Tech Corner

Network Traffic Analysis: Understanding Their Vital Role

Virtually all your IT operations hinge on your network. Modern networks can handle traffic diligently but are not immune to problems. Network traffic analysis is a surefire way to detect issues and nip them in the bud before they become widespread — and costly. 

There are many facets to network traffic analytics, with dedicated tools to collect and analyze data from all the nodes in the network. However, ultimately, the goal is to prevent breaches and downtime. So, in essence, network traffic analysis is a vital component of the overall network security strategy. 

In this article, we will discuss the following:

  • What network traffic analysis is all about.
  • The importance of network traffic analysis.
  • What tools and methods can enterprises use?

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What Is Network Traffic Analysis?

The broader definition of network analysis is the study of relationships between entities

An infographic showing an overview of network traffic analysis, including a SOC platform with metadata storage, API, GUI, and DPI sensors. The network includes components such as the cloud, switches and routers, internet, mobile devices, physical/VM assets, and users.

connected in a network. Network traffic analysis focuses on analyzing the flow of data within the network. It aims to make sense of how, when, and what kind of data is moving on the network. 

In IT, network traffic analysis is mainly about monitoring traffic to detect bottlenecks, lags, unauthorized access, and other issues that may compromise the network's performance and/or security. 

With insights into the communication between devices and the behavior of the network, enterprises can detect problems early on or discover ways to improve the traffic flow. 

Why Do You Need Network Traffic Analysis?

Network traffic analysis can help bolster your network's security. Any abnormal activities can be detected and dealt with promptly by constantly monitoring and analyzing data movement. 

Moreover, the insights can be used to improve the network's performance. It may also offer more visibility across the network with information on devices and users. 

Traffic analysis may be even more critical for large networks, as problems in any segment can have ripple effects on the overall uptime and availability of the network.  

Network traffic analysis is also important for the implementation of the security policy. It ensures that all parties adhere to the network rules and that data is protected from external and internal threats. 

How To Analyze Network Traffic

Most enterprises today opt for tools for traffic analysis, either as standalone solutions or as part of network management/monitoring or security suites. Of course, the capabilities and methods vary by your chosen solution. 


However, it’s essential to understand the basic network traffic analysis methods. Most tools work more or less on the same principles. 

Here’s how you analyze network traffic:

Setting The Baseline

Before network traffic analysis can begin, it's crucial to establish a baseline that represents normal network behavior. This involves monitoring and recording typical traffic patterns, including protocols, bandwidth usage, and communication between devices during regular operations. 

Anomalies or deviations can be more easily identified by understanding what constitutes regular activity. Once the baseline is established, it becomes a reference point for detecting abnormal behavior, such as unexpected spikes in traffic, unusual communication patterns, or deviations from established performance metrics. 

The baseline setting is continuous, as network dynamics can evolve. So, a network administrator may need to revisit the baseline periodically and account for any changes in the network. 

Identifying Devices

An integral part of network traffic analysis is identifying devices connected to the network. This involves inventorying all networked devices, including servers, routers, switches, and other network components. Each device is assigned a unique identifier, such as an IP address or a MAC address, facilitating the tracking and analysis of its activities. 

Modern network traffic analysis tools often employ techniques such as device fingerprinting, which goes beyond traditional IP and MAC address tracking. Fingerprinting involves analyzing unique characteristics of devices, such as operating system details, to enhance device identification accuracy. This can be achieved with asset discovery tools and services. 

Data Collection Mechanism

Now comes the most crucial part of traffic analysis — data collection. There are two ways to go about it. You can deploy an agent (software) on the device or use existing network protocols (like SNMP) or APIs to collect information. 

Hardware, such as sensors, can also collect data from appliances. Similarly, applications running on the network can offer valuable data on network performance. 

The data collected typically includes details such as source and destination IP addresses, port numbers, protocols used, and the volume of data transferred. Some advanced systems also capture payload data for deeper analysis.

Data collection must balance capturing sufficient information for analysis and minimizing the impact on network performance. Sampling techniques, flow-based analysis, and packet capture methods are commonly employed to ensure comprehensive coverage without overwhelming the network infrastructure. 

Storing Network Data

Once network data is collected, it needs to be stored in a centralized repository for further analysis and historical reference. This storage is valuable for investigating past incidents, conducting forensic analysis, and identifying trends.

The storage type and extent depend on the network scale and volume of data. From virtual appliances to dedicated hardware storage, the data destination should be able to store the incoming information efficiently. 

This sensitive data should be protected with the same policies as the primary data traveling through the network. 

Viewing And Analyzing Network Data

Network data storage is not just about archiving raw data; it also involves organizing and indexing the information so it makes sense.

For instance, time-series databases are commonly used to store time-stamped network data, enabling administrators to correlate events and track changes over specific time intervals. 

Ideally, the data storage destination should offer a user-friendly interface, such as a dashboard, for easy access and interpretation. These interfaces are typically provided by analysis tools, making them a worthwhile investment.

Now, with the advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning tools can be deployed at this point for deeper analysis. AI models can be trained to detect subtle anomalies in data traffic patterns. 

Configuring Notifications

Automated alerts and notifications can be set up to trigger when specific conditions or anomalies are detected. These conditions may include unusual spikes in traffic, patterns indicative of a security threat, or performance metrics exceeding predefined thresholds. Notifications can be delivered through various channels, such as email, text, or integration with centralized management platforms.

Network Traffic Analysis Tools

Investing in an agent for collecting and analyzing network traffic data simplifies the process. It provides a dedicated solution that can be integrated with existing management tools and presents data in an easy-to-understand manner. 

Here are some of the best network traffic analysis tools:

  1. SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer.
  2. Wireshark (Open-Source).
  3. Nagios Network Analyzer.
  4. Cisco NAM Traffic Analyzer.
  5. Splunk.


Effective network traffic analysis is pivotal for maintaining a secure and optimally-performing network. Analyzing traffic gives you visibility and a chance to detect issues preemptively. 

The process is essentially the same regardless of the network's size and the enterprise's nature. Opting for agent-based data collection and analysis is the recommended course of action. However, it does come at a cost. 

Traffic analysis can also reveal device issues, giving insights into their performance and remaining lifetime. Network administrators can also use traffic analysis to gain insights into individual devices and plan refreshes accordingly. 

The analysis can work in tandem with maintenance to ensure each appliance in the network is working as it should. OneCall, a third-party maintenance provider, offers modern enterprises a flexible hybrid maintenance strategy

OneHub software aggregates all your IT assets and maintenance contracts — for free — to make management simple. Whether it's small components in your servers or large chassis — or anything in between — OneCall + OneHub is your single source of truth for IT asset management.


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