Network traffic is a term used to explain the level of activity on a computer network. When computers are connected to each other in a network, data is sent back and forth in data packets. Network activity or traffic is based on the volume of data packets in the system, the time to deliver it, and an evaluation of any bottlenecks in the system.
As computer systems became more entrenched in business operations, the number of computers on a network expanded. Network engineers and other systems professionals dedicate their time and efforts to ensuring that the network is able to support both the current and future traffic. Staff expectations increased, and it became increasingly important to monitor network traffic and keep the system operating within an ideal performance range.
The vast majority of network servers and switches come with a traffic monitoring software. This software is constantly running, and keeps a log of all the data packets, including source of origin, destination, delivery time, and route followed. Another feature that is often included in this type of software is security protocols. A network sniffer is a computer program that accesses the network and reads the data packages traveling within the network. The software that is monitoring network traffic can be configured to identify this type of program and alert the appropriate people.
Another method of monitoring network traffic is to have an operations analyst who is responsible for the daily management of the network. This person can be responsible for watching the traffic indicators, evaluating any bottlenecks or issues and resolving them. This is an additional overhead expense, but may be justified for very sensitive networks or peak periods, where the system must perform to optimal levels.
The basic tools provided with a network switch can be configured to send automatic emails or notifications when the traffic reaches certain values or tolerances. This method is best utilized for a very small network, where the cost of specialized software to monitor network traffic is not justified. Upon receipt of notification, the network staff member needs to have protocols that determine what the next course of action should be.
The tools used to monitor traffic are constantly changing and being refined to provide a greater level of detail and accuracy. It is important to note that without these tools, the only way to know when there is a problem with the network is user complaint. This method is the least effective, as it does not provide any insight into the core issue. It is also highly subjective, based on personal preferences and pressures.