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Network Visibility vs. Network Monitoring

Dr. Vincent Berk
By | January 15, 2015


When I ask people about their network visibility, they often tell me they have “network monitoring software” installed.  Often “network visibility” and “network monitoring” are used to mean the same thing.  But they are not.  Let me explain the difference:


Monitoring is simply watching for conditions such as downtime or link saturation and fixing them when they happen. Network Monitoring is generally bred from a desire to keep the packets moving.


Visibility goes much further in that it is bred from a desire to be safe, and understand what is happening on your network. If people seek to increase visibility into their networks, they are looking to get multiple, or many vantage points from which they can observe what is happening, and might learn what has happened in the past. This is driven by a desire to investigate badness, catch bad actors, understand data movements, so we can decide what may be a data leak.

“Monitoring” vs “Visibility” in Known and Unknown Network Situations

Although to most people “visibility” and “monitoring” are the same thing, if we take a good look at the kinds of products that are offered in each space, we see they are tailored to completely different use cases: Most monitoring products are rough, collect only what is needed to solve the “uptime” problem, and don’t offer much in the way of handling the unexpected. Time-frames are rough, often 5-minute-by-5-minute, and historical data is notional at best.  Most of all, the different views of the network are limited and simplistic, lacking insight.

Monitoring tools help you deal with KNOWN future situations, while Visibility tools prepare you for dealing with UNKNOWN future situations.

Good visibility products collect data from many vantage points, offer a myriad of views into this data, and store histories, so that you have the tools you need to create the understanding of what may have happened. Visibility tools prepare you to deal with unknown future situations, where you simply cannot know today, what you will need to be looking at tomorrow. These tools offer a level of depth and complexity that allows a skilled operator to gather insight into almost any aspect of keeping the network safe and operational.

Selecting Monitoring vs Visibility

This difference is reflected in the price point of the different classes of products. Those who do not take the time to understand the difference between Network Monitoring and Network Visibility will not understand this difference, and dismiss it. However, those who want to understand what is happening on the network, to keep the network safe and operating, will gladly make the investment in good visibility products. After all: how do you know what medicine to take, if you don’t know what you’re suffering from?


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