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Networks Grow (It's What They Do)


Network Growth

Did you hear about the scorpion who asked the frog for a ride across the river? Of course, the frog denied his request at first saying, “If I let you on my back, you will bite me and I will die.” The scorpion replied, “I promise I will not bite you if you would please give me a ride.” The frog relented and the scorpion hopped on. In the middle of the river, the scorpion bit the frog. The frog cried out, “Why did you do that? Now we both will die.” The scorpion replied, “I am a scorpion, that is what I do.”


Certain events are predestined to happen regardless of whether we plan for them or not. Networks grow, it is what they do. So, it is better to plan ahead for eventual growth than to be caught off guard.


Greenfield Networks

In early planning sessions for new networks, conversations center around real estate, hub locations, network topology, cloud usage assessment, switches, routers, and tools for monitoring and security. Often neglected in the initial design plan is visibility connectivity. That is how to best connect and utilize specialized tools for monitoring and security.

Network tools can be connected to links in a few different ways such as direct connection, SPAN ports, and Network TAPs. Here are the differences and potential issues with each:

  • Direct Connect - Connecting tools directly on links carries the risk of losing live traffic if the unit goes offline. Maintenance becomes difficult because you need to take the link down to perform updates on each tool. It is expensive. Putting all the specialized tools needed to support every link can quickly break the budget. Directly connecting multiple tools in series on a link can reduce overall network reliability and availability.


  • SPAN Ports - Switched Port Network Access (SPAN) ports are readily available on switches. However, they are not designed for use with many types of tools. There is limited access to usually two ports per switch. Increased power consumption and doubling of internal switch traffic can be troublesome to switch management and to the budget. The accuracy of mirrored data is an issue due to randomly dropped packets during busy hours. SPAN ports also do not pass errors, runts, and dropped packets which can cause accuracy issues when using data for diagnostics or network planning.


  • Network TAPs - Using TAPs as an independent connection for visibility tools has many advantages. TAPs can aggregate traffic on underutilized links allowing multiple links to be connected to a single tap. This can be a big cost-saving feature in large networks. TAPs can connect to copper or fiber optic links. Optical taps require no power and very little rack space. This can reduce the overall cost of deploying tools. TAPs provide fail-safe connections keeping live network traffic flowing during times of maintenance, power, or other issues that may require tools to go offline. TAPs can regenerate data and send it to multiple tools which can be a big cost saver when designing visibility tools into your network.


Choosing the right fools and the best method for connecting tools is an important piece of the network design process. It is also critical to plan for the inevitable growth of the network while developing the original plan. However, growing existing networks also requires a coordinated plan for visibility to prevent a slow march to an unmanageable situation.


Network Growth

Messy server room

As discussed in the introduction, networks grow. Any network design plan should include a path for network growth. A visibility strategy should be part of that growth plan. When networks grow in a piecemeal fashion, it is tempting to just add a link here or there as the momentary demand requires. However, growth without a plan can become expensive and create a management nightmare.


Network Critical is a TAP innovator and one of the original designers of permanent, reliable, and manageable visibility for networks large and small. Utilizing network TAPs in the original network design has many advantages. One major benefit of planning for port access early on is to prevent the rat's nest scenario pictured here.


Diverse Visibility Tools

Not long ago, traffic visibility was thought of as a temporary diagnostic tool and nothing more. Network engineers would “tap” a line and look at the traffic when trouble was reported on a link. When the reported problem was fixed, the tech would move on to where ever the next problem was reported. There were not many tools available for proactive, permanent traffic visibility enabling ongoing network management and planning.


Network Critical changed the industry with the introduction of the SmartNA, a permanent, reliable, and safe way to connect network management tools. Today, there are a wide variety of network tools for diagnostics, planning, monitoring, performance enhancement, compliance, and of course, security. In fact, network security alone uses many specialized tools to protect against varying and ever-changing #cyberattacks.


Network Critical TAPs continue to grow and adapt to the ever-evolving marketplace for visibility tools. Intelligent features such as aggregation, regeneration, mapping, filtering, and Graphical User Interface based management are being used by networks large and small. Governments, financial institutions, education, hospitals, and other enterprises count on Network Critical technology to manage and secure their networks. Small businesses are included as well. Innovative network visibility products are available for small local networks using 100Mbps links to complex global cloud networks running 100Gbps to 400Gbps links.


There is more detail available on the wide variety of visibility products at www.networkcritical.com/contact-us. There are also network visibility experts available to discuss your design ideas and help include traffic management and security tool access into your existing growth plans. Plan for growth early on and you can prevent out-of-control growth scenarios that can be expensive and cumbersome to correct down the road.



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