Flow Monitoring Explained - From Packet Capture to Data Analysis with NetFlow and IPFIX


Flow monitoring has become a prevalent method for monitoring traffic in high-speed networks. By focusing on the analysis of flows, rather than individual packets, it is often said to be more scalable than traditional packet-based traffic analysis. Flow monitoring embraces the complete chain of packet observation, flow export using protocols such as NetFlow and IPFIX, data collection, and data analysis. In contrast to what is often assumed, all stages of flow monitoring are closely intertwined. Each of these stages therefore has to be thoroughly understood, before being able to perform sound flow measurements. Otherwise, flow data artifacts and data loss can be the consequence, potentially without being observed. This paper is the first of its kind to provide an integrated tutorial on all stages of a flow monitoring setup. As shown throughout this paper, flow monitoring has evolved from the early nineties into a powerful tool, and additional functionality will certainly be added in the future. We show, for example, how the previously opposing approaches of Deep Packet Inspection and flow monitoring have been united into novel monitoring approaches.

In IEEE Communications Surveys and Tutorials, vol. 16 no. 4, October 2014