What is a Network Traffic Generator and Why Do I Need One?
A network traffic generator is a tool that feeds traffic onto a network to test and optimize the performance of network devices, protocols, and topologies.
Using a traffic generator allows you to choose the specific type of traffic you would like to test against in your lab. By controlling the packets and payloads being sent you can gain insight into how the device under test (DUT) will perform under real-world conditions. You can either replicate the application traffic on your production network or generate realistic what-if scenarios to test, troubleshoot, and optimize a variety of devices and network infrastructure.
In addition to emulating the communication between devices, traffic generators can simulate both clients and servers at scale to create a complete test environment.
By simulating the clients, such as computers, phones, tablets, etc, sending traffic through the DUT and then simulating the server on the other side, traffic generators help measure how well a device or network performs in terms of throughput, latency, loss, QoS policy adherence, and security resilience.
When to Use a Network Traffic Generator
SD-WAN gateways – and even simple Wi-Fi routers – are designed to prioritize traffic based on QoS policies. For example, a company may prioritize video streams from conference calls over YouTube to improve video quality on their Zoom meetings. They achieve this by sending certain traffic over high-performing MPLS links while less critical traffic flows over Wi-Fi. A traffic generator can determine whether the traffic is being prioritized correctly by sending intelligent packets through the network and tracing their path.
High Scale Readiness
Traffic generators can test how well a device or network will perform at a very high scale, like during a company-wide conference session. By taking the payload (audio, video, screen share) from a single one-to-one conference call and stripping out the actual IPs, you can amplify the flow to look like it has 1000s of unique IPs and Mac addresses and test as if 1000s of users are online at once. This technique helps to discover fail points or performance bottlenecks so you can better optimize your infrastructure.
Web Server Performance
Similarly, traffic generators can benchmark web server performance at scale. Discover the maximum number of simultaneous transactions or log-ins the server processes per second before an issue occurs. This could be used for e-commerce, or for example when the government is setting up a website for healthcare or vaccine distribution (we all saw the crash during ObamaCare). Using a traffic generator, you can test the server before going live to understand its capacity and session holding capabilities and avoid any outages or crashes.
Finally, traffic generators are an essential tool for validating security infrastructure. For example, when setting up a new firewall, you want to ensure that it stops any malicious traffic while still allowing authorized traffic to pass through to its destination. A traffic generator can send a mix of malicious attacks and general application traffic to validate that the firewall is performing correctly and help mitigate security threats before they occur.