Network taps vs. mirror ports—which are best?

Every network manager needs insight into the inner workings of his or her network.

Two common methods for gaining a window into a network are by installing a network tap or by using a mirror port (called a SPAN port by Cisco®) on a network switch. Both network taps and mirror ports provide a window into traffic on a network segment, enabling you to use a network analyzer or other monitoring tool for troubleshooting, diagnostics, security, or forensics compliance.

A network tap is a hardware device that’s installed on your network. It enables network traffic to pass through unimpeded while duplicating all data to a monitor port where it can be accessed by a network analyzer.

Port mirroring, on the other hand, is a capability built into many high-end networking devices. This feature enables the data from individual ports to be duplicated to another port, creating a mirror port that acts as a software network tap.

Network Taps
Best for high-speed networks with heavy traffic or for analysis that requires all network traffic.

Advantages:
  • Captures send and receive data streams simultaneously, eliminating the risk of dropped packets.
  • Provides full visibility into full-duplex networks.
  • Captures everything on the wire—including Physical Layer errors—even when the network is saturated.

Disadvantages:

  • Requires the purchase and installation of additional hardware.
  • Analysis device may need dual-receive capture interface.
  • Only captures data between network devices; can’t monitor intraswitch traffic.

Mirror Ports
Best for networks with light traffic or for analysis not affected by dropped packets.

Advantages:

  • Low cost, using existing switch capabilities.
  • Remotely configurable through the network.
  • Captures intraswitch traffic.

Disadvantages:

  • Drops packets on heavily used full-duplex links.
  • Filters out Physical Layer errors.
  • May burden the switch’s CPU to copy data.
  • May change frame timing, altering response times and slowing network performance.

To see our network taps or to download a flyer with this information, visit blackbox.com/go/Taps.

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