Capturing Network Traffic: Definition & Processes

Instructor: Sudha Aravindan

Sudha has a Doctor of Education degree in math education and is currently working as a Information Technology Specialist.

When talking about computers or the internet you must have heard the term network traffic. What exactly is network traffic? How can you monitor and filter it? In this lesson we will learn some of the basic concepts of network traffic.

What is Network Traffic?

It was the first day of black Friday and Tom woke up early in the morning to purchase his favorite designer sneakers that were at an incredible sale price until noon of that day. He was so excited but soon his happiness turned to frustration when he realized that the store's website was down! His mother tried to calm him down and explained to him that the network traffic would be high that morning and he should try again later.

Network traffic is the amount of data that moves through a network at any point in time. The internet is a network where millions of computers across the world are connected to each other on the world wide web. When Tom was trying to purchase his sneakers there were thousands of others trying to purchase things from the store's website, all at the same time, before the sale ended at 12 noon. This caused a network traffic block similar to what happens on a busy highway during rush hour!


Network traffic is similar to traffic on a busy highway where data travels through the network
Network Traffic


Monitoring Network Traffic

Tom was happy later that evening when the stores website was finally up and running. The store posted an apology and extended their sale hours. The store's IT team had to work in an emergency to monitor the traffic and to analyze and figure out ways in which they could help clear the bottleneck. They made use of network monitoring tools that helped them visualize the whole of the network traffic at each of their locations and were quickly able to identify the locations where traffic was slowest.

They used an IP scanner to detect all devices that were connected to the network. Since the store was losing business on such an important date, they had to disconnect a number of printers and devices that were not critical at the moment to help with reducing the traffic on their network. They also examined the network logs to identify how a formatted unit of data or packet flowed through servers on their network. On some locations there was a processing delay which in turn caused a queuing delay where packets had to wait in queue before they were transmitted. All this information led them to then analyze the network bandwidth with the hope of finding a quick fix to their immediate problem.

Network Bandwidth

The store had recently purchased a tool to monitor network bandwidth use and analyze traffic. The tool helped them to get a good overview of the system. They were able to analyze specific areas of the system including network process and bandwidth. The bandwidth analysis helped them identify points where the capacity of their network to transmit data from one point to another over both wired and wireless communication links were not optimal. They configured channel bonding and link aggregation to combine two or more ports into one to almost double the bandwidth.

Some of their servers were connected through wireless networks. They connected these using a wired port which also helped improve network traffic. The wireless connection can reduce traffic capability since the wireless connection can be shared by other wireless devices in the network.

Network Filtering

Another technique they used was network packet filtering where outgoing and incoming packets of data are monitored and allowed to pass through or not based on the source and destination IP addresses. Packet filtering is a kind of firewall where the packets are inspected and allowed or denied access. They implemented stateful or dynamic packet filtering where the firewall remembered information from passed packets to make the inspection process faster.

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