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Monitoring WAN Links – Techniques, Tips, Tools & Software to Monitor Availability, Utilization, & Latency

wan monitoring software and tools

by Aaron Leskiw, CCDA, CCNA, MCSE, ITILv3, MCSA, A+ - Last Updated: October 30, 2023

WAN Monitoring is probably one of the most overlooked management tasks by the Network Ops teams in Small-businesses.

With the rise of more Affordable business class Internet connections and the necessity for backup WAN connections, monitoring Uptime, Availability, Utilization and Latency more important than ever!

Techniques for Monitoring WAN Links

Most business organizations use WAN links to interconnect local area networks (LANs) at geographically dispersed sites.

Over the years, as business organizations continue to grow both nationally and globally, the demand for WAN links has steadily increased.

Call centers, for example, have moved off-shore; distributed computing has replaced large regional data centers; sales offices have expanded to new locations.

As WAN links become integral to the day-to-day operations of the business organizations, the availability and reliability of WAN links has a direct, highly visible impact on business operations, employee productivity, and customer satisfaction.

Cost vs Business Impact

Monitoring WAN links for availability and reliability is essential: business organizations absolutely require continuous uptime, fast response times, and minimal transmission errors.

But the cost of WAN links is also a factor.

A T1 line, which used to be the most common type of WAN link, provides 1.5 megabits-per-second (Mbps) of bandwidth at an average cost of $600 a month.

A T3 line, which offers 45 Mbps of bandwidth, can cost $15,000 a month.

Major ISPs, such as CenturyLink, Comcast, Verizon and even Google Fiber has started to provide 1GB links to customers for a fraction of the cost that we used to pay for a T1 or t3!

Monitoring WAN link utilization can help ensure the business organization is receiving optimal network performance without over investing in network infrastructure.

Due to the cost of leasing a WAN link, it’s often difficult to justify an additional T1 or T3 line unless an existing link is consistently running at 80% utilization or higher.

In theory, the link can run at 100% utilization, which may sound a bit like “getting the most bang for the buck,” but utilization rates fluctuate constantly depending on changes in network traffic.

For example, utilization may be high in the morning when people come to work and read their email or later in the afternoon when customers scramble to submit their orders before going home for the day. And sometimes the network simply gets hit with a lot of traffic.

The point is, when monitoring link utilization, it’s important to allow for “spikes” in network traffic.

Otherwise, if a link is running at 95% utilization, and network traffic spikes, the interface on the WAN router may become overwhelmed and start to drop packets or experience other sub-optimal behavior.

Business application users and customers, in turn, will notice significantly reduced response times and throughput. So it’s crucial to monitor WAN links not only for availability and reliability, but for utilization as well to determine a nominal utilization rate that can withstand spikes without impacting the business organization.

Also, should high utilization rates begin to impact business efficiency, collecting historical data on utilization rates can underscore a business justification for an adding a new WAN link.

Key Metrics

When monitoring WAN links, the three key metrics to consider are:

  1. Availability The “up” or “down” status of a router interface over time (also referred to as “uptime”). High availability (99-100%) indicates the WAN link is fully available to business users. Low availability (less than 95%) may indicate a persistent problem with the router or WAN link.
  2. Utilization The percent of data throughput relative to the maximum capacity of the router interface. Ideally, interface utilization should not exceed 70% or 80%. If utilization is consistently running above 90%, business users may experience reduced performance. Low utilization, on the other hand, indicates the interface is operating well below capacity.
  3. Latency The time it takes in milliseconds for a data packet to travel across the WAN link. High latency means data travels more slowly across the network, which can affect business users. Typically, high latency is caused by network congestion over the WAN link.

WAN Monitoring Tools & Software

There are a number of simple, easy-to-use tools for monitoring WAN links.

As most network managers know, the ping command on a Windows or UNIX computer measures the “round trip” latency across a WAN link by “pinging” a device or computer at the far end of the link.

For example, pinging a computer on the East coast from a computer on the West coast shows the round trip latency for the link, point-to-point, averages 117 milliseconds.

For more detail, the trace route command lists the physical routers that form the WAN link and the number of milliseconds required for each “hop” between routers.

Because most network devices are SNMP-enabled, an SNMP monitoring tool can be used to measure the availability and utilization of the router interfaces that host the WAN link.

For instance, SNMP OID Tracker, a free desktop SNMP tool, can graphically monitor any SNMP MIB-2 object.

Monitoring the ifOperStatus (operational status) object shows the availability or up/down status of the interface, and the ifInOctets (octets in) and ifOutOctets (octets out) objects can be used in conjunction with the ifSpeed (interface speed) object to calculate interface utilization.

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With SolarWinds NPM, you can easily monitor the availability, utilization, and latency (ping response time) of the WAN link from a single view.

Moreover, you can set latency, utilization, and availability thresholds that automatically trigger alarms, email notifications, and other alerts whenever the respective metric exceeds the threshold value, allowing you to take immediate action before business users are affected.

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In today’s world, the availability and reliability of your organization’s WAN links have a direct impact on productivity, customer satisfaction, and profitability.

By deploying an integrated network management solution such as one from above, you can proactively monitor all aspects of your network and deliver the performance your business organization depends on.

WAN Monitoring FAQs

What types of WAN connections can be monitored?

WAN monitoring can be performed on various types of WAN connections, including leased lines, MPLS, VPN, broadband, and cellular.

What are some common WAN performance metrics to monitor?

Common WAN performance metrics to monitor include latency, packet loss, jitter, bandwidth utilization, and application response time.

What are some common WAN security metrics to monitor?

Common WAN security metrics to monitor include unauthorized access attempts, malware infections, and data breaches.

What are some common WAN monitoring tools?

Common WAN monitoring tools include network performance monitoring software, traffic analysis tools, and security monitoring tools.

How often should WAN monitoring be performed?

WAN monitoring should be performed regularly, ideally on a continuous basis, to ensure optimal network performance and security.

What are some best practices for WAN monitoring?

Best practices for WAN monitoring include establishing performance and security baselines, regularly monitoring network performance and security, automating monitoring where possible, and conducting regular network audits and assessments.