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The Advantages of using Network Taps for Network Surveillance, Network Bandwidth Monitoring

The Advantages of using Network Taps for Network Surveillance, Network Bandwidth Monitoring

Sep 15 2016

Taps for Network Surveillance and Network Monitoring

Over the past two decades, network data has become increasingly more valuable to both private and commercial interests. Networks are routinely sharing sensitive information such as payment processing details, while also engaging in online and offline activities which require fast, secure, and completely error free communication across computer networks.

The above being the case, network surveillance, and real-time network bandwidth monitoring are an essential part of maintaining a fast and secure computer network. The only problem is that with ever greater volumes of data being shared between ever larger and more complex network segments, real-time network surveillance poses an ever greater challenge to network administrators.


How Network Taps help Improve Network Surveillance

Real-time monitoring of network traffic has become more difficult since the mid-1990’s, due to the fact that MAC and network switches tasked with facilitating fast, error-free communication between different network segments, began hiding errors which could previously be monitored using different software applications.

Of course, switching data packets via layered MAC and network addresses has long since become the standard in both open and closed network communications. Present data transfer protocols, after all, facilitate faster data transfer rates and can significantly reduce network downtime.

However, network surveillance has become more difficult because of these changes. This is because, by nature, switched networks hide many application problems and errors from diagnosis. Either this or different diagnostic tools will make problems appear across an entire network, rather than help network administrators isolate problems as originating from a specific machine or network segment.

Thankfully, a network tap (otherwise known as a test access point) can help IT professionals and network administrators better monitor bandwidth usage and test individual network areas for communication and security errors. by installing a physical hardware tap on part of a network, third parties can monitor all traffic exchanged between any two computer s, access points and/or network devices.


The 101:  How a Network Tap Works

If network communication between two points or devices is facilitated by a fiber optic or copper cable, a network tap can be installed between sections of cabling or devices, in order to accomplish full network surveillance and network bandwidth monitoring of traffic being exchanged between these two points.

Consisting of multiple ports, the first is tasked with facilitating data transfer just as if a tap wasn’t in place at all. There is little or no data lag or loss; the tap itself will be invisible to the rest of the network, and network traffic will continue uninterrupted even if a tap itself fails due to a power or hardware problem.

In the meantime, the remaining ports will work to mirror all traffic passing between the two points where a tap has been placed. Because every byte of data being exchanged between two network points is copied to a taps mirroring port, network administrators are able to monitor bandwidth usage and engage in full, uninterrupted network surveillance.


Why Administrators need to Engage in Network Surveillance

There are an almost unlimited number of reasons why IT professionals and network administrators might need to monitor the traffic between two network points. A lag or error appearing on a network might, for example, be the result of an application or device operating on a specific server or computer terminal which an administrator will then need to isolate.

In like regard, network taps play a vital role in network bandwidth monitoring, as well as in helping detect malicious network intrusions. Even better, taps can help administrators quickly isolate specific pieces of equipment which have facilitated a network intrusion in the first place.


Network Taps & Network Bandwidth Monitoring

Given the cost of high-speed Internet access and the ever-greater need for people and businesses to communicate instantly across computer networks, the last thing that your business needs is to start suffering speed lags. Moreover, while it can be easy for individuals and businesses to blame Internet service providers and faulty routers when their Internet speed starts to suffer, the simple truth is that the majority of system lags come about due:

  • Human users of networks engaging in high bandwidth consumption activities
  • Security breaches

Thankfully, network taps allow network administrators to immediately discover who is logged on to a network, what bandwidth heavy applications are running on different devices, and where exactly a bandwidth drain is coming from. Moreover, as well as helping administrators more easily monitor bandwidth usage across networks, network taps facilitate far better overall network visibility and troubleshooting.

In short, network taps provide administrators and IT professionals with strategic and continuous network monitoring which lets organizations know exactly what is happening on a network at any one moment. Once a tap is installed, administrators never have to worry about how to access, analyze or troubleshoot traffic and bandwidth usage problems in the future.


Network Tap Benefits over Other Network Surveillance Systems

Given how integral network surveillance and network bandwidth monitoring is to almost every modern organization, there are naturally a range of different surveillance and monitoring tools available to network administrators. An alternative to using dedicated hardware taps will often, therefore, involve using Span Ports to similarly mirror network traffic.

Span ports (otherwise known as switched port analyzers, or mirror ports) operate very differently to network taps. This is because network switches themselves will mirror network traffic without the need for a separate hardware device. Span Ports are often the preferred choice of network surveillance tool when you need to see backplane traffic on a large core Ethernet switch, or a specific VLAN, and for smaller businesses and organizations with smaller budgets, smaller overall networks, and less sensitive network data.

However, using span ports to mirror network traffic isn’t nearly as effective, or as secure as using network taps is to do the same.  Spans ports are dynamic, and administrators disable them without knowing their long term role in network monitoring.

For example, the majority of network taps are completely passive. When in operation, they will not increase network traffic load or even be visible to said network.

Much more significantly, network surveillance and network bandwidth monitoring using span ports depends completely on individual port and switch configurations. Whereas a network tap will mirror all traffic on a network completely unimpeded, span ports may drop specific packet types or strip portions of headers from packets. At the same time, even a properly configured span port may not always transmit an accurate mirror of network traffic. This is because loaded network switches will often prioritize traffic forwarding over traffic mirroring.

Span ports are still an important source for network monitoring, and often a source for traffic, along with network taps.  Remember to use SPANs when you need to have permanent, long term visibility to the core of a large network or VLAN, but where you don’t necessarily need to see every single packet.


Location Location Location

The comprehensive network surveillance and network bandwidth monitoring benefits of network taps are inarguable. In fact, many IT professionals are of the opinion that taps themselves should be a standard part of any new network deployment.

However, for the best results, it is important to remember when placing taps on a network, taps should be placed in accordance with the physical location of a network's most critical resources.  At the same time, larger networks will likely want to combine tap and span output together for a comprehensive view of their network.

Are you about to deploy a new network? If so, don't leave your network security or performance to chance. Instead, make sure to incorporate taps into your next deployment and in doing so, better ensure the viability of your network and data integrity. 

Best Network Taps for Network Bandwidth Monitoring