Data collection is an essential part of network management to ensure network devices are being efficiently monitored and managed. NetFlow and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) are two widely used techniques for collecting network data.
These two approaches are similar in that they both aim to provide valuable information about network traffic and device status. However, there are distinct differences when it comes to their methods and applications. This article will look at the main features of NetFlow and SNMP to get an idea of how they differ and complement each other.
What are NetFlow and SNMP?
- NetFlow is a widely used network protocol for collecting metadata about the IP traffic flowing across network devices (e.g., routers, switches, and firewalls). Traffic flow data informs a company’s IT professionals as to what is happening on their network, i.e., it tells them how much traffic there is, where it is coming from and going to, and the paths being used).
- SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) is an industry standard used to monitor and manage network devices. It provides a framework for collecting and organizing information about the status and performance of network devices. SNMP uses a client-server architecture, where network devices act as agents and a management station collects and analyzes data.
NetFlow data provides in-depth visibility of your network, helping you optimize performance for better user experiences.
Understand traffic flow to maximize performance. Viewing network-wide IP traffic patterns is extremely useful, for example for tracking traffic coming into the corporate network and identifying your main users.
More accurate growth planning. NetFlow data help you track network traffic to ensure adequate bandwidth capacity and best planning for network growth. This kind of information not only makes it easier to plan for upgrades, but it also makes them more efficient in terms of the number of ports, routing devices and other requirements.
Increase cybersecurity protection. The ability to view changes in network behavior helps your SecOps team to quickly identify anomalies that may indicate a potential cybersecurity breach. These data can also be used to replay the history of a security incident, leading to a better understanding of what happened and how to prevent such a scenario from happening again in the future.
Get information within minutes. Many network devices already have the NetFlow or IPFIX software installed, making it simple to activate and send the resulting data to a NetFlow collector.
Wide compatibility: SNMP is supported on a wide range of network devices from different manufacturers. This allows data to be collected from a variety of diverse devices within a network.
Real-time data collection: With SNMP, data on device status and performance can be collected in real time. Network administrators thus get instant visibility of the networks they manage and can take immediate measures.
Monitoring multiple parameters: SNMP can collect a wide variety of parameters for a network device, including (among others) CPU load, memory usage and used bandwidth. This enables comprehensive monitoring of devices and the network.
Key differences between NetFlow and SNMP
Before NetFlow became available, IT professionals used SNMP – Simple Network Management Protocol to analyze and monitor network traffic. SNMP is still widely used by network administrators to monitor networks.
Unlike NetFlow, SNMP monitors information (CPU, memory, disk, temperature and so on) to collect data for standard network monitoring and capacity planning. SNMP differs from NetFlow in that you can use it to manage networks in real time. However, it doesn’t provide detailed information about bandwidth usage, such as what a network is being used for and by whom.
While NetFlow uses push technology, allowing you to see information as soon as it becomes available, SNMP typically uses pull technology at set intervals.
Given that NetFlow provides more information than SNMP, it is the better option for in-depth traffic analysis and debugging. And the fact that it can provide more data in many areas compared to the SNMP protocol (which is still rudimentary in many ways), makes NetFlow more suitable for complex, high-traffic networks using IP traffic and to detect anomalies. It provides information by filtering traffic and differentiating bandwidth use by protocol or IP. Enabling filtering and differentiation by protocol and application provides a network-wide view of link utilization to the application, whereas SNMP is limited to the interface level.
While both data collection techniques are widely used in industry to find out what is going on in the network, flow protocols like NetFlow are increasingly becoming a standard. They provide data up to layer 7, in a non-intrusive manner for the network, and are compatible with most manufacturers. Furthermore, the information obtained is particularly useful to cybersecurity professionals who can use it to detect potential network attacks.
Teldat’s be.Safe XDR, as a Network Traffic Analysis tool, allows you to closely analyze flows in your network. It provides powerful insight as to what is happening and how to troubleshoot problems through NetFlow/IPFIX collection, making it compatible with any network device (regardless of the manufacturer).