A Beginner’s Guide to Ethernet Network Monitoring, Control, and Management


Ethernet networks are not a new concept and today they are widely adopted across the globe. Domestic, commercial, and industrial communication very much relies on Ethernet networks. Modern Ethernet networks can be copper-based, fiber-based, or hybrid (copper-fiber). Based on the requirements, the type of transmission media such as fiber optics, copper cables or combination can be chosen. Similarly, based on the requirements, the transmission protocols such as internet protocol (IP), transmission control protocol (TCP), and so on, can be preferred. All this consideration is not only limited to installation. Since Ethernet communication networks are used for critical communication such as business communication, security and surveillance data transmission, etc, the network requires active monitoring, changes in configurations, troubleshooting, and overall management. Adopting these steps in a network management cycle can prevent abrupt network failure, security threats like third-party intrusions, and data loss.

However, the process of network management includes different factors. It has to be handled with proficiency. This white paper discusses different aspects of managing Ethernet networks, the contribution of a few tools/ways of effective management of networks, and additional practices to enhance network management.

Introduction to Network Management

Network management is a continuous activity adopted after network installation. It includes configuration of transmission links, installation of networking devices, maintenance and troubleshooting to enhance device performance, etc. These activities are then followed by administration, monitoring, and control in order to maintain the desired function of the networks. Often, the Ethernet networks are used in complex industrial applications like industrial automation, business communication, security and surveillance, traffic monitoring, and more. The devices integrated into such networks are directly exposed to harsh environmental conditions like rain, high temperature, cryogenic atmosphere, thunder, etc. Owing to the same, the devices suffer external and internal damage. The same applies to the transmission media which can be copper cables, fiber optic cables, wireless media like Wi-Fi, IP, etc. Security of transmission media may be compromised by factors such as cyber thieves, electromagnetic frequencies, radio frequencies, etc.

This leads to data loss and information mismanagement. To prevent the same, network management is essential. Considering the sensitivity of the information, the data transmission must be monitored, and secured from leakage. To do the same, network management activities are essential to adopt.
Network management can be done in different ways, however, centralized and decentralized management are two commonly adopted methods in the industry.

Types of Network Management

The Ethernet networks consist of hardware and software that need to be managed. Hardware consist of transmission links, devices, and software may include remote monitoring and control software. The management of the network needs to be done for both software and hardware in compliance with the performance abilities of both. The centralized management and decentralized management methods are discussed below.
  • Centralized Network Management: The centralized management module is adopted with the network installation around a single server. The sever acts are the point of centralization for all integrated devices. The devices are monitored through the centralized point. The control or configuration signals are sent to devices from the server. This type of management is suitable for less complicated and compact Ethernet networks such as communication networks in a building, unit-to-unit conversation via Wi-Fi networks, etc.

  • Generally, in this type of management, the management software used for monitoring and controlling data transmission is set to the server. All activities like a triggered stream of data, direction transmission, open/closed paths, active switches, etc are monitored by the software and are displayed on the control panel. The changes in device configurations, transmission protocols, etc are done using the software-based control panel on the server.  This type of management is suitable for Ethernet networks where the scope and points of failure are pre-determined.
  • Decentralized Network Management:  Decentralized management of the network is mostly employed for complex networks. The networks with multiple servers, intricate topologies, and selective transmission require multiple points of management. Therefore, multiple servers and points of management are installed during the construction of such networks. Often such intricate networks are installed when multiple workstations are required. Decentralized network management is suitable because multiple servers control the batches of equipment in the network. This management helps prevent high data traffic, link failure, etc. However, the management software used has to be configured with all servers. This type of management categorizes the Ethernet network according to the functions and the transmission takes place accordingly.

This type of network management offers flexibility and higher manageability. The addition of linkages, workstations, servers, and networking devices can be done easily by using this type of management.

Different Aspects of Network Management

Network management is a process featuring multiple steps. It requires consideration of multiple related factors. The aspects of management of Ethernet networks are listed below.
  • Administration: Network administration is the primary step of management. It includes keeping a record of all equipment like converters, fiber optic switches, routers, etc. Administration helps in streamlining the maintenance and troubleshooting requirements of the network. This method involves inventory control.
  • Operation Control: Once the network installation is done, operation control is essential. The transmission cannot be left unmonitored and controlled. In this step, the software is used to trace the direction of data being transmitted, loss of signal strength, reception of data packets, etc is taken care of in this step. Activation, termination, performance control of networking devices is done in this step.
  • Maintenance and Troubleshooting: Maintenance and troubleshooting are done to maintain the efficiency of a network. During the time of operation, the equipment and software suffer a reduction in performance efficiency. In this step, each device is tested for performance, and then repair measures are taken. This step includes physical maintenance for the equipment including server upgrades, configuration updates for software, and so on. In severe cases, the devices may require on-field replacement. The device repair, troubleshooting, calibration, and replacement comes under this stage of management.
  • Security: Security is to prevent third-party intrusion. Various security measures like implementation of security firewall, user authentication, etc come under this aspect of network management. The Ethernet networks are sensitive to harsh environments, therefore, proofing of outdoor devices, terminating third-party access, etc are adopted under the security stage.
As Ethernet networks are expanding, the on-field examination becomes difficult. Network monitoring is nowadays performed remotely using various network monitoring and management tools. Although a wide range of network managing tools is available in the market, the potential of these tools is important to understand. As the contribution of tools for managing networks is highly significant, let us discuss the same.

Contribution of Tools for Network Management

The network managing tools play a critical role in the process of network monitoring, control, and maintenance. Tools like ManageEngine OpManager, NetCrunch, Obkio, etc are a few popular tools for the management of networks. These tools can be used for the following operations under the management of Ethernet networks.
  • Fault Detection: Integrated tools offer highly efficient monitoring based on a software function. Detection of failed links, data transmission direction, data administration, etc is performed by various network managing tools. These tools enable remote monitoring of the network and help operators to identify the faults before they escalate.  
  • Performance Monitoring: Various network managing tools are used to monitor the performance parameters such as transmission speed, bandwidth availability, device performance, device compatibility, and many more. Performance monitoring is a continuous activity that needs to be performed without interruption.
  • Network Provisioning: Network provisioning involves considerations of network capacity. The tools simplify the network provisioning activities by calculating network capacity. This includes testing the performance abilities of each device and calculating it to predict the overall transmission capacity of the network. Management of all device IPs, server locations, Ethernet switches, etc comes under network provisioning.
  • Security Check: Industrial networks are sensitive to third-party intrusions, data theft, etc. Therefore, the networks are secured with firewalls, user authentication, etc. The management and upgrade of security parameters of the networks are taken care of by network monitoring and management devices. The user authentications can be managed through security software tools.

Additional Guidelines for Effective Network Management

Since network management is a challenging task, a few practices can be adopted to simplify the process. These practices may be related to direct management, security monitoring, etc. However, adopting the following guidelines into the management cycle can enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the network management process.
  • Understand Network Protocols: Understanding your network before getting into management activities is always a good practice. The network engineer must know each component, its function, functional capabilities of networks, and so on. The input requirements, troubleshooting and maintenance cycles, calibration cycles, etc can only be planned if an appropriate understanding of every element in a network is known. Therefore, to ensure the working of a network in compliance with networking parameters, understanding such parameters is essential. Then only it can be configured, monitored, and controlled according to networking needs.
  • Adopt Network Escalation Protocols: Network escalation protocols like timely calibration, periodic network inspection, and fault detection can be adopted to enhance the efficiency of network management. Integrating the network with management software tools is one of the important requirements in the management cycle. Adopting automated network escalation protocols reduces human errors in the management process and increases the speed of management activities.
  • Layered Management: Layered management is a smart way of management. By adopting this practice, the network managers only manage a part or layer of a network at a time where other layers of the networks remain active. This helps when termination of devices is required during management activities like troubleshooting, repair, calibration, etc, only a part of the network remains passive and the downtime reduces.
  • Failure Protection: Failure protection is a security measure. This is for the unexpected times when the network suddenly fails due to small errors. The practice of failure protection can include integration of bypass links, data backup, etc. This step is essential to prevent loss of data and power losses.
  • Strategizing Network Growth: Once the network installation is done, the network expansion can be planned to meet the increasing demands. This expansion may include the addition of devices, integration of fiber optics or IP protocols, etc. The growth of the network must be planned strategically.
  • Invest in High-Quality Networking Devices: Investing in quality devices and transmission media is important for the high-performing network. Only high-quality networking devices assure the durability and performance of the network. Since the performances of different devices in a network are interdependent, the failure or poor performance of a single device may cause a performance drop for the whole network. Therefore, investing in high-quality networking devices is a good practice in network installation and management.

Conclusion:

Network management is an essential post-installation activity. It is important to maintain the performance of the network, therefore the management cycle of networks is adopted. However, it is an intricate process with multiple activities involved. In this white paper, multiple activities involved in network management are discussed. Since management of networks can be done in different ways based on the construction of the network, the centralized and decentralized types of management are discussed. Further, the contribution of tools for network management is discussed followed by a few guidelines to enhance the effectiveness of the management process. As said, quality devices and transmission media also play a key role in the performance of the network. It is important to source these devices from trusted manufacturers if you need to build robust and scalable data networks. VERSITRON provides various devices that have been successfully used in various industrial Ethernet networks across the globe. Please visit, www.versitron.com to see these devices.