Gaining visibility into data flows has become essential for infrastructure teams in today’s complex environments spanning cloud and on-premises. But with massive traffic across hybrid networks, achieving usable visibility poses challenges. There’s no shortage of network traffic monitoring tools aiming to address these needs, but how do you know which solution is best?

In this article, we’ll define fundamental network traffic concepts and provide an overview of network traffic monitoring software. We’ll highlight what capabilities to look for in solutions, along with why network visibility matters. Finally, we’ll dive into detailed reviews of the top 7 traffic monitoring options (proprietary and open-source) on the market now, as well as the best practices you should be implementing.

Whether your goal is tracking bandwidth utilization, improving security, or simply attaining wider visibility, you’ll get a comprehensive lay of the land. From examining must-have features to dissecting the strengths and weaknesses of leading options, you’ll find the details needed to determine what network traffic monitoring solution fits your needs.

What is network traffic?

visual world map showing how a network traffic might be monitored and connected
abstract global traffic design communication transport networking connection concept

In simple terms, network traffic is all the data flowing across a network at a given time.

For example, when you ping a server, that creates a small amount of network traffic because a few bytes* of data must be sent from your computer to the server and back. When multiple users stream high-definition video—say, for a videoconference—a lot more network traffic is created because that takes more data.

*For the network trivia buffs: a standard ping packet has 64 bytes, 56 for the actual ping packet and 8 for the header.

What is network traffic monitoring?

Network traffic monitoring refers to the process of tracking data flowing across a network in order to analyze usage, performance, and security. It involves utilizing specialized software or hardware solutions to capture traffic data including bandwidth utilization, latency, top applications and protocols, security threats, and more.

Network monitoring provides administrators visibility into how infrastructure and applications are performing. It is an essential tool for troubleshooting issues proactively before users are impacted. Monitoring network traffic allows teams to detect bandwidth hogs, triangular routing inefficiencies, suspicious behavior, and other critical insights.

How to monitor network traffic

There are several key steps to implement effective network traffic monitoring:

  1. Identify data sources
    Determine whether flow, packet, firewall log, or other data is needed to meet your visibility requirements. Flow data provides bandwidth and connection statistics while packet data enables deeper traffic analysis and threat detection. Carefully evaluate what sources will power the analytics important for monitoring performance, security and compliance.
  2. Discover network devices and applications
    Use a topology mapping tool to create a visual depiction of the connections between devices on your network infrastructure. This mapping visualizes the pathways of traffic flows in order to trace data usage back to specific systems and components. It enhances understanding of utilization across the technology ecosystem.
  3. Select network monitoring tools
    Define visibility goals and technical requirements first. Compare costs, hardware compatibility, features, and free trials across solutions. Evaluate if advanced capabilities like application recognition or topology mapping are needed. Consider a comprehensive network solution like Auvik, which offers robust built-in reporting, mapping, analysis, and ease of use
  4. Analyze monitoring data
    Enable detailed reporting capabilities to analyze bandwidth and resource utilization patterns over time. Configure intelligent alerting to surface issues that are impacting network performance and integrity or overall health. Provide analytics to key stakeholders that enhance operational decision-making.
  5. Visualize key metrics
    Use integrated or third-party dashboards that allow you to visualize critical metrics at a glance—like bandwidth saturation, latency spikes, security events, certificates expiring soon, and more. Strong data visualization accelerates the detection and investigation of performance problems.

Effective traffic analysis relies on feeding rich data sources into a monitoring stack designed to surface the most critical analytics for your environment. Strong visualization takes this a step further for at-a-glance insights.

What is network traffic monitoring software?

The term network traffic monitoring software refers to software applications that enable administrators to capture data on network traffic in real-time and use that data for reporting, alerting, and analysis. Internet traffic monitors and bandwidth monitors are other common names for network traffic monitoring software.

Network traffic monitoring software will use a variety of protocols including SNMP, WMI, flow protocols, and ICMP (ping) to measure network metrics like latency and bandwidth utilization.

Additionally, network monitoring software may use techniques like packet captures, active monitoring, and deep packet inspection (DPI) to gain granular insights about the traffic flows across a network.

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Why is network traffic monitoring software important?

For the IT teams responsible for keeping networks operational, network monitoring software is an important part of day-to-day operations because of the benefits it can deliver. Namely, network traffic monitoring done well can deliver these benefits:

  • Network-wide visibility
    Network monitoring software enables centralized monitoring of all your devices and data flows. Additionally, many network traffic monitors allow you to create detailed network maps. As a result, you gain end-to-end visibility over your network with the ability to drill down as needed.
  • Detailed SLA reporting
    IT pros need a way to demonstrate they’re meeting or exceeding their service level agreements (SLAs), and network traffic monitors can address this use case well. Similarly, corporate IT departments can report on key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Enhanced security
    By monitoring network traffic in real-time, you can identify potentially malicious behavior and reduce the spread or impact of malware.
  • Improved network planning and inventory management
    By providing centralized inventory management and detailed bandwidth utilization information, network traffic monitors allow you to make more informed decisions about hardware updates and capacity planning. Network traffic monitoring can also inform decisions about how to configure Quality of Service (QoS) across your network.
  • Lower MTTR and higher uptime
    Network traffic monitoring software allows you to take a proactive approach to detecting outages and brownouts (performance degradation). This means you’ll be able to address issues faster, lower your mean time to resolution (MTTR), and improve overall network performance and availability.

Criteria for selecting network traffic monitoring software

While there are no one-size-fits-all solutions in the world of network management, there are several key features you should keep in mind in the decision-making process.

Comprehensive bandwidth monitoring

The ability to monitor and analyze bandwidth utilization in detail is a fundamental requirement in a network monitoring tool. At a minimum, look for a solution providing robust statistics on bandwidth consumed, network throughput, latency, jitter, and other foundational metrics. Advanced platforms will offer contextual insights by application, device type, protocol activity, and more.

Broad protocol and hardware support

Seek out tools that work seamlessly across diverse environments, reducing friction in initial setup and configuration. The more hardware devices and systems supported out of the box, the faster time to value. Also, confirm compatibility with critical network protocols for your tech stack like SNMP, NetFlow, sFlow, IPFIX, and more.

Network topology mapping and documentation

Select a platform that can automatically generate network maps documenting your infrastructure layout, connectivity, and traffic flows. Visualizing the real-world topology makes problem isolation and planning activities more efficient. 

Proactive monitoring and intelligent alerting

Advanced monitoring platforms move beyond reactive problem notification to actually predict and prevent issues before they disrupt productivity through machine learning analysis. Ensure your tool provides flexible options to customize thresholds and configure intelligent alerting tailored to your environment.

Detailed reporting and data analysis

Robust historical reporting provides the documentation needed to validate SLAs, plan network changes and enhance overall efficiency. Strong analytics and drill-down dashboards empower stakeholders to derive optimization insights from monitoring data. 

Security-focused design and capabilities

Verify that security best practices are built into the architecture of any monitoring tool you select with encryption, role-based access control, MFA/SSO support, and more. Also, leverage platforms that provide visibility into threats, malicious behavior, and policy violations. You can do this using techniques like traffic pattern analysis, protocol decoding, and geolocation-based anomaly detection.

Platform and infrastructure compatibility

Look for comprehensive monitoring with support and integrations across your important technology domains – from network hardware and security infrastructure to servers, operating systems, and the cloud. Open standards like SNMP, along with custom integrations, will drive more value. Native public cloud visibility should also be considered table stakes.

7 top network monitor software solutions

When it comes to selecting a network monitoring tool, there are a wide variety of software options to evaluate that range from enterprise-grade paid platforms to open source solutions. With so many capabilities to consider from support breadth to advanced analytics, it can be challenging to compare alternatives.

This section will cover the leading traffic monitoring systems to examine their relative strengths and weaknesses. We’ll explore both proprietary commercial tools and open-source offerings so you can get a sense of which model may suit your needs better.

1. Auvik

Auvik network traffic monitoring

Auvik offers robust network traffic analytics and topology visualization to provide comprehensive visibility across complex hybrid network environments. Its advanced analytics engine Auvik TrafficInsights leverages flow data and machine learning to deliver granular bandwidth consumption and threat detection insights.

To accelerate issue resolution, Auvik automatically generates up-to-date network topology maps spanning on-premises and cloud infrastructure. These maps visualize device interconnections, configurations, and real-time performance. Integrated terminal access and tunneling allow administrators to troubleshoot problems remotely.

Auvik also streamlines network documentation and change tracking through automatic device config backup and hardware lifecycle management. Its cloud-native design requires no on-premises collection hardware. Role-based access control, SSO integration, and encryption provide data security.

With out-of-the-box support for 15,000+ network device types and 30+ IT system integrations, along with APIs to connect with other tools, Auvik is built as a versatile visibility foundation for modern network environments.


  • Simple and quick setup using lightweight collectors to start monitoring networks in under an hour
  • Supports discovering, mapping and managing over 15,000 device types out of the box
  • Cloud-based access from anywhere with no maintenance or patching required
  • Leading flow analysis tool Auvik TrafficInsights leverages ML for unparalleled application visibility
  • Global network visibility with unified management and monitoring of unlimited sites
  • Integrates with numerous IT systems, including service desk tools and cloud identity providers
  • Built-in configuration backup, comparison, and automated network documentation
  • Available as standalone network monitor or broader infrastructure management platform
  • Data stored in ISO 27001, ISO 27017, and ISO 27108 certified secure data centers


  • No free forever plan
  • No option for on-premises installation

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Top Features

  • TrafficInsights uses machine learning, flow data, and metadata to provide granular analysis of traffic flows
  • Automated network mapping clearly depicts device connections and topology
  • Intuitive visualization provides single pane of glass across all locations
  • Role-based access control, MFA authentication, and end-to-end data encryption
  • APIs and 30+ integrations with PSAs, ITSMs, notification tools, and more
  • Backup and versioning of device configs updated every 60 minutes

2. Flowmon

Flowmon network traffic monitoring

Flowmon provides comprehensive network visibility and diagnostics across complex on-premises, cloud, and hybrid environments. Its dashboards visualize traffic flows, performance metrics, and infrastructure topology to accelerate the detection and troubleshooting of issues.

Advanced analytics empower rapid root cause analysis down to granular details like device-level behaviors. Cross-platform support for all major flow data formats offers unified visibility covering networks, applications and user experience.

Flowmon streamlines deployment with intuitive pre-configured dashboards, seamless integration with existing infrastructure, and automation-ready APIs. Role-based access control and data security protections safeguard monitoring data.


  • Unified visibility spanning on-premises, public cloud, and hybrid networks
  • Rapid time-to-value with 30-minute setup and out-of-the-box dashboards
  • Analyze and troubleshoot network issues up to 16x faster
  • Support for all major flow data formats (NetFlow, IPFIX, sFlow etc)
  • Scales seamlessly from small businesses to large distributed enterprises
  • Strong track record with over 1,200 global customer deployments


  • Can require advanced configuration expertise for full-scale deployments
  • Premium technical support and upgrades incur additional licensing costs
  • Limited embedded security threat detection capabilities

Top Features

  • Interactive topology visualization maps network infrastructure
  • Customizable dashboard displaying traffic structure and performance metrics
  • Powerful diagnostic pivot drilldown to pinpoint root cause
  • NetFlow/IPFIX optimized for fastest and most scalable flow processing
  • Standards-based APIs enable integration with other monitoring tools
  • Role-based access control secures monitoring data and configurations

3. Kentik

Kentik network traffic monitoring

Kentik offers comprehensive network observability through advanced flow analytics, automation, and AI-driven insights. It ingests flow, infrastructure, and application data to provide unified visibility across complex hybrid environments.

Kentik automatically discovers network topology and enriches telemetry with business and security context. It uses machine learning and advanced algorithms to detect anomalies and surface actionable insights. Users can quickly troubleshoot issues through interactive network mapping visualizations.

For security, Kentik provides capabilities like DDoS detection and BGP monitoring. Its synthetic monitoring tests network and application performance from global vantage points. Granular traffic analysis aids with traffic engineering, peering, and capacity planning decisions.

Kentik is fully SaaS-based, with flexible scaling and no infrastructure to maintain. It integrates readily with existing tools through APIs and webhooks. Role-based access control secures sensitive data.


  • Unified observability across hybrid IT environments
  • Advanced analytics and automation minimize manual effort
  • Interactive network mapping for rapid troubleshooting
  • Security-focused monitoring like DDoS detection
  • aids traffic engineering, peering, and capacity planning
  • Easy to implement as a purely cloud-based platform
  • Flexible APIs and integrations with existing tools


  • Can have a steep learning curve for some advanced features
  • No on-premises deployment option
  • Costly for large scale deployments
  • Limited historical raw data retention

Top Features

  • Flow analytics with business and security context enrichment
  • Anomaly detection powered by machine learning
  • Network topology mapping visualization
  • DDoS detection and mitigation capabilities
  • Global synthetic monitoring from multiple regions
  • Tools for traffic engineering, peering, and capacity planning
  • Role-based access control and audit logging
  • APIs and integrations with notification, analytics, and security tools

4. Plixer Scrutinizer

plixer network traffic monitoring

Plixer Scrutinizer is an on-premises network traffic monitoring solution that provides detailed traffic analysis, security analytics, and network forensics. It leverages flow data and metadata from network infrastructure to deliver comprehensive visibility and accelerate threat investigation.

Key capabilities include real-time DDoS detection, user activity monitoring, application usage reporting, and network traffic visualization. Scrutinizer correlates events and data across devices to provide context for security incidents. Its case management workflow aids collaborative threat analysis.

Scrutinizer is deployed on a hardware or virtual appliance and scales to collect millions of flows per second. It can ingest NetFlow, IPFIX, sFlow, and other flow formats from routers, switches, firewalls, and other network gear. REST APIs allow integration with SIEM, workflow, and other security tools.


  • In-depth traffic analysis and forensics for security use cases
  • Correlates flow data with firewall, IDS, proxy, and other metadata
  • Identifies anomalies and suspicious behavior across the network
  • Accelerates investigation with visualizations and context
  • Scales to very high flow rates with efficient collection
  • Interoperates with most network devices and security infrastructure


  • Requires on-premises installation and management
  • Can have a steep learning curve for some advanced features
  • Free version has limitations on data retention

Top Features

  • Real-time DDoS and intrusion detection
  • Traffic visualization and detailed flow reporting
  • Behavioral analysis and threshold-based alerting
  • Case workflow for collaborative investigation
  • REST APIs for integration with other security tools
  • Support for all major flow formats and protocols
  • Physical and virtual appliance deployment options

5. SolarWinds Network Traffic Analyzer

solarwinds network traffic monitoring

SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (NTA) is an on-premises network traffic monitoring and analytics tool. It collects and analyzes flow data from routers, switches, firewalls, and other infrastructure to provide visibility into bandwidth utilization and network performance.

Key capabilities include real-time traffic monitoring, application traffic analysis, bandwidth usage reporting, and building customized alerts. NTA can ingest NetFlow, sFlow, IPFIX, and other flow formats. It also provides Class-Based QoS monitoring and reporting.

NTA integrates tightly with SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor to correlate performance metrics like interface utilization with traffic flows. Role-based access control enables managing user permissions. The web-based interface provides dashboards and interactive charts to visualize traffic analytics.


  • In-depth visibility into bandwidth utilization and traffic patterns
  • Identifies top talkers and bandwidth hogging applications
  • Customizable alerts based on traffic thresholds
  • Supports a wide variety of flow formats and infrastructure
  • Integrates seamlessly with other SolarWinds tools
  • Easy-to-use interface with good visualization


  • Must be installed on Windows Server
  • Can have complex reporting for advanced use cases
  • Lacks packet-level detail beyond flow records
  • Free trial has limited feature set

Key Features

  • Real-time and historical traffic monitoring and analytics
  • Bandwidth usage reporting by application, IP, protocol, and more
  • Customizable alerts and traffic reports
  • Class-based QoS monitoring and reporting
  • Support for NetFlow, sFlow, IPFIX, and other formats
  • Role-based access control for managing permissions
  • Integration with other SolarWinds tools like NPM
  • Web-based dashboard with charts and graphs

6. ntop

ntop network traffic monitoring

ntop provides comprehensive network traffic monitoring and analysis to gain visibility into network performance, security, and usage. Its open source and commercial editions offer scalable deployment from a single PC to large enterprises.

ntopng, the next-gen version, captures and analyzes network data in real-time through a web-based interface. It identifies top talkers, sorts traffic by various metrics, generates historical reports, and performs behavioral analysis. Integrations with firewalls and AD enable correlating traffic with user identity.

For troubleshooting, ntop helps identify congestion, anomalies, and patterns by monitoring throughput, latency, loss, jitter, traffic distribution, composition, trends, and dependencies. Traffic can be analyzed down to flow-level with details like source, destination, protocol, and packet sizes.


  • Free and open-source community edition with GPLv3 license
  • Scalable architecture suitable for small to large networks
  • Customizable traffic inspection via extensible modular architecture
  • Command line interface for automation and scripting
  • Embedded behavioral analysis capabilities


  • Can require commercial license for some advanced features
  • Limited built-in integrations with other tools
  • On-premise installation only

Top Features

  • Application traffic monitoring and analysis
  • Identification of top talkers and hosts
  • Traffic anomaly and bandwidth usage alerting
  • Packet capture and inspection
  • Flexible reporting for historical network activity
  • NetFlow and IPFIX support
  • Native integrations with pfSense and ntop platforms

7. Zabbix

Zabbix network traffic monitoring

Zabbix is an enterprise-grade open-source network monitoring solution designed for scalability and customizability. It provides comprehensive visibility into network performance, availability and usage through agent-based and agentless monitoring.

Zabbix offers flexible metric collection using a variety of protocols, with data visualization via customizable dashboards, graphs and maps. Its intelligent thresholding detects problems in real-time, while flexible alerting channels facilitate quick notification.

For troubleshooting, Zabbix correlates issues to find the root cause and performs impact analysis based on hierarchical services. Automated actions enable reactive or proactive resolution. Users are assigned granular permissions, while encryption secures data transmission.


  • Free, open source software with enterprise-level capabilities
  • Highly scalable architecture for large, distributed environments
  • Agent and agentless monitoring provides flexibility
  • Customizable triggers and thresholds for intelligent alerting
  • Broad protocol and integration support


  • Complex installation, configuration and management
  • Limited out-of-the-box integrations with other tools
  • On-premise deployment only

Key Features

  • Automated discovery of network devices and metrics
  • Customizable dashboards with multiple visualization options
  • Real-time problem detection with root cause analysis
  • Flexible notification channels and automatic event escalation
  • Read-write access control and encryption to secure data
  • High availability support and distributed proxy architecture for scalability

5 network traffic monitoring best practices

While network traffic monitoring tools provide crucial insights, getting the most out of them requires following best practices.

Here are 5 of the most important best practices to follow for effective network traffic monitoring:

1. Set proper alert thresholds

Setting appropriate alerting thresholds is essential for getting timely notifications about issues without alert fatigue. For example, set bandwidth utilization alerts at 60% and 85% of total bandwidth rather than waiting until 100% saturation. This allows you to take action before performance is severely impacted. Define thresholds for critical network performance metrics like bandwidth, latency, jitter, and error rates.

2. Analyze traffic types

Break down and analyze traffic by type—such as client-server, server-server, or others—to identify anomalies specific to different traffic flows. For example, a DDoS attack may only affect inbound internet traffic to web servers but not backend database traffic. Analyzing by traffic type provides more targeted visibility.

3. Monitor router interfaces

Effective router monitoring, which involves enabling monitoring on router interfaces, provides visibility into traffic volumes between network segments and locations. Track bandwidth utilization on critical router uplinks and downlinks to identify congestion points. This helps inform traffic routing optimizations to alleviate bottlenecks.

4. Track response times

Actively measure server and application response times using pings and synthetic transactions. Sudden response time spikes warrant investigation even if bandwidth seems normal, since it signals potential server resource constraints. Tracking response times helps reveal performance issues before they degrade the user experience.

5. Retain historical data

Retaining substantial historical network traffic data enables the identification of usage trends and seasonal bandwidth patterns. Historical context makes it easier to evaluate new traffic anomalies and determine if they are truly abnormal compared to past behavior. Set retention policies to maintain months or years of historical data.

Leverage the full potential of network traffic monitoring software

Gaining comprehensive visibility into network traffic is foundational for managing the performance, security, and efficiency of modern IT environments. Today’s leading monitoring solutions provide robust capabilities to analyze traffic flows, detect anomalies, troubleshoot issues, and optimize infrastructure.

With an understanding of the capabilities and criteria for selecting solutions, you can now map out an implementation plan tailored to your unique environment and use cases. Define the specific visibility gaps you need to address, then evaluate tools against must-have requirements and nice-to-have features. Shortlist options to trial based on critical integrations, scalability needs, and more.

Don’t just look at network monitoring in isolation. Explore how it can integrate with other critical systems like SIEMs for security, help desks for improved workflow, and capacity planning tools for optimization. Develop a holistic architecture.

Finally, leverage best practices around smart thresholding, multi-layered analysis, and response time monitoring to get the most from your investment. Visibility is just the beginning—transform monitoring data into actionable insights through robust analytics. And tap into the collective wisdom of peer communities and resources to continuously evolve your approach.

With strategic planning and a strong foundation of network visibility, you can overcome the challenges of remote and hybrid complexities. Now is the time to take control and propel your infrastructure into the future—smarter, faster, and more secure.

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