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Network issues are inevitable, but ineffective alert management can make them a nightmare. Studies show that 66% of SecOps professionals are concerned about wasting time chasing false positives, and half fear their team members will feel overwhelmed by alerts.

Quickly identifying and responding to issues is critical. That’s why network monitoring alerts have become essential tools for businesses aiming to maintain network health and security.

Best practices for network alert management include the strategic use of policy templates and the optimization of notification channels. It’s also imperative to continuously refine alert policies to stay on top of network changes and emerging threats.

Stop wasting time chasing ghosts! In this article, I’ll share data-driven tactics to silence the irrelevant chatter and ensure you only get pinged for real emergencies (before your CTO does!).

What are Network Monitoring Alerts?

Network monitoring alerts are automated notifications triggered by anomalies or specific conditions in a network's performance, health, or security. Unlike continuous monitoring, which collects and analyzes data to provide insights into network operations, alerts are designed to prompt immediate action and ensure timely response to potential issues.

Alerts and notifications play a crucial role in proactive network management. Alerts enable network operators to address problems before they escalate, maintaining optimal network performance and reliability.

Understanding the distinction between monitoring and alerts is vital to effective network management. While monitoring continuously tracks and analyzes network data to provide insights, alerts serve as targeted signals that indicate when attention is needed. At their best, alerts are proactive. They detect issues and enable timely interventions to prevent network disruptions.

In this article, I'll share strategies for optimizing your alert system for clarity, relevance, and effectiveness, ensuring network operators can maintain high performance and reliability in their networks.

Best Practices for Network Alert Management

Here are seven best practices for managing alerts and notifications in today's complex network monitoring environments.

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1. Define Clear and Actionable Alert Thresholds

In network operations, the effectiveness of an alerting system hinges on its ability to separate the ordinary from the extraordinary, ensuring that every alert warrants attention. Establishing clear and actionable alert thresholds is not merely a best practice but the cornerstone of a robust network monitoring strategy. Conceptually, thresholds are the dividing line between normal and abnormal network behavior. They represent the point at which some signal veers from "normal" into the realm of the unusual or critical.

Setting these thresholds is both an art and a science, requiring a deep understanding of the network's normal operational parameters and the ability to anticipate potential anomalies. The goal is to create a finely tuned system that balances sensitivity and specificity: Sensitive enough to detect genuine issues early on, yet specific enough to avoid the cacophony of false alarms that lead to alert fatigue.

A network observability solution can simplify this process with its dynamic thresholding capabilities, powered by advanced analytics and historical data analysis. This approach allows for thresholds that are not static; they evolve with your network.

By analyzing patterns and trends in historical data, the solution can discern what constitutes normal behavior for your network and adjust thresholds in real time to reflect this understanding. This dynamic adjustment is crucial in today's ever-changing network environments, where yesterday's norms may not apply today.

What Does Normal Behavior Look Like For Your Network?

One of the main strengths of a network observability solution is its ability to leverage historical baselines for setting thresholds. This means thresholds are based on a deep analysis of what's typical for your specific network rather than relying on arbitrary or fixed values. This historical perspective ensures that alerts are triggered by significant deviations in the context of your network's normal operations, improving the relevance of each alert.

For example, a sudden spike in traffic might be routine for a retail network during a sale event but could signify a DDoS attack for a corporate network during off-hours. A network observability solution with intelligent thresholding understands these nuances, ensuring the resulting alerts are meaningful and warrant attention.

2. Tame the Noise: Silence Irrelevant Alerts with Context and Automation

Alert fatigue is real. Your team leads are drowning in a sea of notifications, and critical issues get lost in the chaos. Silence the irrelevant chatter with a network observability solution that uses historical data and machine learning to set dynamic thresholds. This lets you focus on real anomalies, not everyday fluctuations. Plus, automate pre-defined actions for common issues. Imagine traffic surging on a specific link during peak hours. Reroute it automatically, saving your team precious war room time.

3. Actionable Insights, Not Just Information Overload

Let's face it: traditional alerts are often vague and unhelpful. Your CTOs need actionable insights, not cryptic messages. A modern network observability solution goes beyond just triggering alerts. It provides context, pinpointing the root cause and suggesting remediation steps. Imagine an alert about latency spikes. The solution pinpoints the exact switch and provides historical graphs to identify potential bottlenecks. Actionable intel, not just another data point to chase.

4. Speak the Language Your Teams Understand: Customizable Dashboards and Integrations

A one-size-fits-all approach to network monitoring doesn't work. Your security team needs different insights than your network engineers. Empower your teams with customizable dashboards that surface the metrics most relevant to their role. And ditch the data silos. Integrate your network observability solution with tools like ticketing systems and team chat platforms. This streamlines workflows and keeps everyone on the same page, reducing finger-pointing and speeding up resolution times.

5. Future-Proof Your Network: Continuously Adapt and Learn

Networks are dynamic, and threats are constantly evolving. Static alert configurations quickly become outdated. A cutting-edge network observability solution uses AI and machine learning to continuously analyze network behavior. It identifies new patterns and adjusts thresholds and alerts in real time. This proactive approach ensures your network stays ahead of the curve, adapting to new traffic patterns and potential security risks before they become major headaches.

Best Network Monitoring Software

Tame the noise with our top picks!

Tools to Consider

The constant flow of network data can be overwhelming. Without effective monitoring and alerts, identifying and resolving network issues becomes a time-consuming guessing game. Network monitoring tools provide valuable insights into your network health, allowing you to proactively address potential problems before they disrupt operations. 

But with many options available, choosing the right tool can feel daunting. Here are some popular network monitoring alert systems to consider:

  • Open source options:
    • Nagios: A popular open-source monitoring platform with a wide range of plugins and integrations. It’s highly customizable and has a large user community.
    • Zabbix: An established open source option known for its scalability and flexibility. Its ability to monitor various network devices and metrics is crucial.
    • Prometheus: A modern open source solution gaining traction, known for its efficient data storage and querying capabilities using PromQL. (It also integrates with Grafana for visualization).
  • Commercial options:
    • Datadog: A comprehensive monitoring platform that offers network monitoring alongside application performance monitoring (APM) and security features. It's easy to use and offers a centralized view of all your IT data.
    • SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM): A well-regarded commercial solution with a strong focus on network monitoring. Key are its deep network visibility and automated alerting features.
    • LogicMonitor: A popular paid option that offers network monitoring alongside infrastructure and application monitoring capabilities. Scalability + its multi-tenant architecture is well-suited for managed service providers (MSPs).

Beyond these general options, specialized tools exist for specific needs, like network traffic analysis (NTA) with tools like ntopng or flow analyzers for in-depth packet inspection. 

Remember, the best tool aligns with your unique network size, budget, technical expertise, and desired features.

Empower Your Network, Don’t Just Monitor It

By implementing these best practices for network alert management, you can transform your network monitoring system from a reactive tool to a proactive guardian. 

A solid network anticipates issues before they disrupt operations, empowers teams with actionable insights, and frees them from the burden of alert fatigue.

Take control of your network and achieve operational excellence. Subscribe to The CTO Club’s Newsletter for more best practices for network monitoring.

Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders

As a data-driven content strategist, editor, writer, and community steward, Katie helps technical leaders win at work. Her 14 years of experience in the tech space makes her well-rounded to provide technical audiences with expert insights and practical advice through Q&As, Thought Leadership, Ebooks, etc.