It’s never been more important to have visibility into the traffic that’s traversing your corporate networks. Whether you need to keep tabs on the endless wave of personal devices in the workplace, track the performance of third-party applications (or those in the data center), or ensure cyber criminals aren’t probing the network, the reality is that you can’t control what you can’t see. Having access to network traffic and properly distributing that data to the tools your business relies on is crucial for network visibility. That’s where the network Test Access Points (TAPs) come in.
There are many reasons to utilize this low cost, highly-versatile technology, but before we get into why Test Access Points play such a critical in network management and visibility, let’s explore a few key trends network managers are dealing with today to establish some context:
● BYOD – It’s no secret that employees are using their own personal devices to access corporate network resources, as well as countless non-business applications such as personal communication, social media networking, games, music and more.
Where is the line drawn between corporate data and personal information? How can a business network maintain separation from personal information on these internet connected devices? Every personal download has the potential to infect the corporate network. Only through diligent network monitoring and analysis can IT teams manage employee access to corporate network resources from personal devices.
● Application-centric Business Management – Many organizational processes today are being automated using internet-based applications. Companies of all shapes and sizes rely on thirdparty applications that are accessed through the public internet.
It is critical that traffic flow to and from these applications be monitored for performance and security. Beyond that, network managers need to be able to distinguish between network issues and application issues when analyzing overall performance.
● Endless Security Vulnerabilities – Network security involves more than simply blocking attacks. There are many sophisticated cyber criminals whose motivation goes well beyond simple monetary profit.
Attacking infrastructure, exposing political dirt, learning proprietary competitive information and illicit profit from fraudulent financial transactions are all motivations for hacking into corporate networks.
Security appliances alone can miss advanced attacks, particularly if they rely solely on signature-based detection. And even with the best security controls in place, lost or stolen credentials can easily bring and organization to its knees. Continuous and persistent network monitoring is necessary to understand traffic patterns and be able to distinguish normal traffic from potential threats.
How can network administrators manage these challenges without granular visibility into network traffic and applications?
Again, you can’t control what you can’t see. They key is to ensure network monitoring and security solutions are fed with the necessary traffic to ensure network performance and protection. How?
While Switched Port Analyzer (SPAN) solutions are often considered to be simple and cheap, they can increase latency, drop packets and increase the load on switch CPUs. When it comes to the business impact of poor network performance and security, the margin for error is wildly thin.
The truth is that network Test Access Points are your best option for reliable network visibility. And using this technology to feed network traffic to your tools provides offers many advantages beyond connectivity:
- TAPs are independent from the network. To the network, they look like a wire. They don’t increase switch traffic (like SPAN), create additional delay or open packets.
- TAPs can provide as many ports as you need to accommodate all the specialized network tools that are needed to understand traffic patterns, manage WAN performance, defend against cyber attacks and plan for future growth and changes.
- TAPs can be placed in a variety of different places in the network, allowing for accurate network monitoring across data centers, cloud and multi-cloud environments. As network become increasingly hybrid, the ability to source critical traffic from any of these topologies and deliver it to key network monitoring and security tools has never been more crucial.
- TAPs can help existing tools perform more efficiently with advanced features that filter out data not relevant to the tools. For example, when analyzing only web traffic, UDP, FTP and email traffic can be filtered prior to sending traffic to the tool. This can allow more links to send traffic to the same tool (saving CAPEX) because each link will pass less traffic.
- TAPs provide the level of visibility, flexibility and scalability that makes it easy for IT and security teams to add, move and change tools or infrastructure within today’s fluid technology environments that are subject to constantly-changing business requirements and objectives.
- TAPs are highly adaptable to help manage speed and media changes. Picture this: Using a TAP with Small Form-factor Plugin (SFP) ports, users can change from copper to optical fiber access simply by changing out the SFP module. Some TAP ports also have the flexibility to operate at different speeds.
- TAPs have built-in failsafe technology so a power failure to the TAP will not impact network availability. For instance, when power is lost to a copper port on a TAP, a fast relay will close, establishing a physical circuit that will continue to pass traffic with no power to the TAP. Many fiber optic TAPs, which mirror live traffic by splitting the light stream, require no power at all.
When planning new network designs, adding new locations, merging with cloud environments or making any other network changes, it is critical to develop a visibility strategy early in the process.
Always keep in mind that you should design rack space and power plans to include Test Access Points and network tools at the same time you plan to deploy new switch, routing and security tools.
As networks continue to grow more complex, and as BYOD, third-party applications and major security threats amplify the need for granular network visibility, Test Access Points can provide the level of insight you need to keep your network available, secure, and flexible.