Imagine your company’s network is like a busy city’s road system. Just like roads have traffic moving back and forth, your network has data packets traveling to and from destinations. But when the roads get too crowded, or a suspicious vehicle makes its way onto the highway, it can cause traffic jams and security incidents that impact the organization. That’s where NetFlow analyzers come in. 

In this article, we’ll break down the basics of NetFlow analyzers. You’ll discover what they are, how IT teams use them to gain visibility into network health, and how NetFlow analyzer software can help inform strategic business decisions. 

Here’s everything you’ll learn: 

  • What is NetFlow?
  • What is NetFlow analyzer?
  • Key features of NetFlow analyzer software
  • How to use NetFlow analyzer software
  • How to select the best NetFlow analyzer software

Let’s get into it.  

What is NetFlow?

NetFlow is a network protocol, originally developed by Cisco, for collecting information about IP traffic as it enters or exits network interfaces. This protocol captures data about the flow of traffic, including the source and destination IP addresses, port numbers, protocol type, and the amount of data transferred. The technology allows your IT team to record packet flows across network lines, providing a valuable dataset for understanding the characteristics of your organization’s network traffic. 

Depending on the NetFlow analyzer you’re using, you may see different data—but analyzers like Auvik’s TrafficInsights will enable you to visualize: 

  • All flows across flow-monitored devices
  • Traffic by application, protocol, domain, source, and destination IPs and ports
  • Top addresses, conversations, and autonomous systems
  • Sources and destinations by geolocation

Having this information is one thing, but it’s the insights you can derive from the data that make NetFlow analyzers invaluable for network management

What is a NetFlow analyzer?

To understand NetFlow analyzers, let’s revisit our street traffic analogy. NetFlow analyzers act like the highway patrol of your company’s roadways, helping IT teams gain visibility into the health of the network. They can tell you where there’s congestion or unusual traffic, helping inform strategic decisions for smoother traffic flow and safer data travel. 

By analyzing the data provided by NetFlow, network administrators can uncover insights related to the source, destination, and paths of traffic. This helps in capacity planning, monitoring network usage, and identifying potential security threats or bottlenecks. 

5 benefits of Netflow analyzers

Let’s dive deeper into the benefits and common use cases of NetFlow analyzers for network professionals. 

1. Enhanced visibility

NetFlow analyzer softwares provide detailed insights into network traffic patterns, revealing detailed information about the specific applications and services that are consuming bandwidth, the users involved, and the time of day when the network is most utilized. This detailed network visibility helps you to make informed decisions around optimization. 

Use case: Let’s assume your IT team notices that the office internet is significantly slower during certain times of day. Using this information, they can determine whether the company has enough bandwidth to support traffic fluctuations, or whether a network upgrade might be needed. 

2. Improved security

By monitoring patterns, a NetFlow traffic analyzer can identify anomalies that may signal cyber threats, such as unexpected spikes in traffic, unusual service access patterns, or traffic from known malicious IP addresses. Early detection of these signs enables quicker response to potential security incidents, minimizing their impact.

Use case: Say your network analyzer notifies you that there’s been a sudden influx of traffic from an IP source that’s located in a country recognized as high risk for cyber criminal activity. This could indicate a security threat, such as a DDoS attack or a network breach—a valuable signal that lets your security team know to take action.   

3. Optimized network performance

Analyzing traffic flow can help identify bandwidth hogs and traffic bottlenecks, allowing you to make targeted improvements to enhance your organization’s overall network performance. Because modern businesses heavily rely on internet connectivity for daily productivity, these small disruptions can cause major inefficiencies. 

Use case: Consider your internet significantly slows down on a busy Monday morning at the office. By analyzing the data, the network manager discovers that someone in the office is consuming high volumes of bandwidth by using a streaming service on their laptop. With this insight, network managers can implement policies or adjustments to ensure critical applications have priority, optimizing the overall network performance for essential services and users.

Smart transportation and intelligent communication network of things, wireless connection technologies for courier service business .

4. Managing network costs 

Effective bandwidth management, informed by NetFlow data, can prevent unnecessary expenditures on bandwidth upgrades by identifying and addressing non-critical traffic that consumes network resources. You can also realize cost savings from optimizing existing infrastructure rather than investing in additional capacity that may not be needed.

Use case: Imagine your NetFlow analyzer is telling you bandwidth usage is continuously maxed. Your instinct may be to immediately increase bandwidth availability. But first, you should leverage the data to determine where there may be unnecessary usage. A common example is employees using applications like YouTube or Netflix on the company network. Streaming video content soaks up considerable bandwidth, so blocking these sites on your internal network (if it makes sense for the business) may be a cost-effective solution.  

5. Troubleshooting efficiency 

When network issues arise, pinpointing the exact source can be challenging. A NetFlow analyzer can quickly identify the traffic flows and patterns associated with the problem, assisting with faster diagnosis and resolution, and reducing downtime to improve user satisfaction.

Use case: Let’s say you have a graphic design team that often downloads large creative files through FTP. These files can be so large that they take hours to download, hogging the bandwidth from surrounding employees who need access to the internet. A network analyzer will be able to pinpoint the source of the traffic jam, helping you swiftly identify a solution. 

Key features of NetFlow analyzer software

NetFlow analyzer software comes packed with a suite of features designed to offer network administrators comprehensive insights. These features not only help in day-to-day management, but also in strategic planning for future network capacity and security measures.

Here are some of the key features that make these tools indispensable to IT teams.

Real-time network traffic monitoring

A core feature of NetFlow analyzer software is its ability to monitor network traffic in real time. This allows network administrators to see exactly what is happening at any given moment. By providing a live snapshot of traffic flows, including the source, destination, and volume of data being transferred, administrators can quickly identify and address issues such as congestion, unexpected drops in traffic, or potential security breaches.

Data visualization and reporting capabilities

The thought of analyzing raw data on its own can be overwhelming. But NetFlow analyzers distill data into clear, easy-to-understand visuals. By using a variety of color-coded charts, graphs, and tables, these tools present complex data in a digestible format. 

Customizable reports can be generated to focus on specific aspects of network traffic, such as top talkers (AKA endpoints consuming the most bandwidth), application usage, or bandwidth consumption over time.

These visual reports not only make it easier for administrators to analyze and understand network behavior, but also facilitate communication with non-technical stakeholders, like executive teams, by presenting information in a clear and concise manner.

Application breakdown for netflow traffic shown through Auvik TrafficInsights

Customizable alerts and notifications

With the sheer volume of data flowing through networks, manually monitoring every potential issue can be a challenge. Some NetFlow analyzers address this by offering customizable alerts. Administrators can set thresholds for various metrics, such as bandwidth usage or traffic volume from a specific IP address. When these thresholds are crossed, the software automatically triggers an alert, notifying the relevant administrator. This proactive approach ensures that potential problems are flagged early, allowing for speedy action to mitigate issues.

Historical data analysis for trend prediction and capacity planning

NetFlow analyzers can play a key role in long-term network strategy through historical data analysis. By storing and analyzing traffic data, your IT team can identify trends in network usage, predict future demands, and plan for capacity upgrades accordingly. This predictive analysis is invaluable for ensuring that the network can meet the evolving needs of your organization, preventing bottlenecks and making sure that resources are allocated efficiently.

How to use NetFlow analyzer software

Before you can reap the rewards NetFlow analyzers have to offer, you’ll need to learn how to optimally configure the software and how to leverage it from day to day.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to get started. 

  1. Setup and configuration: First, you’ll need to set up your NetFlow analyzer software and configure it to receive NetFlow data. This typically involves specifying the network devices (such as routers and switches) that will send NetFlow data to the software. In Auvik’s TrafficInsights, this involves enabling flow on a device by adding the IP address for the Auvik collector to the device’s configuration, and then approving the device for flow data.
  2. Data collection: Once configured, the NetFlow analyzer starts collecting data. TrafficInsights, for instance, will begin to aggregate and analyze traffic flows in real-time, collecting information on source and destination IPs, port numbers, protocol types, and more.
  3. Analysis: With the data collected, TrafficInsights will analyze the flow of traffic across the network. This includes identifying top talkers, pinpointing bandwidth hogs, and detecting any unusual patterns that could indicate security concerns.
  4. Visualization: TrafficInsights then presents the analyzed data through various graphs, charts, and tables, making it easy for administrators to understand network behavior. These visualizations can show traffic trends, usage patterns, and more, helping to quickly highlight areas of interest.
netflow analyzer software shown through graph in Auvik TrafficInsights
  1. Reporting: Armed with detailed visuals and reports in hand, you can share valuable insights with stakeholders on network performance, security incidents, and other critical metrics. This is particularly helpful when your network team needs to make the case for infrastructure upgrades or investment in security measures. 
  2. Action and optimization: Armed with your new insights, your IT team can take action to optimize network performance. This may involve reconfiguring network devices, updating security protocols, or planning for capacity expansion. We recommend performing a detailed audit and extracting actionable takeaways from your NetFlow analyzer on a regular basis. User a consistent interval that makes sense for your business. 

How to select the best NetFlow analyzer software

With so many tools available on the market, how do you know you’re picking the best NetFlow analyzer for your business?

Here are a few factors to take into consideration when making your decision. 

Ease of use

As employees come and go on your IT team, the last thing you need is software with a steep learning curve and slow pace of adoption. That’s why an intuitive interface and straightforward setup process are essential. The best NetFlow analyzer software will allow your network administrators to start monitoring quickly, with minimal training required. Look for tools that offer clear navigation, easy configuration, and accessible support resources.

Data visualization capabilities

Effective data visualization is key to interpreting network traffic data. Choose software that offers a range of visualization options such as graphs, charts, and heat maps. This will help you quickly identify trends, spot anomalies, and understand your network’s performance at a glance. This is key for presenting information to non-technical leaders in the company. 

Geolocation tracking 

Geolocation features can add a valuable layer of context to your network traffic analysis, allowing you to see where traffic originates and where it’s headed geographically. TrafficInsights displays real-time traffic source and destination data in a simple world map. If you identify traffic going to or originating from an unauthorized or unexpected country, you can dig deeper to verify if it’s legitimate or malicious, and take necessary security steps.


Having to toggle between your existing network management platform and your NetFlow analyzer is impractical. Instead, look for a software that seamlessly integrates with your network management toolset. TrafficInsights, for example, can be launched directly within your Auvik Network Management dashboard. This gives you a clean, simple solution—all in one central location. 

Navigate network traffic like a pro 

Invaluable intel makes NetFlow analyzers the unsung heroes of network management. Armed with knowledge and next steps , you’re one step closer to using NetFlow to create a network that runs like a well-oiled machine.

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