NetFlow vs SNMP for Network Monitoring?

Cristina De Luca -

July 13, 2021

Knowing the differences between NetFlow and SNMP is vital for effective network monitoring. Traditionally, most businesses had to rely almost exclusively on SNMP, but now there are many options. However, which protocol is best for network monitoring depends on many factors.

What is SNMP?

SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) is the most widely used protocol for network monitoring. SNMP was designed to collect and exchange information about network devices. It does this by monitoring various parameters such as memory, CPU usage, storage usage, and temperature. SNMP is often used because of its advanced capability of collecting bandwidth and network traffic usage.

What is NetFlow?

NetFlow was originally designed by Cisco as a proprietary network protocol for collecting IP information and monitoring network traffic. The main objectives of NetFlow are to:

• Monitor traffic and bandwidth usage
• Analyze applications and their impact on networks
• Detect and troubleshoot poor network performance
• Detect unauthorized LAN and WLAN traffic
• Protect networks from cyber attacks

NetFlow allows devices to analyze IP traffic and how it affects network availability and performance. It uses QoS (Quality of Service) functions to optimize resource usage and minimize latency and packet loss. NetFlow can also be used to control network resources by giving higher priority to specific types of data and protocols used by your network.

What are the differences between NetFlow and SNMP? Watch this video

One of the biggest disadvantages of NetFlow is that it is limited to IP traffic. Both SNMP and NetFlow can be used for increasing network visibility and for monitoring, but NetFlow works best for businesses that only deal with IP traffic. However, it is worth noting that NetFlow is a more verbose protocol than SNMP, which makes NetFlow very scalable for enhanced performance analysis and network traffic management.

Watch this video explaining the difference between both protocols SNMP and NetFlow.

Author: Jasmin Kahriman, Global Technical Lead @ Paessler AG

Unlike NetFlow, SNMP can be used for real-time network management as well as for monitoring and troubleshooting CPU and memory usage – features that are not currently provided by the NetFlow protocol. NetFlow does consume a lot more disk space than SNMP, but that is mainly because it is much more verbose than SNMP. SNMP has proven itself to be the most reliable network management protocol for routers, switches, and multi-protocol usage. However, because NetFlow provides more information, it is better for deep network analysis and debugging.

NetFlow is best used for providing more detailed information about applications and traffic sources. Another advantage of NetFlow is that it uses push technology, which makes it capable of showing information as soon as it is available whereas SNMP uses pull technology to pull data from the device’s MIB (Management Information Base) at specific intervals. NetFlow can also provide information on speed, volume, and link usage.

SNMP is an open-source protocol that it is not confined to a single vendor like proprietary closed-source protocols such as NetFlow. This means that SNMP is supported by more network devices than NetFlow as it is more accessible and compatible with a wider variety of vendors. However, a commonly known disadvantage of using SNMP is that it is inferior to NetFlow when it comes to the amount of data it provides. SNMP also struggles with larger workloads and higher network traffic than NetFlow.

However, SNMP is still great for scalability and security. While it is limited to monitoring SNMP-enabled devices, it has capabilities for monitoring and analyzing a much wider range of parameters than NetFlow. This means that you can use SNMP to monitor a more significant number of the devices that are connected to your network.

When should you use NetFlow or SNMP?

While SNMP and NetFlow are both great protocols for network monitoring, they both have different approaches that make either one better depending on the specific purpose. For example, SNMP is better for standard network monitoring while NetFlow is better for monitoring high traffic networks using IP traffic. For more information, check out our detailed comparison table of networking monitoring tools that are great for your business.