Network assessments: an illustration of a heatmap diagram over a floorplan

What is a network assessment? A network assessment is a thorough review of your current network infrastructure with the goals of identifying any current network problems, any signs of performance issues, and opportunities for improvement or optimization of your network.

What are the goals of a network assessment?

Network assessments are a risk assessment tool in which organizations collect data regarding the health of their local network. Network assessments include overviews of security, compliance, performance, and optimization.

The goals of a network assessment include the following:

  • Effectively Designing Networks: As offices expand and remote workers become the norm, an organization must regularly assess their new or existing WiFi infrastructure to inform design decisions around network configurations, such as access point placement, spikes in usage, and differing network demands in various locations.
  • Measuring and Understanding Performance Metrics: Enterprise networks handle large traffic volumes, including high-volume data transfers, video conferencing, and file-sharing. With this much activity, and with potentially dozens, if not hundreds, of users on the network simultaneously, performance is of the utmost importance. A network assessment can help organizations understand performance bottlenecks, poor configuration issues, or other problems that hinder network use.
  • Monitoring Network Traffic: Network traffic is a critical function of security, compliance, and enterprise analytics. Understanding network traffic helps businesses better optimize their network systems to support high-performance network design and usage.
  • Evaluating and Cataloging Security Controls: Another facet of compliance is creating inventories of security controls. Most compliance frameworks include some requirement for maintaining a record of security controls and network safety, and regular assessment supports that requirement. Beyond compliance, having a clear understanding of network security makes maintaining that security that much more effective.
  • Comparing Network Configurations Against Compliance Requirements: As noted, regulations often require some catalog of implemented security controls. Furthermore, compliance frameworks also often require reports of network configurations, including updates, patches, automation, and communication technologies and protocols. Performing a network assessment can support this.

An organization can perform their own assessments; However, given the magnitude of managing reviews for enterprise networks, a third-party network and security vendor is still the best form of support.

What are some important metrics in network analysis?

Several factors play into network architecture and design, and several such metrics play a role in informing design decisions. Therefore, network assessments focus on several different metrics that can inform decision-making in these areas.

These metrics include the following:

  • Packet Loss: A "packet" is the smallest unit of information in network communications. Whenever a computer connects to a server or sends data to another computer, it does so through a series of packets.

During communications, it's not uncommon for some packets to go missing during transmission. This event, known as "packet loss," can occur for a variety of reasons, including network congestion, bugs in software, or security problems. In smaller amounts, systems can correct for packet loss, but as more packets are lost, users may experience slow network performance, lost data, or the inability to connect with servers or applications.

If a network is experiencing a significant slowdown, it could be assessed by locating packet loss issues.

  • Latency: When one computer communicates with another, it usually involves connections and responses. Latency measures the time in milliseconds between a user interaction with a system or application and its response. Latency is often a key metric in online gaming, where the time between user input and action in the game must be almost instantaneous.

Latency is also an important metric for business apps like video conferencing and has become increasingly crucial for cloud-based software-as-a-service apps that replace traditional desktop software.

  • Jitter: As packets travel through the internet, they do so at regular intervals. Jitter is the variance in those intervals—higher jitter is associated with longer intervals. More jitter can impact video and voice transmissions, causing poor reception, audio dropping, and warped sound and video profiles.
  • Bandwidth and Throughput: Bandwidth is the maximum transmission capacity, and throughput is the number of packets that successfully arrive at their destination during network communication. When both are high, it's a good sign that the network can handle high-volume transfers with relative stability and reliability.
  • Device Availability: A healthy network will have all or most devices (routers, switches, etc.) available to handle network traffic. Suppose the network has several devices out of commission or simply performs poorly. In that case, it is a sign of poor network health.

Adverse impacts to availability, throughput, latency, or packet retention can cause significant connectivity issues that network assessments can uncover.

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What are some of the tools used in network assessments?

There are a few key tools that assessors will use to monitor and assess a network effectively:

  • General-Purpose Network Assessment Tools: All-in-one tools will cover various metrics, including network performance, security, asset inventory, and monitoring, while providing visualizations for operators to manage the assessment and reporting.
  • Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity vulnerability scanners can catch surface-level and deeper vulnerabilities in network configurations while conducting tests on network aspects like traffic health, data encryption, and security policy creation.
  • Traffic Analyzers: Traffic analyzers look at traffic on wireless LANs (local area networks) to see how devices are drawing traffic and where from.
  • Availability Tools: Some scanners can help admins discover gaps in WiFi coverage, much like a heat map.

A complete network assessment using different combinations of tools can support optimal network design, help remediate security and compliance issues, and eliminate performance bottlenecks that hamper an enterprise organization's operation. 

While these tools can help provide reports on metrics and performance, they cannot substitute for expert analysis of these issues. An effective network analysis will include studying network states over time and using historical data to provide insights into how to optimize the network best. They can also give critical information to troubleshooting network problems, from obvious ones like malfunctioning devices to more subtle issues with jitter and packet loss. 

Get expert network assessment and design from Meter

Network assessment is a critical part of installing or updating physical and technical network designs. And, unlike network installations for homes or small offices, enterprise offices rely on high-performance network architecture to support business-grade internet service and high-use WiFi across their large offices.

Meter can help small-to-midsize businesses and enterprise businesses alike with network assessments, customized network designs and complete or partial implementations. If your organization is interested in installing a new network infrastructure or updating existing architecture, request a Meter network design.

If you have any questions or feedback, please let us know — we’d love to hear from you.

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