How to Measure Network Performance: 9 Network Metrics

Alyssa Lamberti
Alyssa Lamberti Last updated on Jun. 29, 2021

How to Measure Network Performance: 9 Network Metrics

In Summary

In this article we’re running you through what is Network Performance, how to measure network performance, what network metrics we should collect to measure network performance, what is the impact of poor network quality on the most commonly used applications, and what tools you should use to monitor network performance.

This article is part of our Introduction to Network Monitoring series. For a full overview of everything you need to know about network monitoring, check out the other articles in the series once you’ve finished reading:

At Obkio, we are a team of telecommunication experts specializing in performance monitoring. Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work and speak with IT professionals on the daily who are experiencing network issues.

When we begin the discussion with clients about monitoring their network performance, the metric that we most commonly hear about is Speed. But in the network world as in life, size isn't everything, quality matters too.

For example, just because you have a big Internet pipe, that doesn’t mean that it won't get congested or leak data packets.

So, to be able to answer questions like:

Is my network performing well enough to:
    – Ensure a successful migration to the cloud?
    – To increase the use of Unified Communication solutions for my business?
    – To ensure users can have the best experience when using web applications?

You need to learn how to measure network performance with all of the key network metrics, and that's exactly what we'll be covering in this article.

Let's get started…

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

What is Network Monitoring?
What is Network Monitoring?

Before talking about measuring network performance, let’s quickly go over the vocabulary surrounding network monitoring. When we talk about traditional network monitoring, we often refer to Fault Monitoring or Device Monitoring.

Device Monitoring refers to monitoring the use of network resources or network devices using SNMP protocol. For example, to monitor the state of a firewall or determine the CPU usage or bandwidth usage of an interface. In that case, we usually take measurements from a specific location in the network, such as the counter of an interface, a CPU, etc.

This type of monitoring is good, and you should definitely keep doing it. But, the term network monitoring covers a vast range of techniques. It begins with device monitoring, but you can take it further by monitoring end-to-end user experience.

Network Performance Monitoring, which is what we do at Obkio, is end-to-end network monitoring of the end-user experience. It differs from traditional monitoring because performance it is monitored from the end-user perspective, and is measured between two points in the network, for example:

  • The performance between a user, who works in the office, and the application they use in the company’s data center
  • The performance between two offices in a network
  • The performance between the head office and the Internet
  • The performance between your users and the cloud

If there’s a problem with your Internet connection, you can't just monitor your devices to find your problem. You need to monitor the user experience to identify performance issues affecting your Internet connection.

What is Network Performance?
What is Network Performance?

Just so we’re on the same page, we’re going to give you a quick definition of network performance.

Network Performance is "the analysis and review of collective network statistics, to define the quality of services offered by the underlying computer network [that is] primarily measured from an end-user perspective."

More simply, network performance refers to the analysis and review of network performance as seen by end-users.

Network Performance Monitoring

There are three important concepts in that definition:

  • Analysis and Review: Before you can analyze and compare network performance data over time, you must first measure key network metrics associated with network performance and collect a history of the data you’ve measured.

  • Measuring Performance: Network Performance refers to the quality of the network. The quality will be different depending on where in the network the measurements are taken, For example, the quality of a network will not be the same if we compare the performance of a path from Montreal and New York vs a path from Montreal and Tokyo. The quality will also vary depending on when the measurements are taken. For example, you network may be performing well early during the workday with less users online, and begin to degrade later on in the day when more users log on.

  • The End-User: The end-user experience is the most important factor when measuring performance. But just hearing about the user experience isn't enough! With the right monitoring tools we can turn the user's experience into measurable metrics, and translate those measurements into areas for improvement.

In this article, we’re going to give you a rundown of the top network metrics. Stay tuned for more detailed articles about the cause, impacts, and troubleshooting process of each metric. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter to find out when these posts arrive!

Now, let’s get to how to measure network performance!

Network Fault Monitoring vs. Network Performance Monitoring
Network Fault Monitoring vs. Network Performance Monitoring

IT Pros are used to Network Fault Monitoring but what about Network Performance Monitoring? What's the difference?

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How to Measure Network Performance
How to Measure Network Performance

As mentioned above, to monitor the performance from a user point-of-view, we need to perform network performance tests from that same perspective. Ideally to do so, you want to monitor network performance from the end-user’s location without having to install a network measurement tool on each user workstation. Moreover, you don’t want to capture every data packet for analysis, which will require a lot of extra hardware and can intrude into your user’s privacy.

At this point, generating synthetic traffic, which replicates a user’s behaviour in the network, is probably your best bet on how to measure network performance! We can help you with that at Obkio with our Free 14-day Trial if you want to give it a try right now.

Choose a Network Monitoring Software
Choose a Network Monitoring Software

When you want to measure network metrics, performance and historical, you can use temporary tools like traceroutes and pings to identify problems. This can give you insight into ongoing problems, but if you’re looking to troubleshoot intermittent issues, you can’t use temporary tools.

Essentially, if you end up identifying intermittent issues with periodic tools, you probably just got lucky that you used the tool exactly when the problem popped up again, or you may have actually caught a permanent issue.

That’s why you need a tool that continuously monitors your network performance, and will notify you when an issue happens or when an intermittent network problem pops back up.

You need a permanent, continuous network monitoring solution, like Obkio Network Monitoring Software.

  • Synthetic Traffic simulates and monitors the end-user point-of-view
  • Decentralized end-to-end monitoring of network locations with Monitoring Agents
  • Continuous monitoring identifies intermittent issues that are hard to pinpoint
  • Monitoring Agents collect data to diagnose network issues
  • Measures network metrics like jitter, packet loss, throughput and more

You can get started with Obkio’s free trial, or choose an Obkio plan and follow the Getting Started Documentation.

Measure Network Metrics
Measure Network Metrics

When it comes to how to measure network performance, it’s important to know which network performance metrics you need to examine.

Depending on the specific issues that affect your network, not every metric is going to be important for you to look at. But there are some metrics that are essential for any businesses to consider. A network performance monitor will also continuously measure different operating parameters based on a variety of different network metrics, such as latency, jitter, packet loss, and more. This establishes a performance baseline based on the cumulative results of those metrics.

Let’s go through the most essential network metrics that you should absolutely be monitoring.

Measure Network Metrics

1. Latency
1. Latency

In a network, latency refers to the measure of time it takes for data to reach its destination across a network. You usually measure network latency as a round trip delay, in milliseconds (ms), taking into account the time it takes for the data to get to its destination and then back again to its source.

Measuring the round trip delay for network latency is important when knowing how to measure network performance because a computer that uses a TCP/IP network sends a limited amount of data to its destination and then waits for an acknowledgement that the data has reached its destination before sending any more. Therefore, this round trip delay has a big impact on network performance.

When measuring latency, consistent delays or odd spikes in delay time are signs of a major performance issue that can happen for a variety of reasons. Most delays are actually undetectable from a user’s perspective and can therefore go unnoticed but can have a huge impact when using VoIP, or unified communication systems such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and so on.

A network performance monitoring (NPM) solution is a great network latency monitor because it measures latency and can track and log these delays to find the source of the problem. We even have an article on troubleshooting MacOS Wifi Latency Spikes with Obkio's Network Performance Monitoring software.

We also have a full article about how to monitor Microsoft network performance for apps like Teams and how to monitor network and Zoom performance.

How Latency Affects Throughput
How Latency Affects Throughput

When learning how to monitor latency, it's important to note that latency also affects maximum throughput of a data transmission, which is how much data can be transmitted from point A to point B in a given time. We’ll be covering throughput in point 4.

But the reason that latency affects throughput is because of TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). TCP makes sure all data packets reach their destination successfully and in the right order. It also requires that only a certain amount of data is transmitted before waiting for an acknowledgement.

A common analogy of the relationship is to imagine a network path like pipe filling a bucket with water. TCP requires that once the bucket is full, the sender has to wait for an acknowledgement to come back along the pipe before any more water can be sent.

If it takes half a second for water to get down the pipe, and another half a second for the acknowledgement to come back, this equals a latency of 1 second. Therefore, TCP would prevent you from sending any more than the amount of data, or water in this example, that can travel in any one second period.

Essentially, latency can affect throughput, which is why it’s so important to know how to check network latency.

How to Identify Network Problems & Diagnose Network Issues
How to Identify Network Problems & Diagnose Network Issues

Learn how to identify network issues by looking at common problems, causes, consequences and solutions.

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2. Jitter
2. Jitter

To put it not so lightly, network jitter is your network transmission’s biggest enemy when using real-time apps such as unified communications, including IP telephony, video conferencing, and virtual desktop infrastructure. Simply put, jitter is a variation in delay. Otherwise known as a disruption that occurs while data packets travel across the network.

There are many factors that can cause jitter, and many of these factors are the same as those that cause delay. One difficult thing about jitter is that it doesn’t affect all network traffic in the same way.

Jitter can be caused by network congestion. Network congestion occurs when network devices are unable to send the equivalent amount of traffic they receive, so their packet buffer fills up and they start dropping packets. If there is no disturbance on the network at an endpoint, every packet arrives. However, if the endpoint buffer becomes full, packets arrive later and later.

If you’ve ever been talking to someone on a video call or other unified communication system, and suddenly their voice speeds up significantly, then slows down to catch up, or keeps fluctuating between the two - you have a jitter problem.

When measuring network jitter, remember that jitter can also be caused by the type of connection you use. A connection on a shared medium, such as a cable, is more likely to have higher jitter than a dedicated connection. So that’s something to keep in mind when choosing a connection medium.

3. Packet Loss
3. Packet Loss

Packet loss refers to the number of data packets that were successfully sent out from one point in a network, but were dropped during data transmission and never reached their destination.

It’s important for your IT team to measure packet loss to know how many packets are being dropped across your network to be able to take steps to ensure that data can be transmitted as it should be. Measuring packet loss provides a metric for determining good or poor network performance.

If you're wondering how to measure packet loss easily, a network performance monitoring software, like Obkio, uses a synthetic monitoring tactic which involves generating and measuring synthetic traffic in order to count the number of packets sent and the number of packets received.

Packet loss is usually expressed as a percentage of the total number of sent packets. Often, more than 3% packet loss implies that the network is performing below optimal levels, but even just 1% packet loss might be enough to affect VoIP quality.

Packet loss is something that is determined over a period of time. If you record 1% packet loss over 10 minutes, it can suggest that you have 1% during the whole 10 minutes, but it can also be that you have 10% packet loss over 1 min and then 0% over the remaining 9 minutes. How can you figure that out? Well that’s why Obkio calculates packet loss every minute, so you always get an up-to-date and precise measure of packet loss.

Network Performance Monitoring Metrics

4. Throughput
4. Throughput

Throughput refers to the amount of data passing through the network from point A to point B in a determined amount of time. When referring to communication networks, throughput is the rate of data that was successfully delivered over a communication channel.

Measuring network throughput is usually done in bits per second (bit/s or bps),

"Internet Connection Speed" or "Internet Connection Bandwidth" is a general term used by internet companies to sell you high-speed internet, but is used by default to mean throughput, which is the actual rate of packet delivery over a specific medium.

That’s why the best way to learn how to measure network throughput is to use Speed Tests.

Measuring Network Throughput with Speed Tests
Measuring Network Throughput with Speed Tests

A Speed Test is the best solution for measuring network throughput to give you an idea of how fast your Internet connection is right now. Essentially, a speed test measures speed by sending out the most amount of information possible throughout your network, and monitoring how long it takes to get delivered to its destination.

A network performance monitoring solution like Obkio allows you to run speed tests manually, or schedule speed tests between monitoring Agents, or a group of multiple Agents to ensure your speed or throughput is constantly being monitored.

Obkio also allows you to perform speed tests with multiple TCPs at the same time, which makes for the most accurate speed test results.

Troubleshoot Network Issues

5. Packet Duplication
5. Packet Duplication

In a simplified way, packet duplication refers to when data packets are duplicated somewhere in the network, and are then received twice at their destination. Many times, if the source of the data believes that a data packet was not transmitted correctly because of a packet loss, it may retransmit that packet. The destination source may have already gotten the first packet, and will receive a second duplicate packet.

Once again, in the example of a video chat, packet duplication may cause you to hear as though someone is repeating words or sentences as they’re speaking to you - which isn’t a very pleasant experience.

6. Packet Reordering
6. Packet Reordering

Packet reordering is also pretty self explanatory and occurs when data packets arrive at their destination in the wrong order. This can happen for various reasons, such as multi-path routing, route fluttering, and wrong QoS queue configuration.

Packet reordering is also very simple to spot. If you’re talking to someone over video call and all of a sudden words in their sentences sound scrabbled and out of order, it may be because the data arrived in the wrong sequence.

Once again, a network performance monitoring solution will be able to catch these problems, right as they happen. Having continuous monitoring of your network, whether from your head office, data center, or home office, means that you’ll catch these network issues long before you’re on an important video call with a client who can’t understand a word you’re saying because of packet loss or packet reordering.

If you want to learn more about why you should be monitoring your network, you can check out our blog post on the Top 7 Reasons Why You Should Monitor Network Performance.

Top 7 Reasons Why You Should Monitor Network Performance
Top 7 Reasons Why You Should Monitor Network Performance

Find out the 7 biggest reasons to monitor network performance. Troubleshoot network slowdowns and not just hard failures, monitor remote offices and more.

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7. User Quality of Experience
7. User Quality of Experience

Now you may be wondering how all these network performance metrics could possibly play a part in how to measure network performance. All the metrics we mentioned, in addition to user requirements and user perceptions, play a role in determining the perceived performance of your network.

Each metric on its own gives you an idea of how your infrastructure is performing, but you need to look at all of these factors to give a true measurement of network performance.

The best way to measure and quantify user experience is by measuring User Quality of Experience (QoE). Quality of Experience (QoE) allows you to measure performance from the end-user perspective and is essentially the perception of the user of the effectiveness and quality of the system or service. In fact, users base their opinions about the network exclusively on their perception of QoE.

Measuring QoE is a culmination of all these network metrics we discussed, as well as the ability of the network to meet the user’s expectations. That’s basically what network performance is all about.

Other network performance metrics you can use to measure QOE include:

8. MOS Score
8. MOS Score

The MOS score was created by the ITU, a United Nations agency that sought to facilitate international connectivity in communications networks, and created a metric that could be measured and understood by all.

The MOS has been originally developed for traditional voice calls but has been adapted to Voice over IP (VoIP) in the ITU-T PESQ P.862. The standard defines how to calculate a MOS score for VoIP calls based on multiple factors such as the specific codec used for the VoIP call.

The MOS score is a rating from 1 to 5 of the perceived quality of a voice call, 1 being the lowest score and 5 the highest for excellent quality.

You can learn more about MOS score in our article on Measuring VoIP Quality with MOS.

9. VoIP Quality
9. VoIP Quality

VoIP quality refers to the quality of voice communications and multimedia sessions over Internet Protocol (IP) networks, such as the Internet

Obkio’s network performance monitoring software calculates the VoIP Quality for each network performance monitoring session every minute. Obkio measures VoIP Quality with MOS score even if there is no ongoing call, to provide a proactive monitoring over packet capture solution.

Don't wait for bad user experience complaints to start network troubleshooting! This Quality of Experience (QoE) metric helps IT pros understand the complex impact of network performance on VoIP.

Nowadays, the best performance monitoring tools can synthesize a rather precise evaluation of the QoE score based on their measurement of all the previously discussed performance-affecting metrics!

Measuring VoIP Quality with MOS Score (Mean Opinion Score)
Measuring VoIP Quality with MOS Score (Mean Opinion Score)

Learn how to measure VoIP Quality using MOS Score (Mean Opinion Score) & Obkio’s VoIP monitoring solution to identify poor VoIP Quality issues & dropped calls.

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Try Obkio Network Monitoring Software
Try Obkio Network Monitoring Software

As you can see, there are a lot of factors to keep in mind when choosing how to measure network performance, and all them need to be monitored simultaneously to really provide a concrete conclusion.

Lucky for you, the number one key to learning how to measure network performance is finding a solution that measures throughput, latency, packet loss, jitter, and more, to give you a simple and quick overview of your network.

Network Performance Monitoring Software - Network Metrics

Obkio Network Monitoring is your personal network admin that continuously measures network performance metrics in real-time to help understand how they’re affecting your network’s performance. As soon as a problem occurs, with any of the metrics being measured, you’ll be notified - even before it reaches the end user.

This isn’t just a shameless plug, really, it’s a way to make your life easier, make your business run smoother, and help you ensure that your network is always performing at its highest level. It'll also be a key tool in helping you identify network performance issues. Your users and employees will thank you.

Get started with a free 14-day trial of Obkio’s Network Monitoring Solution.

As a reminder, you can check out the other articles in our Introduction to Network Monitoring series for a complete overview of everything you need to know about network monitoring:

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Network Monitoring Basics