection using this information. It can be bandwidth issues, a firewall blocking your packets, packet loss, etc. Understanding the root cause will then speed up the troubleshooting process. Accordingly, you can address the problem.
3. Packet Sniffers
Packet sniffers analyze the data packets flowing through your network to ensure that they’re not malicious. It also helps to diagnose problems and point the source to a device, network, or application. When you use packet sniffers, you can determine if your slow connection is due to an impending attack by cybercriminals like a Denial of Service attack. That way, you can take countermeasures right away.
4. Network Analyzers
Network analyzers capture the data packets traveling through your network. In essence, they capture the source, destination, port numbers, network protocols, and other pertinent information. Armed with these details, you can decode network activity, analyze it for patterns, and even get a better idea of your network usage statistics. For example, network analyzers can resolve any network communication problems and help plan the network capacity in case of slow connections.
Your network analysis tool will use network monitors to help you pinpoint the issues in your network. But what other must-have features should your network analyzer have? I’ll cover that next.
Top 5 Must-Have Features of Network Analyzers
Before shopping for a network analysis tool that works best for you, start with a list of what you want. Below are some must-have features.
1. Communication with Switches
The network analysis tool you choose must communicate easily and seamlessly with all kinds of switches. These switches include NetFlow, sFlow, AppFlow, IPFIX, and more. This ability to communicate with multiple switches adds versatility to your network, so you can include many types of devices. It can also come in handy if you have a remote workforce connecting to your network.
2. Capturing Packet Streams
Choose a network analysis tool that captures packet streams and analyzes their contents to identify patterns in your traffic. For example, these packet streams can show that one or more apps are clogging the bandwidth, slowing down the entire network. To solve this, you can plan your bandwidth usage. You can also set policies to avoid the use of bandwidth-clogging streaming and peer-to-peer sharing apps.
3. Network Path and Protocol Analysis
Network analysis and protocol analysis are two must-have features in your tool. Your network analysis tool must analyze network paths to provide insights about network bottlenecks. For example, your slow internet speed can be due to an imminent DDoS attack. Meanwhile, protocol analysis deconstructs the data packets and analyzes them for potential issues like malware. You can then get bandwidth and network usage insights to identify the root problem and prepare better to remediate it.
4. Traffic Shaping Measures
Traffic shaping measures manage the traffic passing through your network. Essentially, they prioritize access to critical applications like VoIP. Your network analysis tool must identify the existing traffic shaping measures. That way, you can make room for some mission-critical communication.
5. Free Trial and Value for Money
Your first priority when looking for a network analysis tool should be a free trial to get a hands-on feel of the tool. Based on your experience, you can determine its effectiveness for your common problems. Your tool must also be good value for money. A rule of thumb is to approximate the value of the potential returns from using the software and compare it with the cost. The returns must be hands down better.
Based on the above criteria, I’ve narrowed your options to the 5 best network analysis tools for your company.
Top 5 Best Network Analysis Tools
Identifying the best network analysis tool for your business isn’t easy, and this is why I evaluated many products before compiling this list of tools. Here are the top 5 tools in no particular order.
1. GFI LanGuard
GFI LanGuard is an advanced tool that scans your network to quickly detect vulnerabilities like missing patches, open ports, etc. It also analyzes the security trends and compares them with your network’s current status to help you understand the underlying issues. In addition, it helps you to fix these vulnerabilities so your network remains healthy and robust. You can also deploy LanGuard in many ways to meet the specific needs of your network. On top of that, GFI LanGuard offers a free trial. That said, you’ll have to reach out to a partner to get a quote.
2. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor
SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM) is a comprehensive tool that provides all the information you need to fix your network issues. It comes with two proprietary tools, namely, PerfStack and NetPath visualization. You can use PerfStack to drag and compare performance metrics like packet loss and average response time in a single view. NetPath, on the other hand, provides a visual representation of your network’s topology and pathways. These two together allow you to know the state of your network and identify problems before they impact you. Its cost starts at USD1,638 and comes with a 30-day free trial.
NetSpot is another handy tool that provides insights into problems like Wi-Fi strength. It offers two display modes: the discovery and survey modes. The discovery mode displays the Wi-Fi networks in your area, while the survey mode shows the strength of Wi-Fi in an area. NetSpot also allows you to easily identify Wi-Fi signal issues. Thus, you can accordingly alter the layout or add Wi-Fi boosters. This app is free and works on Windows and Mac devices only.
3. ManageEngine Network Topology Tool
ManageEngine leverages flow technologies to provide real-time visibility into your network’s traffic. It also generates detailed reports that can help with capacity planning and budgeting. Network topology even maps the network and its different aspects. Thus, you can quickly identify the gaps and fix them proactively. In addition, this tool provides context-sensitive information that can help with troubleshooting. The pricing starts at USD245 for ten devices and two users and increases based on your usage.
4. Splunk Stream
Splunk Stream captures and indexes network events, packets, and data to provide valuable insights into your network’s infrastructure. This tool also helps you collect data about flow technologies and protocols, monitor network trends, track bandwidth usage by different apps, etc. You can even export all this information to log files for detailed analysis. In addition, Splunk has a free trial; if you like it, reach out to the sales team for a quote.
Last, I hope one of these tools fits well with your requirements. Now, here’s a quick recap.
Slow internet speeds can be due to a variety of reasons. Without knowing the exact cause, it’s impossible to fix this issue. Network analysis tools provide all the information you need to determine the root cause of this problem and other network-related security issues that may come up in the future. More importantly, it points to the existing gaps in your network infrastructure. You can fix these gaps to protect your network and business from unproductive downtimes and cyberattacks. That said, you should know how to pick a network analysis tool well. Some features to look for are communication with switches, network path analysis, traffic shaping measures, etc.
For more information on network analysis tools, read our FAQ and Resources sections.
Do I need a network analysis tool for my company?
Yes, every company needs a network analysis tool to monitor your network’s current state, health, and performance. More importantly, it helps to identify issues so you can fix them before they impact your business. These tools also help with forecasting and capacity planning.
Can network analysis tools fix my low Wi-Fi strength?
Partly yes. A network analysis tool can pinpoint the strength of Wi-Fi networks in a specific area. It can even possibly provide the root cause of the same. That said, you’ll then have to take action based on the insights offered by the tool.
Is it easy to configure a network analysis tool?
Yes, most tools, like GFI Languard, have an intuitive user interface for easy configuration. You can also use this interface to create reports and track different network parameters. In addition, some tools even come with a web console that you can access from anywhere.
Can I use a network analysis tool to plan my network layout?
Yes, network analysis tools are often used to detect Wi-Fi strength in an area. Using this information, you can decide on the optimal location for your Wi-Fi network. You can also use these tools to gauge latency in your network so you can plan the layout accordingly.
Can I troubleshoot IP address-related issues with a network analysis tool?
Yes, you can troubleshoot IP-related issues using Ping and Tracert, two common commands that most network analysis tools include. Ping helps to understand the destination server status. Meanwhile, Tracert tells you the time it takes for data packets to reach the destination server. With this information, you can identify latency and network security issues.
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