Microsoft produces Windows in a range of editions, but by far the best version for running a network is Windows Server. The popularity of Windows Server for a range of business functions means that network monitoring software providers prioritize the production of their services to run on this operating system.
In this guide, you will read about the ten best network monitoring tools and software that will run on Windows, and particularly on Windows Server.
We cover each tool in depth. If you only have time for a summary, here is our list of the 10 best network monitoring tools for Windows:
- SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (FREE TRIAL) SNMP-based monitors for Windows Server
- Paessler PRTG Network Monitor (FREE TRIAL) server, application, and network monitor for Windows Server
- ManageEngine OpManager network and server monitor for Windows and Linux
- Spiceworks Network Monitor free, ad-supported network monitor
- Axense nVision free network monitor with paid add-ons
- WhatsUp Gold an SNMP network monitor for Windows Server
- Zabbix free network monitor for Windows, Linux, Unix, and Mac OS
- OP5 network, server, and application monitor for Windows and Linux
- Kaseya VSA a Windows-based network monitor that is suitable for MSPs
- EventSentry network security and performance monitor for Windows
How do network monitoring tools work?
There are many tasks to perform in order to monitor a network. However, the concept of “network monitoring” has come to represent a specific category of software. Network monitors usually use the procedures made available by the Simple Network Management Protocol to monitor the statuses of network devices.
As all traffic has to pass through some device or other, such as a hub, a switch, or a router, any problems with one of these devices with slow or even cripple your network traffic.
Network devices are shipped with SNMP agents already installed on them. You just have to ensure that the capability is turned on when you install a new device. Those SNMP agents monitor the devices that they are installed on and compile a status report. That report only gets sent out if a request arrives from a central SNMP manager. In the case of emergency conditions, the SNMP agent will send out an alert, which is called a “trap.”
The agents running on devices will never send out their status reports if you do not have an SNMP manager to request them. When an agent sends out a trap alert, that information is left unheard if there is no SNMP manager on the network. This is why you need to install a network monitoring tool. The monitor provides the element that is missing from your network’s SNMP system – the manager.
Benefits of network monitoring tools
As well as gathering those SNMP reports, a good network monitoring tool should be able to interpret all incoming data in graphical format. You are probably too busy to sit looking at a screen of report records scrolling past, so a graph or pie chart representing that live data is a real time saver. Being able to see color-coded statuses at a glance helps you to keep an eye on your network in a side windows while you get on with other important tasks.
Alerts usually appear on the screen in a network monitor, either in a special side panel, or as an emergency overlay popup. This is useful, but you can’t always be at your desk.
Therefore, network monitoring tools that are able to forward alerts to you via SMS, email, or chat app is a real benefit. Being able to access the monitoring console through a mobile app is another time saver in emergency situations.
A very useful aspect of SNMP, which all good network monitors exploit is a network discovery option. This autodiscovery can feed through to network topology mappers and keep track of any movement of removal of devices and also show when new devices are added to the network.
So, with a network monitoring tool you should expect to see an automatic network device inventory system, a network topology mapper, a device status monitor and an alerting mechanism.
You can read more about these tools in the following sections.
The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is our top pick SNMP-based network monitor. One of the big advantages of this network tool for Windows Server is that the company produces a range of network and infrastructure management tools on a common platform, called Orion, so you can add on extra modules to expand your system management support.
The Network Performance Monitor starts its service with an autodiscovery phase, logging all encountered network devices and producing a network topology map. The inventory and map get updated automatically when devices on the network get added, moved, or removed. The topology map is color-coded so you can tell which devices are running fine and which are overloaded or in trouble. The system also includes a wireless network heatmap so you can see where your wifi APs’ signal footprints overlap and where the are dead zones on your premises.
Other visualizations in the Network Performance Monitor include PerfStack which shows the services that underlie each application. This will enable you to see exactly which layer of infrastructure is experiencing problems when your application delivery performance suddenly drops. You also get NetPath, which isolates the links between two points on your network, so you can see which hops are slowing down connections. All of the mapping and monitoring functions of the Network Performance Monitor extend out over the internet to include the monitoring of connections out to cloud-based resources.
Regular device statuses are shown in the attractive console, which features, graphs, charts, and dials for data visualization. Alerts are displayed in a special panel. You can create your own custom alerts by setting performance warning thresholds and combining conditions. Alerts can also be directed to different team members by severity or source and can be notified by email or SMS.
The dashboard can be customized and you can create different data access toolsets and performance views for different user groups in your team.
The SolarWinds Network Performance monitor is not free, but you can get it on a 30-day free trial.
Paessler PRTG Network Monitor is an all-in-one infrastructure monitoring system. It monitors applications and servers as well as networks. The tool is composed of individual monitors, which are called sensors. Every customer receives the full software package and you buy an allowance to turn on a certain number of sensors.
The Paessler pricing structure means that if you want to add on extra services, such as application monitoring, you either turn off some of the network monitoring sensors that you currently don’t use much in order to make room in your current allowance, or you extend your sensor allocation payment. You then just have to turn on the extra sensors to get more functions.
The Paessler network discovery system relies on ICMP Ping and SNMP, then ongoing monitoring is performed by SNMP processes. Network statuses also extend to VM components and wifi and Cloud-based resources.
The dashboard is customizable and you can create many different versions to enable team members to get access to the controls and information that each needs according to job role. The standard elements in the network monitoring screens include data visualizations, such as charts, dials, and graphs, which are color-coded for quick status recognition. Alerts are shown in a special screen area and they can be sent to team members as SMS or emails.
Paessler PRTG run on Windows Server and it is a paid tool, but you can use it for free if you only need up to 100 of the sensors active. You can get a 30-day free trial with unlimited sensors.
ManageEngine is a division of Zoho, which makes business software, this network administration tools division is one of the leading providers in the market and competes closely with SolarWinds and Paessler. Like, SolarWinds, ManageEngine produces a range of tools that all fit together. OpManager is the key ManageEngine tool and it performs network monitoring with SNMP procedures.
OpManager installs on Windows Server or Linux. The screens for this tool are very attractive and the designer managed to squeeze a lot of information into a headline banner on the main network monitoring screen. Those banner elements are menu items that lead to detail screens.
This monitoring tool will look after virtualizations as well as actual network devices. Its network topology mapper will show you your network at a range of levels. These include a straightforward diagram of device connections, but you can also get your equipment shown on a 3D building layout or see the server room with the location of each device. You can even get a cabinet view with the equipment that you have in the racks. OpManager monitors your servers as well as your network devices.
You can use OpManager for free if you only have five devices to monitor. Anything more than that and you will have to pay.
Spiceworks produces a range of free, ad-supported tools. The Network Monitor is the company’s main offering and it runs on Windows environments.
On installation, the tool will search the network for attached devices and list them in an inventory. This tool is particularly interested in the status of the ports on your device, which isn’t a feature that you see in many straightforward network monitors. The dashboard is customizable and includes color-coded graphs detailing the statuses of each piece of equipment at a glance.
The alerts of the Network Monitor are derived from SNMP traps and they can be customized by setting your own warning levels or by combining conditions. Those alerts will be displayed in the dashboard and you can nominate for them to also be sent as email notifications.
The Spiceworks Network Monitor doesn’t include a mapping section, but you can add than function on in the form of the Spiceworks Network Mapper, which is also free to use. Another useful free add-on is Spiceworks Inventory. This logs all of the software on your system and keeps it all updated whenever updates become available.
Axence nVision is a package of tools based around a free Network Monitoring module. The other four modules are Inventory, Users, Helpdesk, and Dataguard. Once you activate the extra modules apart from Network Monitoring, the system is only free to use to monitor up to 10 devices. After that, it becomes a paid service.
Axence is a Polish company but it also produces the nVision package in English. This system runs on Windows environments.
The Network Monitoring is able to discover all network-connected devices including servers and user endpoints. The core module doesn’t need any software installed on monitored devices. However, if you want to install the other four modules, you will have to install an agent program on each of those pieces of equipment.
The other four modules include some useful system management tools, including antivirus management, user activity tracking, and software management. However, these tools go beyond the scope of the central network monitoring tools that this guide covers.
WhatsUp Gold, by Ipswitch has a similar structure to the tools produced by SolarWinds and ManageEngine. The basic WhatsUp Gold tool is a network performance monitor to which can be added extra infrastructure monitoring and management tools that run on the same platform and contribute to cross-modular features and utilities.
The core WhatsUp Gold is an SNMP manager and the software installs on Windows environments.
The tool has an autodiscovery mode, which kicks off on install. This will create a network device inventory and draw up a network topology map automatically. Both of these two data sources are updated automatically whenever components of the network change. The map also forms a handy index to the inventory because clicking on a device in the layout takes you through to a details page about that device that also shows its live statuses.
The operational features of the monitoring tool include constant status checks and alert handling. You can set up custom alerts and even specify automated actions for the system to perform upon the detection of a triggering warning.
You can get WhatsUp Gold on a 30-day free trial.
Zabbix is a free infrastructure monitoring system that will run on Windows, Linux, Unix, and Mac OS. The network monitoring functions of this tool operate on SNMP procedures. The monitor will search your network for attached devices upon installation, log them, and map them. After that, continual monitoring is carried out via SNMP, which also provides an alert mechanism. Systems covered by Zabbix include LANs, Cloud-based resources, and wireless networks.
Alerts will be displayed on the dashboard of the tool. These can be saved to files and/or sent out as notifications to key staff via SMS, email, or chat app. The monitor includes a section for action scripts that can be triggered by alerts. Suitable actions include data gathering routines and interventions to block users or endpoints.
Despite being a free tool, Zabbix includes some very special features that make it a great option for the central IT department of a multi-site organization. All communications with the sensors and agents installed on remote sites are encrypted to protect them as the cross the internet.
Support for the tool is a paid extra. However, there is an active user community for Zabbix, which can be accessed through a forum on the Zabbix site as a free source of advice on using the tool.
OP5 will monitor networks, servers, applications, and storage devices. It installs on Windows and Linux and there is also a Software-as-a-Service version, called OP5 Live available on the Cloud. You can monitor a mix of on-premises and offsite resources with OP5.
The charging structure for the software is based on the number of servers included in your network monitoring system. There is no extra charge for the number of sensors that you install around your network.
The autodiscovery feature of OP5 kicks in when you install the software. This tool creates a registry of all connected devices and draws up a network map. These elements are updated automatically should equipment be added, moved, or retired. OP5 offers a range of map formats including the layout of your network imposed on a real world map.
OP5 is particularly keen to monitor servers and it will create a software inventory of every server that it discovers on your network. It will also automatically monitor server attributes and status such as CPU utilization and disk usage. The combination of network, server, and application monitoring is great for those who run virtualizations and need to monitor them with this tool. OP5 can track VMware ESX, ESXi, vSphere, and vCenter Server.
You can get OP5 for a 30-day free trial.
Kaseya VSA is an infrastructure monitoring system that includes an SNMP-based network monitor. This software installs on Windows environments. The full VSA system is particularly suited to managed service providers or centralized IT departments of multi-site organizations because it includes remote control, security features, and software license management modules.
The tool runs a SNMP-driven autodiscovery phase when it installs. This system scan feeds into a device inventory and enables the Kaseya network monitor to draw up a network map. You can get your multi-site WAN plotted on a real map of the world.
Once operational, Kaseya continues to monitor devices and receives SNMP traps, which get converted into alerts. The dashboard is attractive and includes color-coded data representations for instant system status recognition.
Kaseya VSA includes a scripting language, called Lua. You can use this in the network monitoring module to create resolution automation by setting up actions that will get triggered by specific alerts.
You can get Kaseya VSA on a 14-day free trial.
EventSentry is a security system that includes network monitoring. The software installs on Windows environments.
This option is a good solution if you are particularly interested in combining your network performance and security monitoring. The approach makes sense because performance monitoring can reveal some irregular activity on your network. Most network security systems either look at events on the network or focus on system logs for information and network performance monitoring requires both event monitoring and log management.
EventSentry uses SNMP procedures to track network device statuses and combines SNMP traps with other alert sources to get a secure overview of network attacks when they happen. If no attack occurs, well, you’ve got your network monitoring function covered. Other system management features of EventSentry include configuration and patch management. The system monitors network device, traffic, server, and environment performance, and application delivery.
EventSentry Light is s free version of the monitor but it is limited to coverage for just five devices. You can get a 30-day free trial of the full EventSentry system.
Monitoring networks on Windows
Most of the network monitoring software in this guide specifically need Windows Server as the supporting platform. Some of the tools here will also install on Windows Pro. You will need to check on the edition and version of your Windows operating system with the system requirements of your chosen tool before you fully commit.
Fortunately, all of the tools in our list either have a smaller free version or a free trial period so you don’t need to worry about having to pay upfront for expensive software that might not run properly on your environment.
If you have already chosen a network monitoring system to run on your windows computer, leave a message in the Comments section below and tell us all about it.