Supporting and growing a small network requires being familiar with the protocols and network applications running over the network. While the network administrator will have more time in a small network environment to individually analyze network utilization for each network-enabled device, a more holistic approach with some type of software- or hardware-based protocol analyzer is recommended.

As shown in the figure, protocol analyzers enable a network professional to quickly compile statistical information about traffic flows on a network.

When trying to determine how to manage network traffic, especially as the network grows, it is important to understand the type of traffic that is crossing the network as well as the current traffic flow. If the types of traffic are unknown, the protocol analyzer will help identify the traffic and its source.

To determine traffic flow patterns, it is important to:

Information gathered by the protocol analyzer is analyzed based on the source and destination of the traffic as well as the type of traffic being sent. This analysis can be used to make decisions on how to manage the traffic more efficiently. This can be done by reducing unnecessary traffic flows or changing flow patterns altogether by moving a server, for example.

Sometimes, simply relocating a server or service to another network segment improves network performance and accommodates the growing traffic needs. At other times, optimizing the network performance requires major network redesign and intervention.