Network visibility includes gaining insight into connected devices, applications, data flows and user behaviors. Comprehensive visibility enables early threat detection, performance optimizations, regulatory compliance, and more.

However, achieving sufficient network visibility is becoming increasingly difficult for most organizations. Networks are more complex, with more endpoints, data volumes, and security risks than ever before.

Key statistics paint a picture of the visibility challenge:

  • 86% of IT teams now support a hybrid workforce across a patchwork of home and office networks, leading to visibility gaps (Auvik)
  • 67% of businesses say network blind spots are a top obstacle to data protection efforts (Vanson Bourne)
  • Only 33% of businesses actively monitor internal network activity and user behaviors (UK Cyber Security Breaches Survey)
  • 54% of organizations fail to understand cyber vulnerability in their supply chain sufficiently (World Economic Forum)

This data highlights how network visibility is imperative but lacking. As modern networks span third parties, cloud services, and remote workers on unmanaged networks, “last mile” connections increasingly fall outside IT’s control and monitoring capabilities.

So how can we adapt to modern work’s new rules in order to still achieve comprehensive network visibility?

This article discusses what fundamental aspects remain unchanged, as well as problem areas IT teams need to address—from gaps in data collection to lack of insight into external networks. We’ll also share best practices for overcoming common challenges so you can maximize eyes on the network, along with showcasing leading network visibility tools purpose-built for today’s distributed networks.

But first, let’s start with the basics.

What is network visibility?

modern network chart

In the IT ecosystem, we see a lot of buzzwords floating around, so it’s only natural to wonder, what is network visibility? Is it the same as observability?

As Andrew Lerner points out in this blog post for Gartner, “Network observability is largely a buzzword, with no concrete definition beyond network visibility. It’s not meaningfully different from what has long been available in NPMD products.”

“Observability” is often used by writers who are trying to grab the reader’s attention. But, as you break down the true meaning of observability, the term observability provides advantages beyond what we traditionally think of as “monitoring and visibility.”

In practice, many IT professionals use these terms interchangeably, and for the most part, that’s perfectly fine. At the end of the day, network visibility means having complete awareness of all relevant data points to properly monitor, manage, and maintain the network.

Why is network visibility important?

There are several crucial reasons why comprehensive network visibility has become so vital for modern organizations:

Security and threat detection

With network visibility, security teams can identify threats and anomalies more quickly by monitoring traffic patterns, unauthorized connection attempts, anomalous user behavior and more. Complete visibility enables early threat detection and rapid incident response. As attacks grow more advanced and targeted, visibility is key to keeping pace.

Vulnerabilities and blind spots

Blind spots obscure threats living within a network, creating unnecessary risk and giving attackers time to inflict more damage. Sufficient visibility minimizes blind spots and makes it easier to identify vulnerabilities—from unpatched systems to device misconfigurations. Organizations can then proactively resolve security gaps before they are targeted.

Regulatory compliance

Regulations often require the ability to monitor access to sensitive data, protect information, respond to incidents, and more. Visibility helps ensure organizations can comply with key mandates around handling restricted data types, monitoring user activity, and exhibiting appropriate control over information security.

Cybersecurity insurance requirements

Robust network visibility enables organizations to meet typical cybersecurity insurance requirements around security controls, infrastructure documentation, and incident response. It provides the foundational proof of security posture and readiness insurers demand in applications. Strong visibility also ensures timely threat detection and response to support successful claims. 

Network performance

By understanding traffic flows and data usage trends, network teams can use visibility to pinpoint congestion, misconfigured systems, bottlenecks, and other performance issues. Visibility enables a proactive versus reactive approach to network troubleshooting, as well as future planning, helping IT optimize network and application efficiency.

Business continuity and resilience

Visibility tools provide insight into overall network health and availability of business-critical systems. This helps minimize downtime from outages, performance problems and other issues that might disrupt key services and workflows for the business. Maintaining visibility is crucial for continuity.

How does a distributed network affect visibility?

visual of city skyline that goes interconnected network visibility

The rise of distributed  networks has greatly impacted network visibility for IT teams. Employees now access networks and applications outside the office walls, including home Wi-Fi, hotspots, and other connections not in IT’s control.

While these ubiquitous distributed  networks enable flexible work, they severely limit visibility due to:

  • Increased complexity: The distributed and dynamic nature of the remote work environment presents a more complex ecosystem for IT to achieve visibility across.
  • Heightened security risks: Remote employees may not secure their personal networks well enough, creating risks. The wide array of access points makes it harder for IT to have security oversight.
  • Lack of management capability: The various external networks and remote access points are often not managed by IT, presenting limits on data access and troubleshooting capability.

Resulting visibility issues include more blind spots obscuring portions of the network and less insight into performance issues impacting remote employees

Comprehensive visibility across this emerging distributed landscape depends on key adaptations:

Data collection protocols

A shift to include more modern REST APIs and other protocols, along with SNMP, can help extract data from an array of SaaS apps, personal devices, and across dispersed network environments. Transitioning visibility systems to support API-based collection is crucial.

Data collection sources

IT must move beyond relying only on agency-managed devices for visibility data inputs. Multi-source collection from various applications, vendor portals, user endpoints, and network equipment itself is imperative for greater clarity across all internal and external user access points.

External network visibility 

Monitoring systems must enable IT to easily gain granular, actionable visibility not just into core agency network health, but also broader performance issues impacting parts of the distributed network IT does not manage. Quick identification of poorly performing segments and troubleshooting power for remote employee problems is core.

Network visibility challenges

Modern IT environments present multiple complex obstacles to attaining comprehensive network visibility across distributed infrastructure and external access points, including:

Remote workforce limitations

The rise of remote work has introduced major visibility limitations as employees access networks from home Wi-Fi networks, public hotspots, and other external connections. Traditional network monitoring tools like SNMP, NetFlow, and IPFIX often do not function well in these last mile network environments outside of IT’s control.

As previously mentioned, 86% of IT teams now support a hybrid workforce across an intricate web of network access points. This leads to substantial visibility gaps and blind spots.

Remote users may be utilizing VPNs, which provide security but lack visibility compared to on-premises systems. SaaS apps and direct cloud access further obscure visibility. The dissolving network perimeter makes it hard to monitor all enterprise traffic flows. IT teams need updated solutions to gain visibility into remote employees across diverse access mediums.

Encrypted traffic growth

The dramatic increase in encryption further hampers network visibility efforts. Encrypted traffic now accounts for over 96% of traffic across Google. The contents of these encrypted sessions are completely obscured from existing monitoring tools, which cannot decrypt the flows for inspection.

While encryption provides critical data security, it also potentially conceals malicious activities, including intrusions, data exfiltration, malware communications, and more. In fact, a Zscaler report from 2021 revealed that 80% of attacks employed encrypted channels, a figure which has likely increased since. 

This means IT teams need network visibility solutions that allow selective decryption of encrypted traffic for threat monitoring without compromising security.

Multi-cloud adoption

Expanding adoption of multi-cloud environments creates major blind spots. According to a study conducted by 451 Research and commissioned by Oracle Cloud Infrastructure in 2023, 98% of enterprises use or intend to use at least two providers of cloud infrastructure, while 31% use four or more. The same report revealed that 96% of respondents were using or intended to use a minimum of two cloud application providers (SaaS), while 45% used cloud apps from five or more vendors. 

Cloud platforms have distinct protocols, perimeter security controls, and traffic flows that limit monitoring. IT tools configured for on-prem environments often cannot adapt to the cloud. The widespread use of cloud access and SaaS apps at remote locations further obscures visibility. IT needs better cloud monitoring integration to stitch together visibility across cloud and on-prem segments.

IoT expansion

The explosion of IoT devices on enterprise networks dramatically expands the visibility challenge. International Data Corporation predicts approximately 55.7 billion IoT devices will be in use by 2025. This massive influx of connected devices is largely unmanaged, insecure, and lacks visibility standards.

Tracking and monitoring such a deluge of IoT devices with existing tools is infeasible. IoT also increases dynamic network changes, high volumes of traffic, and reliance on remote access networks outside IT’s purview. Adapting visibility architectures is crucial.

Legacy tool limitations

Many legacy network monitoring tools and appliances face inherent limitations that hinder visibility in modern networks. Constraints include insufficient traffic processing capabilities, inability to scale across growing networks, and lack of flexibility beyond limited metrics.

As network speed, complexity, and distributed components grow exponentially, legacy tools cannot keep pace. Blind spots increase as critical data goes unmonitored. IT teams need more advanced, adaptable platforms that can provide full visibility across the entire hybrid infrastructure.

Virtual network complexities

The shift to virtual networks has also complicated visibility by increasing unmonitored east-west traffic between virtual resources. Traditional tapping and monitoring was designed for physical north-south traffic flows.

The virtual network fabric contains inter-VM traffic and microservices communications that cannot be captured by legacy tools. A lack of standards around virtual network visibility also creates challenges that require purpose-built solutions for this evolving network.

7 best practices for achieving network visibility

Building robust network visibility across today’s complex hybrid environments requires careful planning and strategic implementation of the right tools and approaches.

This includes:

1. Implement adaptive visibility architecture

The underlying visibility infrastructure needs to be flexible and adaptive in order to dynamically adjust as the network environment evolves. Rigid legacy tools and hardware appliances often lack the agility to sustainably scale out monitoring capabilities.

Instead, look to deploy more modern software-based visibility platforms that can seamlessly add cloud-based monitoring nodes without costly hardware upgrades. Cloud-managed solutions give visibility architecture the scalability and flexibility needed to keep pace with network growth and transformation.

2. Strategically collect traffic data

Gaining full network visibility starts with collecting traffic data from strategic points that offer insight into critical network segments. Rather than trying to monitor every single packet source, carefully select data collection points that balance visibility needs with scalability.

Methods like network TAPs and SPAN ports are great options for copying and forwarding select traffic to monitoring tools without impacting network performance. Properly placed data collection gives tools the flows they need to reconstruct and analyze traffic from across the network.

3. Enable SSL/TLS decryption

With most traffic now being encrypted, the ability to selectively decrypt encrypted sessions at the edge to inspect contents has become a critical visibility requirement.

Utilizing a proxy-based architecture allows encrypted traffic to be decrypted, examined by tools for threats and performance issues, and then re-encrypted prior to routing it to its destination. This approach maintains security while still allowing visibility into encrypted flows.

Robust encryption key management, access controls, and secure storage for decrypted data are essential elements that must be implemented to ensure security. SSL/TLS decryption capabilities significantly expand monitoring coverage.

4. Integrate with cloud platforms

Most organizations now operate in hybrid environments utilizing both on-prem infrastructure and multi-cloud platforms. Gaining unified visibility requires integration with cloud consoles via APIs to collect crucial logs and metrics.

Cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud offer APIs to pull visibility data like CloudTrail logs, Flow Logs, VPC traffic flows, and detailed performance metrics. Tapping into these cloud data sources provides greater clarity across the entire network environment.

Proactively instrumenting cloud platforms is key to avoiding visibility gaps that could obscure threats and performance issues. Comprehensive visibility in cloud environments takes more than just traditional networking tools.

5. Utilize machine learning analytics

Advanced machine learning and behavioral analysis techniques help visibility platforms detect anomalies and surface smart, meaningful alerts. By establishing contextual baselines for users, devices, and application flows, deviations that may indicate threats or issues can automatically be identified.

Prioritizing actionable insights helps IT teams focus on what matters most. Leveraging ML and behavioral analytics also minimizes false positives and reduces alert fatigue. Visibility platforms should allow for easy customization of detection policies as the network evolves.

6. Monitor remote access points

The rise of remote work has expanded enterprise networks to encompass employee home networks, Wi-Fi hotspots, mobile devices, and other access mediums outside the traditional perimeter. Monitoring these “last mile” connections is vital for comprehensive visibility.

Solutions should have expanded data collection capabilities to capture traffic from diverse remote access points. Gaining visibility into employee experience and performance regardless of location is also important. Visibility architecture must adapt to today’s distributed access requirements.

7. Continuously evaluate emerging solutions

Network environments are constantly evolving, so it’s crucial to continuously re-evaluate visibility tools and practices. New approaches that leverage artificial intelligence, advanced data science, and expanded data collection should be closely tracked.

Comprehensive network visibility is foundational to security, compliance, and performance. Keeping pace with emerging technologies and methodologies enables stronger visibility across the hybrid enterprise.

How network visibility solutions can help

In the new network, visibility means the ability to identify all the “independent systems” that enable your users.

Some of these systems will be fully within your control—where modern network visibility tools can still enable you to efficiently monitor, manage, and maintain these networks. But others will have more unknowns, where network monitoring tools will enable you to identify all that you can about those systems.

Comprehensive network visibility will enable you to see these systems working together and provide you the ability to isolate issues to, at minimum, a single system. Modern network visibility tools, like Auvik Network Management, give you the ability to gather data from a variety of sources, including devices, applications, and vendors, and to analyze that data in real-time. It also gives you the ability to quickly identify and isolate issues so that you can keep your network running smoothly and securely.

Here are some of the ways Auvik can help you achieve comprehensive network visibility in complex modern work environments.

Automated mapping and documentation

Auvik helps you visualize the network with auto-discovery and topology mapping in real-time, eliminating secrets on the network and helping you troubleshoot faster. It discovers all devices and connections to build layered topology visualization. This eliminates manual diagramming and ensures documentation stays up to date. Detailed hardware lifecycle data enables easy identification of outdated gear due for replacement.

Best in class network visibility tools like Auvik enable you to expand the network visibility reach beyond the networking team (i.e. helping with documentation and compliance) through network map exports. This includes standard formats like VSDX, PDF, and SVG, which makes Auvik a great resource point for network planning and diagram creation.

Sophisticated monitoring and alerting

For proactive monitoring, Auvik provides customizable alerts, syslog centralization, and specialized tools like VPN usage tracking and internet connection checking. These features facilitate rapid response to issues before they cause outages. Remote access via integrated terminal and tunneling enables troubleshooting without truck rolls.

Traffic analysis for visibility

Auvik’s TrafficInsights leverages machine learning to provide application visibility, bandwidth hog detection, and geo-location tracking. Detailed flow data aids in-depth troubleshooting and optimization. This advanced analysis grants comprehensive visibility.

Configuration backup and integrations

Device configurations are automatically backed up every 60 minutes to maintain version history. Changes can be easily compared. Integrations with ITSM tools and APIs further enhance capabilities.

With automation, advanced visibility, scalability and integrations, Auvik empowers IT teams to optimize network management across distributed, multi-site environments.

To further explore how the platform can help, check out Auvik’s network visibility report.

Conquering the growing network visibility gap

In today’s increasingly complex and distributed network environments, attaining robust visibility is more crucial than ever yet also more challenging. While fundamental visibility tenets remain unchanged, new obstacles have emerged that IT teams must address.

Key problem areas include visibility gaps introduced by remote work, growing encryption, multi-cloud adoption, IoT expansion, and legacy tool limitations. These issues create dangerous blind spots within hybrid infrastructure that obscure threats, performance problems, and vulnerabilities.

To achieve comprehensive visibility, organizations need to re-architect monitoring systems for enhanced flexibility, expanded data collection capabilities, and tighter cloud integration. Strategically tapping traffic, enabling SSL decryption, and leveraging machine learning analytics also facilitate greater visibility into all network activity and encrypted traffic.

Continuously evaluating and deploying emerging visibility approaches is essential to keep pace with modern networks in constant flux. Purpose-built solutions like Auvik provide the automated documentation, sophisticated monitoring, robust integrations, and adaptive analytics needed for full visibility across the hybrid enterprise.

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