Insights > Network Visibility + Security

Supplement trace-route with path discovery for easier troubleshooting

2021-10-15  |  7 min read 

The cost of managing complex networks is driven up by the time and effort you must spend to understand how traffic moves through your network. Path discovery is an essential step in diagnosing network performance problems. The standard tool used by network engineers is trace-route, but using it takes time and skill. A faster and easier alternative is using the path discovery feature of an active monitoring platform.


Resolving network and application performance issues requires detailed information about the traffic flowing in your network. While you may understand the architecture of your core network and the logical path from one point to another, the actual path packets take may come as a surprise. The common use of cloud resources, SaaS applications, and mobile devices means packets enter and leave your network from a variety of ingress and egress points. You may know very little about the structure of networks adjacent to yours. Path discovery is a way to identify exactly where a particular packet has come from and trace how it moves through your network. Verifying simple connectivity is also not sufficient for addressing issues in complex networks. For example, connectivity to a service provider can be functioning, but the quality of service may still be inadequate or not up to contract specifications. Or, in the case of a performance bottleneck, you need to discover the exact location in order to implement a fix that will stick and not recur. Path discovery reveals the hop-by-hop movements of packets, along with the relevant metrics. This information allows you to zero in on the right fix faster and avoid spending money on unnecessary equipment upgrades.

The standard path discovery tool used by network engineers is trace-route. Applying this tool is usually the first step in investigating traffic behavior and performance. But using trace-route takes time, skill, and is often insufficient for identifying the root cause of issues. If you are responsible for fast resolution of performance issues, you should know how an active monitoring platform can assist you.


Active monitoring makes it easier for IT teams to test and observe network performance under a variety of conditions. Network engineers use the active monitoring platform to generate realistic test traffic, pass it through live network infrastructure, and observe key performance indicators from a variety of virtual endpoints. No specific hardware or software endpoints need to be deployed. Active monitoring lets network engineers detect, diagnose, and remediate issues before they impact users and result in costly recovery efforts. A byproduct of active monitoring is a detailed and verified map of the route packets take through your network. This alternate form of path discovery is automatically available for troubleshooting. Because experts recommend running active monitoring continuously, path discovery is always up-to-date and accurate.

Figure1. Network path discovery result from Keysight Hawkeye (screenshot)

Consider the benefits of using active monitoring for path discovery:

Advanced topology discovery. The larger and more dynamic the network, the more difficult it is to keep an up-to-date network topology map. You can eliminate manual topology documentation using a monitoring solution with advanced discovery capabilities. Keysight’s Hawkeye solution, for example, automatically creates a virtual map of all your active network paths.

Hop-by-hop discovery. While you may understand the architecture of your core network and the logical path from one point to another, the actual path packets take may come as a surprise and include many more hops than you realized. Hop-by-hop discovery reveals the actual path your packets take. A monitoring solution that displays key performance indicators for each hop in a packet’s journey helps engineers locate the root cause of slowdowns and trouble spots.

Application path discovery. In some application troubleshooting scenarios, you will need to trace application traffic from device to device to locate the source of an issue. A monitoring platform that can display key performance indicators for application traffic, node by node, will simplify the problem isolation process and eliminate the need to create manual rules and filters.

Visual display of results. Once you have discovered all the active network paths, you can begin monitoring packet loss, availability, and performance of each node on your network. A customizable dashboard utilizing maps, charts, and alerts makes it easy for you to see relevant performance data on one screen and to zero in on anomalies and bottlenecks.

Quick troubleshooting tools. The flexibility of an active monitoring platform gives you easy access to quick validation tests and advanced Wi-Fi tools. Use these to instantly find network and application issues.

Geo-localization of each public node. A key factor in ensuring application and network performance is knowing where your users are. A performance monitoring platform like Hawkeye can give you more insight into problem resolution by using IP addresses to display network nodes on a dynamic map.


Simplify and accelerate network troubleshooting by leveraging the path discovery feature of your active monitoring platform. If you are not currently using an active monitoring platform, find out more about the benefits in The Essential Guide to Active Monitoring (see link below).