When considering flow technologies, most people look in two directions: NetFlow and sFlow. But recently, some have begun to wonder just which of the two technologies is superior, and that gave way to an analysis of the subject which revealed some surprising results as to which one overall provided the better quality.
A recent study undertaken, which included not only a point-to-point comparison but interviews with users of both technologies, showed that for the most part when it comes to network monitoring and security, NetFlow outclassed sFlow on several key fronts. First, there was the issue of collector support. Since most of the customer outcry for new features or bug fixes or the like is related to NetFlow, it's clear that collector support is going to be superior for NetFlow if for no other reason than more development is going into it.
But that's not all, as vendor support is also improved accordingly and since this too is a function of use, it makes sense to not put any more support than is necessary into a product comparatively few are using. Cisco (News - Alert) has ramped up the number of subclasses of NetFlow—NBAR, ASA NAT export, MediaNet and so on while sFlow doesn't appear to be moving in that direction at all. Even firewalls are starting to work better with NetFlow and considering the importance of firewalls in computing these days—whether business or personal—anything that works better with a firewall is worth a closer look. NetFlow also works for more event types than sFlow, and has better performance on a WAN.
While these results by themselves would say volumes about the overall performance of NetFlow against sFlow, perhaps more telling is the anecdotal evidence, in which several respondents in the interview segments expressed a nearly simultaneous wish that sFlow would "just behave like NetFlow." Reportedly, some users would even opt for NetFlow generators in SPAN ports, specifically to avoid using sFlow.
Thus, based on the studies it's fairly clear that NetFlow is superior to sFlow on several fronts. While there are still uses for sFlow, especially for those who have large numbers of sFlow-enabled devices, it will likely prove worthwhile to take a closer look at NetFlow.
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Edited by Jamie Epstein