Network troubleshooting is the act of discovering and correcting problems with connectivity, performance, security, and other aspects of networks.
Fast, effective network troubleshooting is a cornerstone of business resilience. Today's networks perform more mission-critical business tasks than ever. Without robust troubleshooting and speedy resolution of issues, networks can suffer costly downtime.
The cost of downtime includes reduced productivity and the economic impacts of disrupted or underperforming services, data breaches, and malware. These consequences can result in steep costs and cause long-lasting damage to brands.
Of course, troubleshooting isn't just about resetting user passwords or restarting devices. Especially in large organizations, it's about a set of procedures, practices, and tools used to process numerous requests by a complex mix of users and dispersed network assets and infrastructure.
Typically, a large organization has an entire team devoted to network troubleshooting. The team's engineers address problems at various levels: Tier 1 for basic issues such as password resets, Tier 2 for issues that can't be resolved by Tier 1, and Tier 3 for mission-critical issues.
Frequently, Tier 1 troubleshooting is outsourced. An escalation framework is used to route requests efficiently and make sure that upper-level engineers are tasked appropriately.
In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and automation have been used to bridge skills gaps. These technologies offer guided remediation tools that empower Tier 1 engineers to solve complex network problems more rapidly.
Many organizations have separate network troubleshooting tools, but the addition of these tools may require training and management by IT departments. More commonly, network troubleshooting is embedded in a network management system (NMS).
In large organizations, network troubleshooting teams are not simply waiting for users to report issues.
An NMS monitors networks continuously. It sends status updates—and alerts, when needed—on network key performance indicators (KPIs) such as connection speed, bandwidth, latency, users, and access.
The NMS performs monitoring by querying the various parts and nodes of the network to update status, at an interval determined by the IT team. Newer network elements, however, use telemetry to transmit their KPIs automatically.
An essential part of network troubleshooting is tracking and collecting data on network events. A system of IT service management (ITSM) tickets is used for this process. The data aggregated from the tickets can provide insights to identify problem areas and guide network optimization and upgrades.
An occurrence that triggers a network troubleshooting process is called an event. Some common events are described below.
Such events could be caused by cables and plugs that aren't connected properly.
These events could involve anything from a full-blown malware attack to an unapproved user's being able to connect to Wi-Fi.
KPIs, when they're well-calibrated, can provide early warnings of network issues before they affect users.
For locally hosted applications, a failure could mean an update that wasn't installed or the presence of an obsolete device.
Network performance can suffer when network policies, such as those for security, traffic management, and access control, inadvertently contradict each other.
Issues with endpoint connectivity, for example, could be caused by endpoints' lack of proximity to network routers, network interference problems, or issues with a remote worker's local network.
Once alerts or requests have been received and basic problems such as hardware connections and user connectivity have been ruled out, network troubleshooting typically involves one or more of the following steps.
Problems with IP addresses cause many network issues. Often, assigning a new IP address can resolve an issue if a previous address was incorrect.
If the IP address is correct, the network issue may be upstream of a modem. To diagnose the problem further, IT teams can use the ping utility or the tracert command to test connections with remote servers and return information about the signal path.
A DNS check will determine whether there's a problem with a server to which networks are trying to connect. When an IT team performs a DNS check and receives results such as "Request timed out" or "No response from server," the problem might originate in the DNS server for the destination.
Outages do occur, even with major cloud providers and cloud-based services. Providers' status pages report outages that might be affecting network performance.
Viruses and other malware can affect network performance, and often they're not easy to detect. IT teams should use security tools to see whether new attacks have been flagged.
Databases that are full or overtaxed can slow performance across the network. A fresh review of database logs will show whether this is the case.
The most common command-line tools are ipconfig and nslookup. Numerous others—such as iptables, netstat, tcpdump, route, arp, and dig—can also help identify network issues.
For cases that are especially challenging or that involve sensitive or restricted data, IT teams may need to construct test environments, where they can re-create problems and test solutions.
Engineers benefit from a network troubleshooting interface that provides a global view of an entire network as well as a view into specific KPIs. As networks become more complex and dispersed, the design and ease of use of this interface become even more important.
The ability to filter network data by location, department, device, or network improves the early stages of diagnosing network problems.
The idea of viewing the network as a series of interconnected domains is becoming obsolete. The typical enterprise network includes not just local-area networks (LANs) connected to the internet, but also remotely hosted databases, applications, and data processing. Up-to-date troubleshooting tools are designed to manage these new, more complex networks.