How to Monitor Router Traffic | Analyze Your Network With These Tools & Tips

One of the first things a system or network administrator needs to learn is how to monitor router traffic - whether you just want to better understand the traffic or increase the network speed. This task is relatively easy these days thanks to the preponderance of available tools and network monitoring software, but you still need to know how these tools work and what you’re looking for when they give you the results. 

This article will go over some of the finer points of network monitoring and answer some of those questions. 

How to Monitor Your Router Traffic Efficiently

Monitoring network traffic is much easier if you check out the top-rated network monitoring tools and software, but there is still quite a bit of analysis left for the administrator. Let’s take a look now. 

Definition, Tools, and Alternatives


The definition of network traffic is basically the amount of data that flows across your network at any given moment in time. It’s usually set and received in packets, which will take care of the load in the network. It’s the main aspect of measuring your traffic and controlling it. 


Tons of data move through a network, especially ones that are owned by businesses and other large organizations. This can consist of visitors to your website, emails, videos, pictures, data and files sent between departments, and more. Administrators need to find ways to optimize the flow of this information to keep your network running at peak performances. This starts with monitoring. 


Administrators are constantly looking for some great tools that they can use to measure, observe, and analyze their network traffic and data. Some of these tools are free while others charge more money for more advanced features. These tools will allow network administrators to get a detailed picture of what their network’s data and traffic patterns look like in real time, which they can use to hunt for problems and choke points in the network’s efficiency. 

These can be really difficult unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, so a lot of the paid tools come with very clear data that records over long periods of time so you can start seeing patterns more easily. They also report using graphs so professionals can clearly explain to people outside of the IT department. 


When it comes to internet traffic monitoring, administrators are constantly hunting the best way to handle as much as they can with a few tools as they can. After all, some of these tools add demand to the network and the system resources, so if one tool can do everything it’s far more convenient to both the network and its administrator. Still, sometimes a smaller and more specialized tool is better equipped to show specific data, so that may be a more favorable option. 

Network Traffic Monitoring: Active or Passive?

Active network traffic monitoring requires a great deal from the system administrator. If something goes wrong, they are instantly putting out the fire. Basically, if the network crashes, everything grinds to a halt. Emails don't get sent; they just stick in the outbox as a draft or pending send. Applications stop working or crawl slowly. Data won't load, and tech support is getting an earful from everywhere in the company demanding to know why stuff isn't working and how they can fix it and how soon it will all be back up and running. 

This type of monitoring means that the system administrator will start working instantly when things happen. They will hunt for the tool showing the network’s traffic and check everything that could have gone wrong at every point in the system until he eventually finds what they are looking for. Then, they can go to work on fixing the problem and put everything back in order.

With passive network monitoring, you use a tool to monitor your network 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This tool allows the system administrator to keep their finger on the pulse of the traffic constantly. He will be able to tell the moment the volume of data going through the network climbs and be able to locate the error before everything grinds to a complete stop. As soon as it looks like a disruption is imminent, he can take some measures to avoid it. This could involve upgrading the weak points in the network, performing some load balancing adjustments to keep things flowing, or more. This is a great way to monitor your system. 

Display Network Traffic: Is there one tool for everything?

When you are looking to monitor all aspects of your network, you need something that can handle speed, uptime, routers, traffic, servers, and switches. If you find an all in one monitoring tool for your network performance monitoring, then you will find it much easier to monitor your entire network than using several different tools that each monitor one or two aspects. When something goes wrong, you will have real time data that overviews your entire network, making it much faster to pinpoint the problem spot. This will save you tons of time and effort, not to mention reduce stress.  

Display Network Traffic: Is there one tool for everything?

When you are looking to monitor all aspects of your network, you need something that can handle speed, uptime, routers, traffic, servers, and switches. If you find an all in one monitoring tool for your network performance monitoring, then you will find it much easier to monitor your entire network than using several different tools that each monitor one or two aspects. When something goes wrong, you will have real time data that overviews your entire network, making it much faster to pinpoint the problem spot. This will save you tons of time and effort, not to mention reduce stress.  

Analyzing Network Traffic: Detailed Reporting


One tool should be able to handle all of your reports, especially for Windows network monitoring. Finding the right tool will allow you to amass all of your data and have it displayed in graphs and charts, which will make it much easier to understand. The right tool will even be able to send your results to a reporting system, where you can then customize it and configure it to meet your specific network monitoring concerns and needs. 


Access to your data should be easily customizable. A reports feature should be able to show custom reports that can be sent to teams or individuals. This data needs to be easy for non-IT people to understand, so managers can justify investments in the network. 

Analyzing Network Traffic: Long Term Evaluations

When you want to analyze your network performance, it helps to have a tool that allows you to capture all of your network traffic data and store it. This allows you to determine whether your peak loads happen over long periods of time, or at specific times of day at regular intervals. This allows you to find the root of your networking issues and take measures to solve them quickly and easily.

If you have a major problem that is critical to operation, then you can grab a tool that allows you to make a very in depth and detailed analysis instead. This lets you monitor all of your network traffic and also serves as a web traffic monitor. Having a comprehensive examination of the different data flow is extremely useful so you can then remove potential error solutions and analyze it again. Being able to isolate potential problems allows you to find what is causing the error by the process of elimination and quickly fix it. 

Network Monitoring Best Practices


Now that we’ve gone over some of the different options, there are some things you should keep in mind. These are some best practices when it comes to monitoring your network that will make your life easier and your boss happy. 

1. Choose the Right Data Source

Network monitoring software can only get you so far if you don’t know what you’re looking for, so it’s important to choose wisely. When you monitor your traffic, there will be 2 main sources you can choose to follow. Flow data is tracked through routers and other similar layer 3 devices. Packet data can be acquired by using SPAN, via TAPs, or through mirror ports. 

Flow data is the best option for tracking the volume of traffic your network sees. You can also map your packets from origin to destination with this option. This sort of information is the best way to find any WAN traffic that is unauthorized. It’s also a great way to use the resources and analyze network performance. 

The downside of using flow data to monitor your network is that the tools available to track this way don’t offer as much detail. This means it’s impossible to detect a lot of different security issues or find the actual root of the performance problems. Even if you're using the best big data analytics software, analysis is also far more difficult so be sure to secure your network.

Packet data, on the other hand, is a great way for a network administrator to use packets to discover how users are using and implementing applications within the network. This method allows you to monitor for malware and security breaches and track the usage through WAN links. There are tons of great deep packet inspection tools. 

These will allow you to see absolutely everything – 100% visibility – across your entire network. They do this by transforming the raw metadata they obtain from packets into data that you can read and analyze. This allows you to inspect every single minute detail of your network for issues and security problems so that you can detect if your data has been exposed to network sniffing tools.

2. Pick the Correct Points on the Network to Monitor

Another important thing to do is to choose the right points of data to track. If you are using tracking software, you will have to install it on every single device in the network that you want to be able to monitor. This is extremely expensive and also creates a lot of work for IT teams, not to mention the overhead. What’s worse is that these tools are not equipped to give you a full picture of the end-user activity because it’s impractical (and often illegal) to do this on personal property.  This makes it difficult to monitor your activity on a public network or BYOD. 


Even if you're not using the type of software that needs to be installed on each device, there are still mistakes to be made. A lot of people make the mistake of monitoring too many things at once. You don't actually need to monitor every single network point. You should, instead, look for the points that the data meets at. These convergence points will show you what you need. For example, instead of monitoring everything, just monitor the internet gateways. You can also track VLANs set up in critical servers and Ethernet ports on WAN routers. 

3. Check the Flows and Packet Payloads for Suspicious Content

A lot of networks have set up detection systems that alert them when an intrusion attempt is made, but very few of them set up any form of internal monitoring for intrusions. A single mobile phone or IoT could compromise your entire network, so make sure that you are checking your entire network, not just the edges. 

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