Cisco Systems produces switches and routers and many other types of network devices. The company has a large catalog of network hardware including gateways, firewall, and wireless access points.
Whether you chose Cisco for all of your network equipment or you have the company’s product providing some of your network services, you will need to monitor and manage them.
In this guide, we will explain the options available to you when you search for network monitoring software. There are a lot of network tools on the market and it would take you a long time to check all of them out. This guide will narrow down your search to just ten systems.
The best network monitoring tools for Cisco devices
Here is our list of the seven best Cisco network monitoring tools:
- SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (FREE TRIAL) The industry-leading network monitor
- Paessler PRTG Network Monitor (FREE TRIAL) A package of network, server, and application monitors
- ManageEngine OpManager A network and server monitoring tool
- Cisco Network Assistant A network monitor produced by Cisco Systems
- Spiceworks Network Monitor A free, ad-supported network monitor
- LogicMonitor A cloud-based network monitoring service
- Zabbix A free network monitor
You can learn more about each of these tools in the following sections.
SolarWinds is the leading producer of infrastructure monitoring and management tools and has a long history of experience in communicating with Cisco devices. The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor can communicate with Cisco ASA firewalls as well as the company’s switches and routers.
The tool scans the network on installation and discovers all devices attached to it. This leads to the automatic generation of a network topology map. The Network Performance Monitor continues to poll all registered devices for their statuses every five minutes. The results of this status check are shown in the dashboard of the tool – interpreted as color-coded graphs and charts as well as data. The periodic checks also keep the device inventory and network topology map up-to-date automatically.
The monitoring system allows device agents to notify the Network Performance Monitor of problems without having to wait for a status request. These emergency notices are called alerts and they get shown in the dashboard of the tool. The Network Performance monitor can also forward alerts to team members via SMS or email.
These status check and alert messages work on the procedures laid down in the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). This means that the Network Performance Monitor is able to communicate with just about all network devices, no matter who produced them – all manufacturers of networking equipment load device SNMP device agents onto their products before shipping.
The SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer is able to communicate with Cisco switches via the NetFlow protocol. This is an application native to Cisco that captures packet headers and collects traffic statistics. The Analyzer can also gather statistics via IPFIX, sFlow, and J-Flow, which are reporting languages used by the network equipment produced by other manufacturers. The NetFlow Analyzer is able to implement traffic-shaping measures by creating queue on switches that prioritize certain types of traffic.
Paessler PRTG Network Monitor is a collection of monitors, which are called “sensors.” The tool is able to monitor networks, servers, and applications. The main system used by the monitoring suite to watch over network devices is SNMP. This gives PRTG an autodiscovery function on installation and a continuously-updated device inventory. The tool will also automatically draw network topology maps from the inventory data.
The statuses of all network devices are shown in the dashboard. Comprehension is made easier by data visualizations, such as charts, meters, and graphs, which are color-coded. PRTG is able to monitor the statuses of all network devices, not just those produced by Cisco Systems.
When you buy PRTG, you pay for an allowance of sensors. Paessler ships the entire package of all possible sensors to all customers. However, you customize your implementation by deciding which sensors to activate. The Cisco System Health sensor specifically checks on the hardware statuses of your Cisco devices.
Among other monitors in the pack is a NetFlow sensor – there are also sensors for sFlow and J-Flow. Another Cisco-specific monitor in the package is the IP SLA sensor. This accesses “service level agreement” data collected on Cisco switches to check on the qualities of VoIP transmissions. The Cisco ADSL sensor is able to get link throughput and capacity data from Cisco routers.
Traffic shaping measures can be tracked through PRTG with the Cisco CBQoS sensor. This gathers queue information from Cisco switches. The Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) firewall can be queried using PRTG’s SNMP Cisco ASA VPN Traffic sensor and the Cisco ASA VPN Users sensor.
You can get a 30-day free trial of PRTG with unlimited sensors. If you only ever activate up to 100 sensors, the software is free to use forever. The package runs on Windows Server.
OpManager, from ManageEngine is a network and server monitoring packages. It is able to manage Cisco ASR series, Catalyst series, Nexus, and UCS devices. This is a general network monitoring tool that can communicate with the devices produced by all suppliers, not just Cisco Systems. It is able to track wireless networks as well as regular LANs by deploying the Cisco WLC system of the company’s wireless access points.
The network monitor is able to communicate in the Cisco-created protocols NetFlow, IP SLA, CBQoS, and NBAR. The NBAR system is Network Based Application Recognition. This identifies applications in passing traffic running through routers. This system allows you to perform traffic-shaping measures by application, block certain applications, or reroute traffic according to its application.
OpManager enables you to see all of these switch and router settings for all of your devices from one console. The main protocol used by OpManager for network monitoring is SNMP, which means it continues to check constantly on the status of all devices, including those provided by Cisco Systems. As with most SNMP implementations, OpManager compiles a device inventory when it starts in operation. The tool also draws up a network topology map and keeps both the map and the inventory updated though its regular SNMP status enquiries.
The dashboard of the tool is very well planned and manages to display a lot of information in each screen. It includes eye-catching charts and graphs and shows the alerts sent out by device agents that detect status problems. You can create your own alert rules and even customize the dashboard. ManageEngine offers OpManager on a 30-day free trial. The software runs on Windows Server and Linux.
A network monitoring system from Cisco Systems seems to be the ideal solution for those managing a network that includes Cisco devices. The fact that this tool is free makes it even more tempting. However, there is a catch. The tool can only monitor a network that has a maximum of 80 devices. So, this would be a good choice for a small- to middle-sized company. Another downside is that most of its features only work for Cisco products, so if you have a site with mixed device providers, then you won’t get full information on non-Cisco equipment.
The Network Assistant will track down and log all of your Cisco devices and it will also draw a network topology map. The system includes status reports, both scheduled, and on demand, and displays alerts on performance thresholds and device conditions. It will also show warranty information on each device and service life expectancy, taken from the Cisco aftersales database.
One unique feature that this product has is its device access service. Most network monitors will interpret commands and implement them on the device – actions such as implementing queuing, for example. This tool lets you access the device’s management menu through the monitor dashboard.
The software of the monitor runs on Windows Professional, Windows Ultimate, Windows Server, and Mac OS. The tool might be a useful companion to a full network monitoring software, but unless your network only has and will only ever have Cisco devices, it won’t be enough to monitor your site.
Spiceworks can manage networks with a mix of device brands, including equipment supplied by Cisco Systems. This tool is designed for small networks, because it has a limit of 25 devices. However, it is free to use. The company makes its money from advertising in the dashboard, so you will have to put up with that.
The tool operates as a standard network monitor and doesn’t have specific tools for managing Cisco devices. However, it includes an autodiscovery feature, which will give you a list of your network equipment that is constantly updated. The monitor uses SNMP to poll all devices for statuses at regular intervals and also includes the SNMP trap system that results in alert messages shown in the dashboard. Alerts can be customized.
Spiceworks produces another tool, called Spiceworks Inventory, which gives you a better track on all of your devices and also includes software auditing and updating facilities. This tool runs discovery procedures on demand.
Another Spiceworks tool that would help you check on the performance of your Cisco devices is called Connectivity Dashboard. This utility is a troubleshooting tool that checks on connection statuses between two endpoints, which could be across the network or across the internet. Either way, the feedback from this facility will identify any problems you have with your Cisco equipment.
Despite being a producer of free tools, Spiceworks provides full professional support for its network monitoring software. The company also runs an impressive user community from where you can get tips from other Spiceworks users.
Spiceworks Network Monitor, Connectivity Dashboard, and Spiceworks Inventory install on Windows. Spiceworks Inventory is also available as an online service.
LogicMonitor is an online service, so you don’t need to worry about installing or maintaining its software. You do need to install a data collector agent on your system. Communications between the collector and the remote management tool is all encrypted.
This monitor will discover all of your devices automatically, log them in a register, and create a network topology map. The inventory includes the make and model of each device, so you will be able to quickly identify your Cisco equipment.
The LogicMonitor network monitor uses SNMP to log device statuses and it will also process SNMP traps into alerts in the dashboard. The tool uses the Cisco NetFlow system to monitor traffic levels and bandwidth capacity.
The LogicMonitor agent will communicate with your Cisco routers, switches and wireless access points (APs). It will track the statuses of device module and card CPU availability, memory pool, and temperature. It can gather traffic statistics and settings related to VoIP Quality of Service, IP SLA, and traffic shaping measures. The tool has extra functionality when dealing with Cisco Nexus switches.
With Nexus switches, LogicMonitor can perform configuration management as well as monitoring. In addition to monitoring CPU and memory statuses, the monitor can track supervisor card status and redundancy states, ejector and line card statuses, FRUN status and power draw, VDC status, fan performance, and temperature.
LogicMonitor is available in three service levels: Starter, Pro, and Enterprise – none of which are free. However, you can get a 14-day free trial of LogicMonitor.
Zabbix is a great free network monitor that can be extended to have specific functionality. The mechanism for add-ons is called “templates” in Zabbix. The standard monitoring system uses SNMP, so you get device discovery, status polling, and alerts with this monitor.
The templates available for Cisco equipment give you channels to connect directly to Cisco devices, query them, and update their settings. There are templates for all types of Cisco equipment, including firewalls. These templates are available for free from the user community.
The dashboard for the service is very attractive and it is also customizable. You get a network map page, which is updated automatically from regular SNMP status reviews. You also get a device inventory in the dashboard. Equipment statuses and events are displayed on the screen in text and also in color-coded charts and graphs. The monitor ships with a number of standard reports, but you can also write your own, or get them from the user community.
Unlike other free network monitors, there is no limit to the number of devices that you can monitor with Zabbix. Large organizations might shy away from the standard Zabbix system because it doesn’t include a professional support service. However, you can pay for support, which is available in five service level packages: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Enterprise. The company runs support centers in the USA, Ireland, Japan, and Russia.
Zabbix includes some extra functions that aren’t usually included in standard network monitors. These include traffic analysis, forecasting features and anomaly detection for intrusion prevention.
Selecting a Cisco monitoring tool
Our list includes tools that are suitable for small networks and others that would be good for large systems. Some would work well for companies of any size. Your next stage in narrowing down your options is to eliminate those tools that aren’t appropriate for your network size and number of devices. You also need to pay attention to the providers of your network equipment. If all of your network equipment comes from Cisco Systems, then you could use any of the monitors in this list. If you have devices from other manufacturers, you would probably be better off avoiding the Cisco Network Assistant.
Your other considerations when selecting a monitoring tool should be budget and number of sites and servers. Most of the tools in this list can monitor WANs and include Cloud-based services. However, some, such as PRTG charge for their software per site and per server.
You will discover that SolarWinds and ManageEngine produce other infrastructure management tools that integrate with the utilities explained in this guide. That expandable operability could be an advantage for you if you need to monitor mobile devices, add on help desk functions, or add specialist monitoring tools for virtualization or security devices.
Enjoy your search for a new monitor for your Cisco devices. Now you know the best tools to focus on, the time pressure is off and you can make the most of the free offers of these recommended tools to really put them through their paces.