Written by: Kevin GardnerA network packet broker is a device that helps send data from switches and other networking devices to security, monitoring and performance tools. These are staples in many larger business networks. However, you may be uncertain whether you need one. Furthermore, if you need an NPB, you may not know how to choose one.
Fixed vs. Modular Networks
A fixed networkhas a specific interface that it uses for all traffic. For example, you may be monitoring 10Gbs links. This is a relatively simple setup compared to modular networks. These have multiple interfaces and may have changing configurations depending on needs. A modular NPD can help you to swap between modules and avoid outages as changes apply.Conversely, a fixed NPB will generally help you optimize your costs if your needs are lower. Most organizations should use a fixed structure unless they need to use a modular configuration. The former is significantly more cost-effective.
Tolerance for Faults
Consider what the tolerances of your network are for problems such as power failure or hardware fault. If you have a network that is primarily serving the operational needs of your business team, you may have a non-trivial level of tolerance. While a fault would be disruptive, it would not necessarily cause major business damage.Conversely, if your network is enabling your business’s product to connect to customers, an outage could cause a serious problem. The same applies if you are running mission-critical services on your network; you may be unable to afford any significant outage.Understanding your fault tolerance will help you choose the right network packet broker. More advanced options can offer load balancing and protective technologies that will minimize faults. However, this isn’t always necessary depending on your needs.
On some networks, having effective traffic management is essential for keeping up with demands. This is often the case with very high-volume networks. However, it may not be necessary for less complicated setups.Examples of traffic grooming tools include hardware-based packet filtering and traffic regeneration. Your NPB can help to keep these technologies under control and bringing value to your network. However, as with the considerations above, you may not need their level of control and monitoring. This can be both cost-ineffective and damaging to your network maintenance processes.
One of the main roles of an NPB is to help monitor and control network security. However, many NPBs only help with this by virtue of forwarding packets. More advanced NPBs can take a more active and streamlined role in threat detection and prevention. As with all network security considerations, the ability to respond rapidly to breaches and other threats is essential to ensure lasting security.Some NPBs are capable of inspecting encrypted network packets. This is achieved by decrypting packets in real-time that are traveling through the network. Packets that are encrypted with an unfamiliar algorithm or key can be flagged and monitored as necessary.This means that you can help to ensure that even your encrypted data streams are only being used for intended purposes. Monitoring this requires the right equipment but it very important for ensuring high security on your business network.
Network monitoring requires accurate information. Depending on your accuracy needs, you may need a superior-quality NPB. The right tool will ensure that you have a clear picture of what is happening on your network at all times.This can have implications for many different aspects of your network operations. If you have inaccurate monitoring data, you will have a hard time with security, for example. Similarly, you may not be able to make automated configuration changes properly.For organizations with minimal automation and security requirements, accuracy may not be as important of a concern. However, it can still be helpful for decision making and other concerns.
As with all network tools, performance is a very important consideration with network packet brokers. Monitoring should not get in the way of your network operating smoothly. However, the wrong NPB can do exactly that.Not every organization and network have the same performance requirements. Again, your business’s product may need better performance than your team’s network for daily work. Evaluate what you need from your NPB and compare it against the potential cost of implementation and operation.
With these guidelines in mind, you are on the right path to choosing the best network packet broker possible for your organization. With a well-aligned NPB, you can enjoy all of the security and measurement benefits without any excessive cost or performance drawbacks.
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