What is Network packet loss and How to fix it?

The concept of packet loss has always been a topic of debate in the networking industry, and it is always a key factor that is taken into account while designing and implementing networks and networking systems. It is so important because of the fact that it basically controls the efficiency and performance of the entire network, and so one faulty device or device configuration that induces packet loss can affect the performance of your entire network.

In the further read, we'll discuss:

Packet loss meaning

Packet loss is when a device sends a particular amount (or "packets") of data through the network and a considerable portion of the data is lost or "dropped" by the devices along the route. So this means, any data that was sent over the network would not reach the destination device completely. Network packet loss is a critical issue that vendors are still trying to solve, and also something that all network admins have to keep in mind while implementing a network architecture or when troubleshooting network issues.

What does 100% packet loss mean?

100% packet loss is when no data is transferred from the source to the destination in the given time, resulting in no response from the server for the user requests.

What causes packet loss?

Packet loss causes- ManageEngine OpManager

Understanding the reasons behind packet loss in a network helps a lot during troubleshooting these issues. Network Packet loss is caused by:

  • Network congestion: If there's a lot of traffic in your network, the routers in your network might start dropping packets in order to keep up with it. 
  • Wireless network issues: With wireless networks and devices, the rate of packet drop is comparatively high. So if your network infrastructure involves a lot of wireless devices, your packet loss rate might be higher than usual.
  • Overloaded network devices: When devices in your network are handling loads higher than what they were originally designed for, network packet loss is one of the very first implications that can be observed. The devices in the network simply cannot handle those amounts of data and will start dropping packets at a rate that will disrupt the data flow in the entire network.
  • Improper network configuration: One wrong configuration in a switch can cause a network loop, resulting in a broadcast flood that can essentially bring the network down. When these floods happen, the devices in the network will once again start dropping packets since they would be overloaded.
  • Possible security breach: Sometimes when a network breach is underway, hackers try to flood the network with a huge amount of data packets in a process that is called DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. Although the chances of this happening are very low, it is best practice to check your network for breaches when you are experiencing a high rate of packet loss.

What are the effects of packet loss?

The most direct implication of network packet loss is an increase in latency in your network connections. Latency can be defined as the total time taken for a packet of data to be sent from a source device to a destination device, and back again to the source device. It is more of a round trip value unlike ping, which is just the time taken by a device to reach another on the network.

When latency increases, the quality of the network with respect to the affected device drastically decreases. This is actually self-explanatory; when the amount of time taken to send a packet increases, the time to send the entire data also increases proportionally, thereby affecting data transmission rates. The effects of packet loss are very prominently observed in VoIP and video data transmission, since these are real-time processes and will experience major hiccups if the packet loss is high. It can also be seen when transferring large files through the network, since the latency just gets multiplied by several thousand packets of data and slows down the transfer itself.

How to detect /check packet loss?

Even 1% packet loss is bad as it can halt network uptime in an instant hence detecting packet loss is essential to find the root cause of issues, especially in the WAN and Wi-Fi networks. The jitter due to network congestion, loss of data transmission due to outdated device hardware, delayed data transmission in VoIP calls or video conferences are all the major packet loss issues network admins face in their daily routine. Testing for network packet loss helps admins decide if the issue is due to packet loss or other network related issues.

While data packet loss can be detected through many network assessment tools, ping remains the standard packet loss testing tools. Ping works by sending packets to the destination device and looking for the response. In other words, packet drop can be detected by measuring the number of packets sent but not received. Failed responses account to packet loss and anything over 5% is of concern.

How to fix packet loss?

When a packet loss occurs, the first question that arises is "How do I fix packet loss?" and here are the basic steps you need to follow to fix packet loss issues:

  • Restart device hardware: The universal first line of network troubleshooting would be, evidently, restarting hardware of the devices. While it doesn't solve all the issues, it serves the purpose in most cases, especially when the issue is due to technical errors or bugs.
  • Replace outdated network hardware: An outdated network hardware finds it difficult to adapt to the advanced computing technologies or handle mass network demands, which can cause loss of packets . Consider upgrading or replacing hardware of your network switches, routers and other devices to improve network performance and minimize packet loss issues.
  • Updating device software and drivers: If only one device is facing issue, consider updating its software, device drivers, and firmware to ensure there are no bugs in the OS, causing network packet loss. The same applies to wireless access points and other network components.
  • Optimize network traffic: Packet loss due to traffic overload can be resolved by optimizing network configurations. Utilize Quality of Service (QoS) settings and allocate appropriate bandwidth to prioritize critical traffic and applications, and manage resources.
  • Use a VPN: The security encryption utilized by VPN helps reduce the impact of packet loss if the loss of packets occurs over the internet. This further improves performance of network communications.

How to reduce prevent/packet loss issues in your network?

Even though avoiding packet loss altogether is practically impossible, here are the few best practices to keep the data packet loss rate in check in your network. You can try and implement as many ideas as you can from these suggestions below:

  • Check all your physical network connections and ports and ensure that they do not have any visible damage, and are not in bad shape.
  • Audit the configuration of all your network devices and ensure that they do not create any network loops, so that the packet loss from looping can be kept low and any potential bottlenecks would be avoided.
  • Also ensure that your devices are constantly monitored using a comprehensive network monitoring application, so that they can be kept well within their performance limits.
  • Try to limit the amount of wireless connections and when possible, always use wired connections. This will help reduce the data packet loss in your network that happens due to wireless networking.

OpManager: The ideal network packet loss monitoring software

ManageEngine OpManager is a comprehensive network monitoring solution that enables to monitor your network devices and reduce the loss of packets in your network. To understand how OpManager would be the best network monitor for your enterprise network, talk to our product expert now by availing a free, personalised demo.

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