Why is the network slow? Is my Internet connection saturated? How can you be so bold? How did you know that golden rule?

These are common questions you might have at home or in your own home office. Getting an idea of where the precious Internets are going might seem like a challenge but it doesn't have to be.

Let's take a look at one simple approach by building up to what we are gathering.

I Don't Feel Tardy

Just as David Lee Roth encapsulated the wisdom of network engineers in the Van Halen magnum opus Hot For Teacher, so too shall you bring forth a clear understanding of the packets flying around your network... because nobody wants to be an uptown fool.

Yet, when you feel that the network is being exceedingly tardy, the window of visible indications as to why may make you feel less than prepared. In short, there are no good indicators of throughput and connectivity in most home networking devices. They are effectively black boxes. Or, in the case of Apple products, they are white boxes.

One of the more popular Apple home networking devices is the Airport Express. From a network point of view, the OID of the Apple Airport series of devices is what we'll want to start with to understand what the device can tell us via SNMP query.

To illustrate the process involved in querying the network device, consider the following commands for our example Airport device eddie that has a password unchained (SNMP community string) and is connected to a residential grade 8 Mbps broadband Internet connection.

You should see a lot of information scroll by if you test this with your own Airport device. Also, the information doesn't make much sense unless you have the corresponding MIB being used to map that output to something more human friendly to read and review.

Luckily, Apple was kind enough to share the Airport MIB a few years ago. Let's save a copy of that MIB to our Desktop and try some a more complete variation of the prior command.

First we can read the mapping and with the second example we can focus our attention on the physical interfaces that are moving the Internet traffic for the broadband connection itself. Additionally, by keeping track of the TX and RX of the Ethernet interface "et" we'll know what is coming and going for the entire household to the Internet.

Next, by taking these counters and placing the values in RRDtool with a collection of scripts and cron entries or installing Cacti on a spare server that can collect, aggregate, and present graphs continually.... Hmmm. That doesn't sound like the title "Broadband Graphing with Ease" does it? Well, there is a place for this approach and we'll cover that at another time.

Could This Be Magic

Let's take a look at iEyeNet. iEyeNet is a clever Dashboard Widget for Mac that will produce a graph of network activity in real-time.

With iEyeNet there are three simple steps to understanding what's going on with your broadband connection:

  1. Download iEyeNet
  2. Install
  3. Enjoy

So as you can see the ~1000 KBps = ~8 Mbps and indicates that we've simply reached the limitations of our Internet connection.

What are your favorite tools and tips for keeping sanity with your broadband connection utilization? Let us know in the comments below!