Switches and cable form the infrastructure of your network. So, it is very important to monitor the performance of your switches. If there is something wrong with one switch, a whole segment of your network will be cut off.
Monitoring software is able to spot problems early. There are a number of warning signs that indicate that an issue is building. Fixing those errors quickly heads off serious problems and prevents the network from grinding to a halt.
Here is our list of the five best switch monitoring software packages:
- SolarWinds Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack EDITORS CHOICE A combination of SNMP network performance monitoring and traffic analysis with NetFlow. This service also monitors routers, servers, and applications to provide a full suite of system management tools
- ManageEngine Switch Monitoring with OpManager (FREE TRIAL) A package that includes a network performance monitor, a traffic analyzer, a switch port manager, and a network configuration manager.
- Site24x7 Switch Monitoring A complete set of monitoring strategies that include SNMP management, traffic flow analysis, and switch port monitoring.
- Paessler PRTG A collection of monitors that includes switch monitoring with SNMP, NetFlow, and other traffic sampling standards.
- Datadog Network Monitoring A cloud-based monitoring service that offers network performance monitoring and traffic analysis.
There are four types of switch monitoring software:
- Switch port monitor – Records the activities of each active port on a switch
- Network traffic analyzer – Samples passing data frames and compiles traffic statistics
- Network performance monitor – Checks on the statuses of switches
- Network configuration manager – Controls the settings of switches
All of the variables that can improve or impair network transfer rates are contained in the switches of your network. So, switches govern the speed at which data can travel around your network.
Switch port monitoring
If you have problems with network performance, it is because one or more of your switches are overwhelmed. Switches initially distribute their capacity evenly across all ports. When a port is operational, it senses which ports are occupied and which are spare. It then reallocates capacity and gives high throughput ports more memory space than low-traffic ports. This process is called “autosensing.” However, things can go wrong very quickly if there is a change in traffic patterns.
If the use of a new application increases the traffic arising on one port, the switch will automatically upgrade the capacity of that port. However, that capacity needs to be removed from other ports. Problems can arise on another part of the network that previously was working fine.
Capacity issues can bump through from one switch to another and ripple on until a crisis occurs. Switch port monitoring heads off this problem and provides tools to manage the traffic capacity of each port.
You can read more about switch port monitoring in the Switch Port Monitoring Guide.
Network traffic analysis
Network traffic analyzers provide another strategy for ensuring traffic flows around the network at optimum speed. As explained above, traffic capacity is really an issue with switch capacity. So, traffic flow analyzers, like switch port managers, extract throughput data from the switch.
Network traffic analyzers are also known as NetFlow monitors, named after the Cisco switch statistics gathering protocol. There are other proprietary protocols: J-Flow (Juniper Networks), IPFIX (Cisco), Netstream (Huawei), and AppFlow (Citrix). The main non-proprietary standard is sFlow. When choosing a network traffic analyzer, you should ensure that it is able to communicate with the traffic flow analysis protocols that all of your switches use.
NetFlow traffic analyzers build up a picture of activity on each switch over time. They show live traffic statistics for each stretch of cable and also display how capacity on each switch port is utilized.
Historical data shows demand variation patterns over time. It can also identify which protocols and therefore, which applications are producing the most traffic. Traffic analysis tools aid in the implementation of traffic shaping measures, such as prioritization and queuing.
You can read deeper into the topic through the article The Best NetFlow Analyzers & Collector Tools for 2021. Ultimately, network analyzers support network capacity planning. You can learn more about this process by reading the Network capacity planning tutorial.
Network performance monitor
The majority of switch monitoring software that you will encounter are network performance monitors. This category of monitoring system exploits the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). All switches are shipped with an SNMP agent. The SNMP agent collects status information from the switch that hosts it and fills in a form. However, it will only release that form (called a MIB) if it receives a request from an SNMP manager. Network performance monitors operate as SNMP managers.
If a serious problem arises on a monitored switch, the SNMP agent will send out a status report without waiting for a request. This is called a Trap. Network performance monitors interpret SNMP Trap messages as alerts. An alert will be shown in the monitoring console and can also be sent out as an SMS message or email.
Network configuration manager
The performance of switches can be altered by changing their settings. Unfortunately, some switch settings make it easier for hackers to explore the system without being detected. These configuration weaknesses are called “vulnerabilities.”
You can subscribe to a vulnerability scanning service that will highlight changes that you need to make around your system in order to tighten up security. One area that is included in these assessments is the configuration of switches.
A configuration manager stores that configuration of each switch type as an image. It will then apply the same configuration to all switches on your network of the same make and model. The configuration monitor periodically checks on each switch’s settings. If it notices a change, the configuration manager reapplies the stored image to the altered switch, restoring its authorized settings.
You can read more about network configuration managers in the Best Network Configuration Management Tools.
The best switch monitoring software
You will need a range of monitoring packages in order to fully manage a switch. Traditionally, network management software producers create separate tools to monitor network device performance traffic flows, switch configuration, and switch port activity.
Fortunately, many of the separate modules produced by the same software house are built on a common platform and those monitoring tool providers offer bundles of tools that fit together well.
SolarWinds are a leading systems monitoring software vendor and its two main network monitoring tools are available in a bundle called the Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack.
The first of these two systems is the Network Performance Monitor. This is an SNMP monitoring system that polls all switches for status reports. The device agents also send out SNMP trap messages in the event of a developing status problem. The Network Performance Monitor interprets these traps into alerts, which are shown on the screen in the monitoring dashboard and can also be sent out by email or SMS.
The Network Performance Monitor shows live statuses for all switches in a summary screen and it also allows detailed views to be displayed by clicking on each device type. The registry of all switches and other devices connected to the network is compiled automatically by the tool. The system also draws up a network topology map, which gets updated automatically if there are any changes to the network.
The second element in the Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack is the NetFlow Traffic Analyzer. This is able to extract traffic data from switches using the NetFlow protocol. It can also communicate with switches through the IPFIX, J-Flow, sFlow, and NetStream standards.
The data gleaned from querying switches shows the top traffic generators by application and can also show where traffic surges occur. By showing data from different switches located around the network, it is possible to see where the sources of excessive traffic come from and how the flow of traffic hits each switch.
The SolarWinds system includes an interface to implement and manage traffic shaping measures, to alleviate bottlenecks. The live view of the network’s utilization can let you see the results of new queuing methods and watch whether a solution at one switch creates problems of overloading another switch.
Both the Network Performance Monitor and the Network Bandwidth Analyzer install on Windows Server. SolarWinds offers the Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack on a 30-day free trial.
The SolarWinds Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack is our top choice! This bundles together two award-winning tools, the Network Performance Monitor and the NetFlow Traffic Analyzer giving you a lot of power to work with. Get 30-day Free Trial: solarwinds.com/network-bandwidth-analyzer-pack OS: Windows Server 2012 R2 and later
The SolarWinds Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack is our top choice! This bundles together two award-winning tools, the Network Performance Monitor and the NetFlow Traffic Analyzer giving you a lot of power to work with.
Get 30-day Free Trial: solarwinds.com/network-bandwidth-analyzer-pack
OS: Windows Server 2012 R2 and later
ManageEngine OpManager is a full suite of system monitoring and management tools covering networks, servers, and applications.
The network monitor starts its service by automatically discovering all devices connected to the network. It creates an asset inventory from the information it gleans from this initial sweep and then draws up a network topology map. The map shows every switch on your networks and all of the links each has to other devices. If you make any changes to any switch, such as move, add, or remove any device, those alterations are shown in the asset inventory and network topology map automatically.
OpManager uses SNMP to keep tabs on the statuses of all switches on the network. The feedback from agents appears in a summary screen. From there it is possible to drill down and examine each switch. The service interprets SNMP traps into alerts that you can get forwarded as SMS messages or emails. The OpManager Plus package also includes traffic flow analysis features that show live bandwidth usage and also offer historical analysis. The bandwidth analysis tool can communicate with switches through the NetFlow, IPFIX, NetStream, J-Flow, sFlow, and AppFlow protocols.
Other tools in this package include a switch port manager and a network configuration manager. The package includes IP address management features as well. Reporting facilities in OpManager automatically produce compliance reports for SOX, PCI-DSS, and HIPAA.
Server and application performance monitors in OpManager connect to traffic analysis modules, so you can perform root cause analysis if an application suddenly starts to perform badly. This service enables you to drill down to identify exactly what is going wrong. The system includes recommendations for traffic shaping measures and an interface to help you implement them.
ManageEngine OpManager includes all four types of monitoring services needed to keep track of all network switches. This is a very comprehensive bundle that includes a network performance monitor, a bandwidth analyzer, a switch port manager, and a network configuration manager. Other features in the package include an IP address manager, server monitoring, and application performance tracking. This total package of system monitors is ideal for businesses that need to comply with data security standards.
The OpManager software installs on Windows Server and Linux. ManageEngine offers the package on a 30-day free trial.
Site24x7 is a cloud-based monitoring service and it has special features for switch monitoring. This SaaS system will automatically discover and map all of your network, including its switches. Using SNMP, the monitoring system tracks CPU usage and other factors that influence switch capacity.
Beyond switch status monitoring, the Site24x7 system includes bandwidth monitoring using NetFlow, IPFIX, J-Flow, CFlow, sFlow, Netstream, and AppFlow. By combining status checks and bandwidth statistics, Site24x7 is able to show live capacity information detailing throughput on every part of the network, written onto the network topology map. Throughput data can be queried per port on each switch by drilling down through the system performance summary through switch data.
The statistics summaries show which applications are the source of most traffic and watching throughput figures over time can give you an idea of what is placing the most stress on each switch and at what times of the day. The analysis also details the average packet sizes and the incidences of contention that stop switches forwarding on data in a timely manner (jabber).
Site24x7 is a subscription service and offers many other system monitors apart from network supervision. The switch monitoring service is part of the Site24x7 Infrastructure module, which is offered on a 30-day free trial.
Paessler PRTG is a collection of monitoring systems. Each is called a “sensor.” The price you pay for the package depends on how many sensors you want to turn on.
Among PRTG’s list of sensors are several that examine the statuses and performance of switches. These include a Ping sensor that can be directed to a specific device on the network. It can also be used to test devices on remote networks across the internet.
A CPU load sensor and a memory sensor use SNMP to check on the capacity and utilization of each switch. PRTG is also able to perform bandwidth analysis. It uses NetFlow and sFlow to measure traffic throughput at each switch and it also has a port monitoring sensor to identify which port on which switch is causing bottlenecks in traffic flow.
PRTG includes hundreds of sensors, so you don’t need to limit its use for switch monitoring. The system is also able to monitor firewalls, routers, servers, and applications. There are a number of combined services that draw on a range of sensors to provide drill-down analysis so you can quickly discover the root cause of a problem on the network.
The service includes an SNMP network performance monitor that will watch the network for you. This service issues alerts on the monitoring console and also through emails and SMS messages when problems arise.
PRTG installs on Windows Server and you can put it through its paces on a 30-day free trial. The trial package is the full PRTG system with all sensors activated. This enables you to work out which sensors you really need before you have to pay for the software.
Datadog is a cloud-based IT monitoring service that includes switch monitoring tools. The service includes an autodiscovery system that identifies, logs, and maps all switches on a system, showing how they link together. The map also identifies all of the other devices that connect to your switches.
Switch monitoring tools include an SNMP-based performance monitor and traffic flow querying. All of these data-gathering agents contribute to a display of live statuses shown in the system dashboard. The dashboard is resident in the cloud and can be accessed through any standard browser. The console also displays any alerts arising from SNMP trap notifications sent out by device agents. Those alerts can also be forwarded by SMS message or email.
Datadog is a subscription service and there are two plans for network monitoring – one that covers performance monitoring and another that examines traffic flows. You can get both of these monitoring services on a 14-day free trial.