Best network monitoring tools

The network monitoring software market is so packed full of tools that it can be difficult to choose. Comprehensive network monitoring tools give you the visibility to manage your devices and make sure that they’re available when you need them.

With so many different considerations in network management, it is no surprise that there is a very wide range of tools that qualify as « network management tools. » For example, a LAN analyzer or packet sniffer that taps the network to enable you to see the data as it travels is a network tool, but it won’t monitor all of the factors you need to cover in your task as a network manager.

The types of network monitoring tools that your organization needs will depend largely on the size of your operation and network, the configuration of the elements that make up that network, the size of your budget, and the size of your admin team.

Taking these factors into consideration, this guide will cover a range of network monitoring tools that can help you monitor the performance of your network, no matter what its size and configuration.

Here is our list of the best network monitoring tools:

  1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor EDITOR’S CHOICE
    Far more than just a simple scanner. Most network security issues arise when configurations are changed and SolarWinds NPM identifies these and can automatically resolve many. Alongside solid vulnerability scanning and advanced options to create and monitor policies, this is by far the top choice for network monitoring systems. Get a 30-day free trial.
  2. Datadog Network Performance Monitoring (FREE TRIAL) Offers a great visual overview of your network components and the network traffic flows between each component. Helps you get to the bottom of DNS, app and infrastructure issues.
  3. ManageEngine OpManager (FREE TRIAL) Network monitor that can monitor SNMP devices, switches, servers, and virtualized network services.
  4. Progress WhatsUp Gold (FREE TRIAL) A network performance monitor that utilizes SNMP to check on network device health and can be expanded by paid add-ons to monitor other resources. Installs on Windows Server.
  5. Site24x7 Network Monitoring (FREE TRIAL) A combined IT infrastructure, applications, and user behavior monitoring service available in the cloud.
  6. Paessler PRTG Network Monitor (FREE TRIAL) Free network monitoring software that uses SNMP, packet sniffing and WMI to monitor your network.
  7. Nagios Core – One of the top open-source network monitoring tools. Includes a dashboard view, alerts system, community plugins, and more.
  8. Zabbix – Open source network monitoring software with SNMP and IPMP monitoring. Includes an alerts system and community plugins.
  9. Icinga – Open source network monitoring system with a DSL. Includes extensions.
  10. Spiceworks Connectivity Dashboard – Free network monitoring software with a high-quality dashboard and simple alert system.

The best network monitoring tools

As part of our comparison we’ve looked out for important network management platform features such as SNMP, network mapping, uptime/downtime, alerting, bandwidth monitoring, network health, dashboards, and more to highlight tools with an exceptional user experience.

The network monitoring software and tools we review include a combination of free, paid, and open source software for Windows, Mac, and Linux. We’ve also listed the main features in each section to help you find the right tool for your network.

1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (FREE TRIAL)

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is a comprehensive network performance monitoring tool that can monitor the status of devices with SNMP. It can automatically discover network devices connected to your network. Use the dashboard to monitor the availability and performance of connected network devices from a holistic perspective.

Any devices, applications, or services that have been discovered can also be viewed on a network topology map where you can see how your infrastructure links together. The NetPath feature allows you to trace packet transfers hop-by-hop, which can help to diagnose the origin of performance network issues more effectively.

The custom alerts system enables you to set trigger conditions for alerts. Once the trigger conditions are met the software will send you a notification by email or SMS to let you know that an event has taken place. The user can view a comprehensive list of alerts according to severity by going to the All Active Alerts page.

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is a top network monitoring system because of its diverse feature set. It can rotate between SNMP monitoring to packet analysis with ease, giving you control over what segments of your network you monitor. The price of SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor starts at $2,995 (£2,304). You can download the 30-day free trial.

Key features:

  • SNMP monitoring
  • Automatically discovers connected network devices
  • Network packet analysis
  • Intelligent network maps with NetPath
  • Create Wifi heat maps
  • Alerts system
  • Reports system

Related post: SolarWinds Network Monitor – Full Review

EDITOR'S CHOICE

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor gives detailed insights into what causes network slowness and allows you to quickly resolve the root causes using deep packet inspection. By identifying network traffic by application, category, (business vs. social), and risk level you can eliminate and filter problem traffic and measure application response time. With a great user interface, this is an excellent choice for packet sniffing and network analysis.

Get 30 Day Free Trial: www.solarwinds.com/network-performance-monitor/

OS: Windows Server

2. Datadog Network Performance Monitoring (FREE TRIAL)

Datadog Network Monitoring

Datadog Network Performance Monitoring is a cloud-based SaaS infrastructure monitoring service that examines network traffic flows. It is partnered by a Network Device Monitoring service, which focuses on the statuses of each device on the network, such as switches, routers, and appliances.

The Network Performance Monitor is able to blend together the network monitoring effort for many sites and also include cloud resources. As a SaaS package, the service includes the processor to run the monitoring software and storage space for gathered statistics. As well as displaying live statuses, this network monitoring service offers packet capture and analysis utilities.

The Datadog Network Performance Monitoring service begins its work by exploring your network and identifying each device. This autodiscovery service means all of the setup of the monitoring system is performed for you. The network discovery routine creates a device inventory, which forms an index for the entire monitoring service.

Once all devices and links have been identified, you can get an overview of all network activity from the Datadog dashboard. The service also draws up a network topology map and that can be used to get quick insights into each node or link. The map is clickable, creating a link through to device statistics and performance details. That information also extends to Internet connections out to other sites and cloud resources.

The network exploration services of Datadog are recursive, so they automatically spot any changes you make to your network. This adjusts the network inventory and the network topology map without any human intervention.

Traffic flow analysis features in the Datadog tool enable you to examine each device and link to discover total capacity and utilization. You can check on traffic volumes from one point on the network to another and also identify the activity on each link. Traffic statistics can be filtered by protocol, endpoint, or conversation because the Datadog system examines the headers of each packet, enabling even live data to be analyzed as at passes through your routers and switches.

You can opt to store traffic for historical analysis, examining the volumes of traffic caused by specific conversations. The analysis features let you see which applications or endpoints generate the most traffic on your network.

Specialist network service monitoring in the package adds supervision of DNS server activities. This takes care of DNS statuses and ensures that your traffic isn’t being misdirected or blocked because of DNS errors.

As well as providing one centralized view of all of your networks, the Datadog Network Performance Monitoring service will integrate with other Datadog monitoring services, such as the Network Device Monitoring system or the Datadog APM. Combining monitoring packages adds functionality to the network monitoring service. You can get a 14-day free trial of the network monitoring system.

Key features:

  • Live network mapping and protocol analysis
  • Alerts on performance thresholds that are adjusted through machine learning
  • Correlation with data from SNMP and other sources

Datadog Network Performance Monitoring Start 14-day FREE Trial

3. ManageEngine OpManager (FREE TRIAL)

ManageEngine OpManager

ManageEngine OpManager is a network monitoring solution that can monitor the performance of network devices, servers, routers, switches, and virtual machines in real-time. Customizable dashboards provide over 200 widgets for you to create a unique monitoring experience.

SNMP monitoring keeps you updated on the performance of devices within your network. For increased visibility, you can use the network mapping feature to automatically discover and map new devices. You can schedule network discovery to find new devices once they’re added to your network.

The alerts system helps you to respond to performance changes quickly. ManageEngine OpManager correlates network events and only presents relevant alerts to the user while minimizing false positives. The program sends alerts by email and SMS to keep you updated on any emerging problems.

Manageengine OpManager is an all-in-one network monitor that is recommended for users that want a simple infrastructure monitoring tool. Paid versions start at $245 (£188.55) for 10-1,000 devices up to $11,545 (£8,885 for 250-10,000 devices. You can download the 30-day free trial.

Key features:

  • Automatic discovery
  • Network mapping
  • SNMP monitoring
  • Email and SMS alerts
  • Customizable dashboards

OpManager from ManageEngine Download 30-day FREE trial

Related post: ManageEngine OpManager – Full Review

4. Progress WhatsUp Gold (FREE TRIAL)

WhatsUp Gold Network Analysis Dashboard

WhatsUp Gold from Progress Software Corporation is a network performance monitor that uses the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to check on network device health. The flexible pricing system of this software allows you to add on other services, including configuration management, log management, application monitoring, and traffic analysis capabilities.

The WhatsUp Gold system includes an autodiscovery module. This populates the monitoring device inventory at startup and then continues to poll for any changes in the resources on the network. The system will automatically update the network inventory should any devices get added, moved, or removed.

WhatsUp Gold also includes a network topology mapper that uses the device inventory data to automatically create maps of your network. These topology maps also adapt automatically if the device inventory changes.

The network monitoring features of WhatsUp Gold cover LANs, wireless networks, and Internet connections out to remote sites or cloud resources.

Progress doesn’t publish a price list for WhatsUp Gold. The exact price you pay depends on the number of servers, applications, and network devices that you have on your network. There are two additions to the system: WhatsUp Gold Premium, which is a network performance monitor. The higher plan is called WhatsUp Gold Total Plus, which includes Network Traffic Analysis, Virtualization Monitoring, Application Performance Monitoring, and Configuration management modules. Customers of WhatsUp Gold Premium can add on any of those extra modules individually for a fee.

The software for this monitoring system installs on Windows Server and it is available for a 14-day free trial.

Key features:

  • SNMP-based
  • Status alerts
  • Network discovery
  • Automated network mapping
  • Diagnostic tools

Progress WhatsUp Gold Download 14-day FREE Trial

5. Site24x7 Network Monitoring (FREE TRIAL)

Site24x7
The Site24x7 cloud-based network monitoring tool that covers IT infrastructure, applications, and user behavior. The network monitoring section of the tool is able to automatically discover all devices attached to the network. Site24x7 compiles an equipment inventory from the results of that search and then draws up network topology maps automatically. The inventory and maps all get updated automatically whenever equipment gets added, moved, or removed.

The autodiscovery feature of Site24x7 is driven by the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). This system is built into all network devices. It just needs an SNMP manager to request status information from the agent software that is loaded onto every switch and router by their manufacturers. Site24x7 fulfills that SNMP manager.

SNMP includes a procedure that allows device agents to send a notification to the manager when it discovers a critical condition on the device that it is monitoring. This message gets converted into a warning or an alert by the Site24x7 dashboard, depending on the severity rating marked on the message from the agent.

Site24x7 monitors switches, routers, firewall appliances, power supplies, load balancers, wireless networks, cloud services, and WAN connections. It isn’t a bandwidth traffic monitor. The monitor focuses on connected hardware. A wider view of the Site24x7 package shows that the system also monitors other hardware, such as endpoints and servers. It also tracks the performance of applications. A user behavior module in the package is of particular use to businesses that run websites. It includes real user monitoring to analyze typical buyer journeys and also synthetic web transaction monitoring, which simulates access to a website.

Site24x7 is available for free. The free version of the service is limited to monitoring five websites or servers. There are four paid editions of the service. Each is tailored to different corporate needs. Each of the paid versions of Site24x7 is available on a 30-day free trial.

Key features:

  • All-in-one solution with automatic network discovery
  • Real-time application and network device monitor
  • Powerful reporting, analytics, and alerts

Site24x7 Network Monitoring Start 30-day FREE Trial

6. Paessler PRTG Network Monitor (FREE TRIAL)

Paessler PRTG
PRTG Network Monitor from Paessler is a free network monitoring suite that uses SNMP, packet sniffing, and WMI to monitor your network. Scan network segments to discover and add devices to monitor. You can choose between a range of sensors to monitor various segments of your network. Each sensor monitors an individual value in your network, for instance, there are Bandwidth Monitoring Sensors, Hardware Parameters Sensors, network data usage meters, SNMP sensors, VOIP and QoS sensors, and more.

For greater visualization, the tool has a customizable dashboard that allows you to produce real-time network maps of your infrastructure. You can create maps with the drag-and-drop editor and use over 300 map objects to build the map. You can even create your own map objects with custom HTML.

The threshold-based alerts system keeps the user updated if the status of a sensor changes, a value changes or a threshold is breached. Notifications are available in a variety of formats including email, push notification, SMS, Slack message, Syslog message, SNMP trap, HTTP action, execute program, and more.

PRTG Network Monitor is a must-try for enterprises looking for cost-effective but comprehensive network monitoring tools. The platform is available for free for less than 100 sensors, after which you have to pay. Paid versions start at $1,600 (£1,231.14) for 500 sensors and 1 server installation. Download the 30-day free trial.

Key features:

  • SNMP monitoring
  • Bandwidth monitoring
  • Scan for network devices by IP segment
  • Custom dashboards
  • Threshold-based alerts system
  • Reports system
  • Customizable network maps

Related post: Paessler PRTG Network Monitor – Full Review

PRTG Network Monitor from Paessler Download 30-day FREE Trial

Related post: Network Configuration Management Software

7. Nagios Core

Nagios XI

Nagios Core is an open-source network monitor that has a web interface for monitoring network performance. Through the user network interface, you can monitor your Current Network Status with your Host Status Totals and Network Service Status Totals broken down at the top of the page. The GUI is color-coded so you can easily see elements that are unavailable or compromised.

Track performance events through the alerts system, which sends out notifications by email and SMS. View the Alert History section to see what alerts were created and when. The list of alerts is also color-coded making it easier to prioritize critical alerts.

You can use APIs to integrate other network services. If you require more functions then you can also check the thousands of community plugins available on the Nagios Exchange to help you add additional functions. For example, there is a check SNMP CPU load plugin that allows you to monitor the SNMP load or CPU usage of your network device.

Nagios Core is an excellent free network monitoring software however the setup can be slightly more hands-on than other products on this list. Download Nagios Core for free, or depending on your needs, see how it compares with Nagios XI.

Key features:

  • Performance dashboard
  • Alerts system
  • Availability reports
  • Capacity planning
  • Community-created plugins
  • APIs

8. Zabbix

Zabbix

Zabbix is an open-source free network monitoring tool that combines network, server, cloud, application, and services monitoring into one unified solution. Zabbix uses SNMP and IPMP to monitor your network. The autodiscovery feature automatically locates network devices and adds them to be monitored. The tool can also detect configuration changes automatically so you can tell if a network device has been updated.

Network monitoring templates make it easy to configure the program for monitoring. For example, there are preconfigured templates for vendors such as Cisco, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell, Intel, Netgear, and more. If you require more variety then you can access even more community templates form the Zabbix community site.

To ensure that you can respond to alerts in time, Zabbix has a notification system. Alerts are sent by email, SMS, messenger, jabber, or custom scripts to update you on evolving network security events. The notification content can be customized according to the recipient to make sure that the point of contact has everything they need to reopen intelligently.

Zabbix is one of the top Linux network monitoring tools on the market. Autodiscovery and templates make the program straightforward to deploy. You can download the software for free.

Key features:

  • Autodiscovery feature
  • SNMP and IPMP monitoring
  • Application monitoring
  • Server monitoring
  • Network monitoring templates
  • Automatic detection of configuration changes
  • Alerts system

Related post: Nagios vs Zabbix

9. Icinga

Icinga

Icinga is an open-source network monitoring tool that monitors the performance of your network, cloud-service, and data center. The software is web-based and can be configured through the GUI or with the Domain Specific Language (DSL). Having the choice between the two gives you the power to monitor however you want.

You can log in to the GUI and use the dashboard to view an overview of performance management. The dashboard displays whether there are any problems with performance or availability and color-codes them according to severity. Critical or Down network devices are marked in red.

Extensions or Icinga Modules, allow you to add more functions to the program. For example, the Icinga Module for vSphere allows you to monitor virtual machines and host systems. There is a range of community-created plugins you can download for free from the Icinga Exchange.

Overall, Icinga is a scalable solution that gives you control over how you manage your environment. Icinga is available for Debian, Red Hat, SUSE, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Raspbian, and Windows. You can download the free trial version.

Key features:

  • Web-based GUI
  • DSL configuration available
  • Dashboard
  • Icinga Modules / Extensions

10. Spiceworks Connectivity Dashboard

Spiceworks connectivity dashboard

Spiceworks Connectivity Dashboard is a popular free network monitoring software. Through the web-based GUI, you access the dashboard and monitor the availability of your network infrastructure in real-time.

The software also comes with integrations with Spiceworks Inventory and Cloud Help Desk so that you can monitor your network inventory more effectively. For example, with Spiceworks Inventory, you can monitor information on IP addresses, OS, MAC addresses, and more.

The alerts system lets you know about any performance fluctuations so you receive notifications via email. If you don’t want to configure your own alert conditions then you can use the settings the software has configured by default.

Spiceworks Connectivity Dashboard is ideal for smaller enterprises that are looking for an affordable network performance monitoring solution. It’s easy to use and it has an active user community behind it. You can download the software for free.

Key features:

  • Web-based GUI
  • Real-time dashboard
  • Graphs
  • Email alerts

Choosing a network monitoring tool

It is common in many IT departments to combine the functions of server, application, storage, and network management, because all of these elements are interdependent on ensuring successful delivery of services to end-users. Combined software packages containing monitoring tools can cover all of these elements of company infrastructure. A network monitoring tool can be a small command-line utility, or a vast suite of services.

Networking technology involves many different specialist functions. At a fundamental level, you have the physical aspects of your network to look out for — the wire or optic fiber that carries LAN data or the transmitters that create wireless networks’ radio waves. You also have to ensure that the network is secure and that the environmental conditions in the building are suitable for your equipment.

In all, you need to keep on top of potential problems on the network and head them off. If failure does occur, try to catch it and fix it before it impacts the work of the users of the network. If all measures fail, the help desk enables you to receive alerts from users to identify undetected problems.

Our editor’s choice for this article is SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor because of its range of features. The tool has all the essential features you need to start monitoring your network including autodiscovery, dashboards, network maps, bandwidth monitoring, and an alerts system.

Paessler PRTG Network Monitor is another solid alternative on account of its highly configurable sensor system. Just remember to pick the solution that’s right for you, as not all programs will match your needs.

Network Monitoring Tools FAQs

What is the difference between network monitoring and application performance monitoring?

Network monitoring is concerned with the performance of the devices that operate the network, such as switches and routers. This activity is called network performance monitoring. The other main task of network monitoring examines traffic flow, this is called network traffic analysis. While some network traffic analysis tasks involve identifying the applications that generate or receive traffic, those monitoring functions are not concerned with whether the applications are running properly. Application performance monitoring watches whether applications are able to get all of the resources they need in order to function properly. One of those resources is access to the network.

What is the best remote network monitoring tool?

All of the tools listed in this review are capable of monitoring networks remotely, that is, they can connect over the internet to another site and monitor all aspects of network performance. Remote monitoring can be performed just as easily by software resident on a cloud server as it can by software resident on a server in the same building as the network administrator. 

What are the types of network monitoring software?

There are two types of network monitors: packet sniffers, which sample network traffic, and network performance monitors, which collect network device reports. There are seven types of network monitoring systems:

  • Performance monitors – Processors of Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) status messages.
  • Performance testers – Issue commands, such as Ping and Traceroute to gather statistics.
  • Protocol analyzers – Based on packet sniffers for LANs.
  • Wireless sniffers – Based on packet sniffers for wireless networks.
  • Firewalls – Read packets traveling through the network boundary.
  • Intrusion detection systems – Identify standard and anomalous traffic patterns.
  • SIEM tools – Examine log files for signs of security breaches.

How do I monitor all network traffic?

Traffic monitoring tools are called traffic analyzers or NetFlow monitors. While network performance monitors query network device statuses, traffic analyzers examine throughput data from network devices and also extract the headers of passing packets to quantify traffic by protocol, source, and destination. 

How does a network monitoring tool work?

Most network monitoring tools use the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). This is an industry-standard for networking and requires an SNMP manager to collect data from SNMP agents. An SNMP agent needs to be resident on each device. All network device manufacturers ship their products with an SNMP agent already installed. All that is lacking is the SNMP manager and this is the role that the network performance monitoring tool provides.

What makes a good network monitoring tool?

A good network monitoring tool should include:

  1. An autodiscovery function to compile a network inventory
  2. An automated network topology mapper
  3. Drill-down views giving a network performance summary and then statistics per device type through to each individual network device
  4. Performance expectation thresholds that define acceptable performance.
  5. An alerting mechanism so that operators will be drawn to the dashboard if a problem arises.
  6. Color-coded data visualization to aid rapid status recognition.
  7. Pre-written report templates to automatically extract key network performance statistics for analysis and presentations. 

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