Part of your role as a system administrator is to oversee the network infrastructure that supports your company’s critical business applications. Therefore, you likely devote most of your time keeping the network up and running and performing optimally. Nevertheless, there are still occasions where you experience unexpected network outages. That’s the reality of network management. So, what does it take to stay ahead of these unforeseen breakdowns? Here are some suggestions that will simplify your administration efforts and help you be better prepared for a ‘bad day’.

Maintain a Current Device Inventory List: Keep an updated device inventory list with details of your network components such as ports, interfaces in use, hardware details, servers, virtual machines, network storage, and so on. It’s important that you regularly monitor these pieces as they directly impact network performance. Having an up-to date asset database helps you track all of your IT equipment for device replacements, end-of-life information, device configuration changes, and the status of devices in use and not in use.

Configure SNMP and Flow Technologies: SNMP (Simple Network Message Protocol) fetches performance metrics from your network devices. There are different versions of SNMP available and you can configure an appropriate version based on your data requirements and the significance of the device. To enable SNMP for a Cisco® router or switch, you can telnet to the device, go to the configuration mode, and add a read-only or read-write community string. SNMP community strings are like passwords and enable monitoring on network devices. In addition, you can enable SNMP traps to receive unsolicited trap notifications or requests on the status of a network device.

Similarly, enabling flow technologies on routers and switches helps furnish data that can be used to analyze traffic and bandwidth usage. For this, you need to configure the flow-based packet analysis on the devices that need monitoring.

Perform Network Performance Baselining: Performance baselines are a standard set of metrics that define the normal working conditions of the network’s infrastructure. Baselining is a critical aspect of network performance monitoring. You accomplish this by running network baseline tests and determining the standard threshold values for networking hardware. Baselining helps determine and set alerting thresholds for situations where the network is experiencing performance slowdowns. It also aids in determining requirements for hardware upgrades and purchase.

Every organization should establish network monitoring policies according to the organization’s compliance level. Additionally, clearly define the scope of activities to match these standards.

Identify and Define Alerts and an Escalation Matrix: Depending on the thresholds you set, your network monitoring system will trigger alerts on various network issues and errors. It is important to clearly identify and define the point of contact or person designated to receive the alert. In the case of escalations, you need to decide how the alert will be routed based on its severity. Failure to attend to an alert on time is equivalent to not having any alerts configured at all. Delivering timely alerts to the right person significantly reduces network downtime and serious damage to business operations.

Finally, understand that your network will not remain the same. Be sure to plan for network expansions and technology advancements that will be necessary to accommodate monitoring.

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