As a managed services provider (MSP), you need fast, remote access to your customers’ networks and accurate insights into their infrastructure—enter Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP).
SNMP is one of the most common network monitoring protocols in existence today. But what is SNMP monitoring? SNMP monitoring helps MSPs manage customer servers, as well as a slew of network hardware including modems, routers, access points, switches, and even printers. With the right SNMP monitoring tool in-hand, MSPs can gain in-depth network and bandwidth metrics—data that is integral to the health, security, and overall performance of their customers’ networks.
SNMP Key Concepts and Terms
We know SNMP stands for Simple Network Management Protocol, but there are several more acronyms and terms to get acquainted with before we address how SNMP works, and why it’s so valuable. Here are the top four terms to know:
- Object Identifiers (OID): An OID is a group of numbers separated by a random array of dots. These groupings form an ID address used to identify a device and its status or value. OIDs can be used in SNMP to monitor non-standard devices through the creation of a custom poller.
- Management Information Base (MIBs): An MIB is a database of network objects. Performance monitoring tools typically use SNMP monitoring to poll the MIBs on your devices to gain critical performance metrics and translate numerical OIDs into text-based OIDs.
- SNMP Polling: Polling, as mentioned above, is directly related to the MIB. In SNMP polling, a network managed station retrieves MIB variables for status updates during regularly scheduled intervals.
- SNMP Traps: SNMP traps are automatic alerts sent from a remote agent to the SNMP management station when an important event, such as a device overheating or a server crash, is detected.
How Does SNMP Monitoring Work?
SNMP monitoring relies on a client-server model in which the server is the monitor or manager responsible for aggregating and analyzing data from clients. The clients, on the other hand, are the devices—switches, routers, printers, etc.—that are connected to the network and monitored by the server. Once an SNMP agent is installed, it transmits messages between the central alarm master (an SNMP manager) and the vast array of devices on a network. This allows for more seamless exchange of information between the server and its clients.
Before information can be exchanged, the SNMP manager must first identify all devices located on the network. Using SNMP scanners is particularly useful in these situations, as these devices allow MSPs to automatically discover SNMP-enabled devices on their customers’ networks.
Once connected, a flood of data flows between the devices and the SNMP manager, allowing MSPs to better optimize and troubleshoot network device performance. Most SNMP monitoring tools can quickly connect with SNMPv1 and SNMPv2c compatible devices via a plaintext community string, which is used to authenticate packets. A comprehensive tool will even connect with SNMPv3 compatible devices that typically require authentication and encryption.
When it comes to the monitoring portion of SNMP network management, there are two primary SNMP monitoring methods:
- Active Monitoring: During active SNMP monitoring, MSPs send test packets to servers and applications to create artificial network traffic. By examining these test packets and their associated metrics, IT technicians can more quickly determine what’s causing poor performance and other network issues.
- Passive Monitoring: Passive monitoring, as the name suggests, takes a lighter approach to network monitoring. Devices are polled periodically during passive SNMP monitoring, thus allowing for MIB data to be extracted during regularly scheduled intervals.
Why is SNMP Monitoring Important?
When it comes to efficiently and effectively managing your customers’ networks, SNMP network management has you covered. SNMP monitoring is the most frequently used method for gathering information from network devices (routers, switches, firewalls), peripheral devices (printers, copy machines), and even DHCP or Wins. While there are several reasons why SNMP network management is so important, here are the top five:
- It’s Simple: SNMP collects in-depth metrics from all servers, routers, hubs, switches, etc., over an IP network to help MSPs always keep their finger on the pulse of their customers’ network performance. Despite the large amount of information it collects, SNMP makes this process straightforward—this data collection has a minimal impact on daily operations. It’s also easy to install and roll out on your network with the help of a robust SNMP monitoring tool. But don’t be fooled by its simplicity—SNMP network management packs a powerful punch when it comes to helping MSPs keep their networks up and running.
- It’s Efficient: MSPs need to keep track of numerous network devices for many different clients. This is no easy task—even for the most qualified IT professionals. SNMP helps streamline this process by aggregating error reports and organizing them into a log. By consolidating all this information into one easy-to-access location, MSPs are better equipped to identify network performance trends or issues that arise. They can use this information to quickly tackle the problem at hand and alert their customers—an important element when it comes to maintaining a transparent customer-provider relationship.
- It’s Informative: Traffic patterns are constantly in flux, making them difficult to track. As the industry standard protocol in network monitoring, SNMP helps MSPs track network traffic and data transmission in a highly detailed manner. But what does that look like? With SNMP, MSPs gain real-time insights into actual packet information. This moment-by-moment data helps them pinpoint traffic patterns and identify where, when, and why bottlenecks occur. Having this granular data at hand keeps productivity up and running, making for happy customers and, thus, happy IT technicians.
- It’s Protective: In today’s digital era, it seems cyberattackers lurk around every corner, waiting to strike. MSPs must be made aware of impending threats as soon as possible. Fortunately, MSPs can leverage the diagnostic data that SNMP monitoring gathers in real-time—including significant and sudden spikes in traffic—to identify the signs of an attacker entering the infrastructure.
- It’s Effective: Last, but certainly not least, SNMP monitoring is a highly effective way for MSPs to maintain their customers’ network health. With a bird’s-eye view into network bandwidth by months, weeks, days, or even minutes, MSPs can identify exactly where to drill down into their network. This helps them examine the cause of downtime or track periods of uptime to optimize network performance. Beyond bandwidth monitoring, SNMP empowers MSPs to analyze syslog data, traps, events, and alerts to better identify and resolve network performance issues and put plans in place to keep them from recurring.
How to Pick the Right SNMP Monitoring Tools
With so many SNMP monitoring tools on the market, it can be difficult to identify which one will take your SNMP network management processes to new heights. No two tools are the same, and which tool you choose will depend on the unique needs of your business and your customers’ businesses. At a bare minimum, any robust SNMP monitoring tool you choose should offer the following:
- Intelligent Alerts: Platforms that feature SNMP trap receivers are designed to listen for SNMP traps generated by customers’ computers, routers, firewalls, and more. When an event occurs, the SNMP trap receiver logs all relevant data, including the trap type, hostname, IP address, and timing of the event to help MSPs conduct in-depth correlation and analysis. Leveraging this information, a sound SNMP system will let you create and customize network alerts according to your needs, set alerts based on simple or complex nested trigger conditions, define parent/child dependencies, and map out network topology so you always remain abreast of critical network performance.
- Device Discovery: What good is SNMP monitoring if MSPs haven’t sourced all the network devices on their customers’ networks? SNMP polling features within SNMP monitoring tools allow MSPs to scan the network environment and identify all devices, including those from multiple vendors with unique proprietary protocols. But this isn’t simply a one and done ordeal. These SNMP scanners continuously scan the network to identify and add any new devices that enter. They also allow for the creation of dynamic network topology maps that display device performance metrics and help MSPs better visualize network performance.
- Maps and Dashboards: Maps and dashboards are two visual aids that help bring network performance data to life. Customizable dashboards and charts, like network topology maps, consolidate network performance data into one central location, facilitating analysis and helping MSPs drill down into a vast array of performance issues and potential security threats. These dashboards are used to identify key events and issues, like spikes in traffic, bottlenecks, and areas with significant downtime.
- Fault Monitoring: Fault monitoring, in which various errors and suspicious incidents are flagged, allows system administrators to quickly detect and resolve any issues that could put network availability in jeopardy. In most cases, faulty network devices are the result of hardware issues, high errors and discards, extended CPU/memory utilization, and QoS issues that surface. With a comprehensive SNMP monitoring tool, MSPs can quickly view the current node status and identify how critical an error is—and the best next course of action.
The attributes listed here are just a few of the most important SNMP network management qualities MSPs should look for on their hunt for an SNMP monitoring tool. SolarWinds® Remote Monitoring & Management (RMM) is a comprehensive remote monitoring solution that combines all of the IT management tools you need into one dashboard. With the network device monitoring feature, MSPs can easily manage SNMP monitoring alongside other key tools like network path visualization, patch management, and data breach risk intelligence. And as your networks grow in complexity and need to service thousands of devices, SolarWinds N-central® and its NetPath monitoring feature gives you the power to keep up.
Interested in learning more about SNMP monitoring? Explore our product suite to see how you can monitor your network.