50 Best Network Monitoring Tools of 2018

Published by on April 26, 2018 in Net Admin

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.

One level up, you need to keep an eye on the network cards that translate digital data into electric or light pulses for transmission. You need to be sure that the protocols that package data for transmission and unbundle it when it arrives are working properly.

You also have to ensure that the network is secure and that the environmental conditions in the building are suitable for your equipment.

These are just the considerations for the physical network. However, your office network is not just the cable. There are other factors to consider:

  • Networking software
  • Addressing systems
  • Protocols that run on the network, such as HTTP and FTP
  • Network devices that link the network together
  • Data endpoints, such as terminals, servers, and office equipment
  • Boundary equipment that links your network to the outside world
  • Internet services
  • Cloud services
  • In-office virtualization
  • Help desk functions

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.

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 boundaries of network management are a little fluid. 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.

The extent of the network monitoring tools that your business needs will depend largely on the size of your business 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 tools that can help you monitor the performance of your network, no matter what its size and configuration.

Here’s a list of the ten best monitoring tools:

1. Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor

One of the best network monitoring environments on the market.

More Info | Download

2. ManageEngine OpManager

A network device and server monitor that can be extended with add-ons.

More Info

3. Paessler PRTG

A comprehensive network monitoring system.

More Info

4. Axence Net Tools

A free bundle of network analysis tools.

More Info

5. ManageEngine Mobile Device Manager Plus

An amazing suite of mobile device administration functions.

More Info

6. Solarwinds Engineer’s Toolset

A full suite of network monitoring tools and testing utilities.

More Info | Download

7. Aribada NetAdmin

A network management for Macs.

More Info

8. Solarwinds IP Address Manager

Probably the best IPAM available.

More Info | Download

9. Solarwinds GNS3 Network Emulator

Tests network equipment before you install it.

More Info | Download

10. Spiceworks Inventory

A free network device monitor.

More Info

Network monitoring tool types

Many network monitoring tools blur the boundaries between functional categories, but a number of clearly recognizable network monitoring functions can be easily identified.

Network device monitors

The main category of network monitoring tools doesn’t actually check the status of the cable or the radio waves that constitute the network. Instead, they focus on the status and performance of the equipment connected to the network. These devices include network hardware, such as switches and routers, servers, PCs and terminals, and office equipment such as printers and scanners.

The majority of network device monitors work with the Simple Network Management Protocol. SNMP is an open standard that is widely used in the networking industry. The system requires that each device has a monitoring agent loaded onto it. Fortunately, the manufacturers of equipment that is intended to be connected to a network now all include an SNMP agent preloaded into the firmware.

SNMP involves device agents, which are the features that manufacturers pre-load on their equipment. A central manager then polls each device agent on the network for a status report. The network device monitors on our list all fulfill this function. SNMP also includes procedures for emergency situations in which an agent detects a sudden failure in the device that it is monitoring or an attribute of that device enters a warning zone, such as a printer low on toner.

Error conditions on a device provoke a message from the agent to the SNMP manager, which is called an SNMP trap. The monitoring software should be able to process that alert into a warning message on its dashboard, or even email the warning to the network administrator.

The format of data passed between SNMP agents and the central controller is called the Management Information Base. This data structure is identified as a series of codes. Those codes are very difficult to interpret, so a MIB converter is another essential tool for any network administrator using a network device monitor.

Network traffic analyzer

The network traffic analyzer tests the performance of the network rather than the devices connected to it. Most network monitoring tools that focus on traffic analysis rely on underlying information systems provided by the manufacturers of devices that run the network, such as switches and routers.

sFlow is the open standard of network messaging. Cisco created NetFlowCisco created NetFlow for its devices and Juniper Networks created J-Flow. Any network traffic monitoring system that wants to be universal will have to understand the data formats of these three methodologies, among others.

A typical traffic monitor will be able to tell you the packet throughput rates for each stretch of network, the packet loss rate, the available bandwidth, and the amount of bandwidth currently being used.

By examining the traffic rates on each segment of your network, you can identify links that are under strain and reaching their capacity. Information on traffic capacity will also tell you whether you need to divide up a network into subnets, or reassign endpoints from one subnet to another.

A high end network traffic monitor should be able to identify your VLANs, including voice traffic. It should also be able to monitor other virtual environments, such as virtual terminals and cloud services. Seeing a graphical representation of the bandwidth utilization on all the links of your network at once is a nice feature that the best traffic monitors include.

A different type of network traffic analyzer is the packet sniffer. Many network traffic monitors that have a good graphical interface also include a packet sniffer module to enable you to actually see the codes data as it crosses the network. Packet sniffers are also available as standalone tools.

IP address manager

In its simplest form, an IP address manager scans the network and lists the IP addresses of all the devices that it discovers. Ideally, you would also need the Mac addresses of those devices as well. This level of IP address manager is also called an IP scanner. At the other end of the scale, the more sophisticated IP address management systems are really DDI systems. IP address management gets abbreviated to IPAM, which is the “I” in “DDI.” The two Ds represent DNS servers and DHCP servers.

A top-end IPAM system will not replace your DHCP and DNS servers, but it will communicate with them and even gather current address statuses from them to display in its own dashboard. Getting an IPAM that can show unified data in one place is very useful if your network has more than one DNS or DHCP server.

An IPAM can help you right size your subnet scopes, let you spot abandoned IP addresses and reclaim them, and identify rogue devices on the network by spotting IP addresses that were not allocated by your DHCP server. A good IPAM should also help you check that the DNS server is keeping its records up to date and reflecting the address changes driven by the DHCP server.

Configuration manager

Configuration management on networks is a key security task and forms a requirement of many industry quality standards. Configuration tools usually form a part of all network monitoring systems. A very basic configuration manager will produce a list of the devices on your network and their settings. There is no uniform format for the configuration layout even within a single package because the key settings of each device depend on the purpose of that device.

One level up from basic configuration management should enable you to backup and restore a device’s configuration. More sophisticated configuration managers will monitor all network devices and alert you if any of its settings change. The log files of those changes should record who made the change as well as the date and time.

A top-of-the-market configuration manager should be able to keep track of firmware and operating system versions on each device and check with the manufacturer for updates, notifying you when one is available. A comprehensive configuration manager will enable you to roll your firmware updates from one central location.

Endpoint manager

Endpoint management systems are sometimes called user device managers. These network monitoring tools keep track of which network endpoints originate traffic. You should also be able to see which applications are running over the network from that endpoint and also which protocols it uses.

Mobile device management (MDM) systems fall under the umbrella of endpoint management. These are very sophisticated tools that enable you to set up mobile devices owned by the company en masse, or compartmentalize user-owned devices in a BYOD environment to ensure the company’s data and apps are kept separate from those on the device for private use. A mobile device management system can track and protect company data on devices, enforce the use of VPNs for communication, deliver apps, limit the apps that can be loaded onto the devices, and even check for unauthorized software and virus intrusion.

Mobile device management systems can lock down a phone or wipe it in case of loss or theft. The functions of mobile device management systems are so impressive that some companies choose to install the same level of service for their on-site user devices. In these instances, the network monitoring tool is referred to as a unified endpoint manager.

The combination of data from an endpoint manager and a traffic analyzer can give you some really interesting and detailed information on the usage of your network. This can justify an expansion of the infrastructure or limit the data usage of individual users to ensure service quality for all. In order to get a good flow of information between these two separate network monitoring tool types, you usually have to buy a suite of network administration programs.

Switch port mapper

Usually switch port mappers don’t just report on switches, but also other network equipment such as routers and bridges. A standard switch port mapper will list all of your network equipment and report the ports on each, stating whether each is open or closed.

A switch port mapper allows you to remotely block or unblock a port on a switch. With this facility you can shut down a specific endpoint’s access to the network immediately should you detect unusual activity from that source. These circumstances could indicate virus infection or hacker intrusion.

A port scanner is a slightly different tool. This will look at all of the ports on any device and list the services or applications intended to run over them. A number of port scanners are available for free.

These scanners are less powerful than a port switch mapper and provide information on network traffic types. A scanner can play an important role when you are trying to work out how to resolve overutilization of the network. It can also give you a quick indication of the protocols and services running on your network, helping you audit software activities for security purposes.

Network security monitor

Although network security is separate from network monitoring, the management of the software and access routines on your network plays a part in your security policy.

Certain routine tasks supported by network monitoring tools are carried out for security reasons, not just for efficiency. For example, the IP address scanning of IP management systems can help you discover rogue devices on your network. A good configuration manager will warn you if the configuration of a device has been altered, thus weakening security. Software audits and centralized patch management will keep your operating firmware up to date, thus installing the latest patches and detecting unauthorized applications on the network.

Network traffic analysis can be a good intrusion detector, and the ability to track user actions will highlight Trojan activity when a single user account seems to be able to access resources from several locations at once.

Firewall activity is another gray area of network monitoring responsibility. However, the examination of firewall rules and their impact on network traffic is a network monitoring responsibility. If you have a hardware firewall that needs to be monitored, its performance and software status is the responsibility of the network manager.

The subject of security tools is out of scope for this guide. However, many network monitoring tool bundles include utilities specifically written to aid security measures rather than jut monitor the infrastructure of a network, and so this category is included here for information purposes.

Software auditors

Software auditing is another grey area of network monitoring. It is certainly a task of a systems administrator, but some would argue that this is not a classic network monitoring activity. The ability to track the activity of software on the network is a monitoring issue, however, and controlling the applications installed on the devices that connect to your network is a proactive way to strengthen security and control bandwidth usage.

Some configuration management packages include patch management and software version tracking. Strictly speaking, these are functions of software auditing, which is why this category of utility is included in this list of network monitoring tool types.

Ad-hoc connection testing tools

Another category of network monitoring tools that some would consider out of scope for this guide is that of testing tools. This division of network tools includes network monitoring aids such as Traceroute, which is a simple tool to help you monitor the efficiency of a route around your network or across the internet.

Ad-hoc tools are usually very small programs and often command line utilities. Network software producers understand how useful these tools are to network administrators and will make these available for free in order to get their name out in the network management community.

A particularly good route that a network software house can use to get the attention of potential customers is to adapt a well-known command line tool to a GUI format, adding on extra features and making test results clearer. That’s why you will see a lot of different adaptations of Ping and Traceroute out on the market. These facilities are nearly always included in network monitoring packages and are usually offered for free as stand-alone utilities.

Recommended network monitoring tools and their types listed by provider

1. Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor A network device monitor that also includes some security monitoring functions.

2. Solarwinds NetFlow Traffic AnalyzerA network traffic analyzer that includes a range of ad-hoc connection testing tools.

3. Solarwinds Network Configuration ManagerConfiguration manager that includes some security monitoring functions.

4. Solarwinds User Device TrackerAn endpoint manager with some software auditor functions.

5. Solarwinds IP Address ManagerAn IP address management tool.

6. Solarwinds Network Bandwidth Analyzer PackA network device monitor and traffic analyzer bundle with some security monitoring and ad-hoc connection testing tools included.

7. Solarwinds IP Control BundleA combination of an IP address manager and an endpoint manager with switch port mapping functions.

8. Solarwinds Engineer’s ToolsetA package of network device monitors, network traffic analyzer tools, security monitoring utilities, switch port scanners, endpoint management features, IP address management tools, configuration management tools, and ad-hoc connection testing utilities.

9. Solarwinds Network Topology MapperA network device monitor.

10. Solarwinds Network Automation ManagerA package of tools that includes a network device monitor, a traffic analyzer, a switch port mapper, a configuration manager, an IP address manager, and ad-hoc connection testing tools.

11. Solarwinds Network Operations ManagerA package of tools including a traffic analyzer, and switch port mapper, an endpoint manager, and ad-hoc connection testing tools.

12. Solarwinds Permissions Analyzer for Active DirectoryA small tool that assists with network security monitoring.

13. Solarwinds Real-Time Bandwidth MonitorA free network traffic analyzer.

14. Solarwinds IP Address TrackerA free IP address manager

15. Solarwinds Traceroute NGA command line ad-hoc network connection testing tool.

16. Solarwinds GNS3 Network EmulatorAn ad-hoc network connection testing tool and traffic analyzer that helps you to test network equipment.

17. Solarwinds Port ScannerA free port scanner.

18. Paessler PRTGA combined network device monitor and traffic analyzer with some IP address management functions.

19. Paessler Certificate ImporterA small network security utility.

20. Paessler MIB Importer and ConverterA network device monitoring utility.

21. Paessler NetFlow TestersAn ad-hoc connection testing tool.

22. Paessler sFlow TesterAn ad-hoc connection testing tool.

23. Paessler SNMP TesterAn ad-hoc connection testing tool.

24. Paessler WMI TesterAn ad-hoc connection testing tool.

25. Axence nVisionA package of four modules that includes a network device monitor, an endpoint manager, a software auditor, and some security monitoring functions.

26. Axence Net ToolsA bundle of tools that includes a network traffic analyzer and a port scanner. The remaining utilities in the package cover ad-hoc connection testing.

27. ManageEngine OpManagerA network device and server monitor.

28. OpManager Network Configuration Manager Add-OnA network configuration plug-in for OpManager.

29. OpManager IP Address Management Add-OnAn IP address manager plug-in for OpManager.

30. OpManager Switch Port Mapper Add-OnA switch port mapper plug-in for OpManager.

31. OpManager Netflow Monitoring ModuleA traffic analyzer plug-in for OpManager.

32. OpManager Firewall Log Management Add-OnA security monitoring plug-in for OpManager.

33. OpManager Application Performance Management Plug-InAn application monitoring plug-in for OpManager that can help you monitor network traffic.

34. ManageEngine OpUtilsA combination of an IP address manager and a switch port mapper with some ad-hoc connection testing tools included.

35. ManageEngine NetFlow AnalyzerA traffic analyzer with some ad-hoc connection testing tools.

36. ManageEngine Network Configuration ManagerA configuration manager.

37. ManageEngine Mobile Device Manager PlusAn endpoint management system for mobile devices, which includes configuration management and security monitoring.

38. ManageEngine SNMP MIB BrowserA network device monitoring tool.

39. ManageEngine Ping and TracerouteA package of ad-hoc connection testing tools.

40. ManageEngine Windows Health MonitorA network device monitoring tool.

41. ManageEngine Syslog ForwarderA network device monitoring tool.

42. Spiceworks IP Scanner A network device monitor with a port scanner.

43. Spiceworks Port Scanner and TesterA free online port scanner.

44. Spiceworks IP LookupAn ad-hoc connection management and security monitoring tool.

45. Spiceworks Subnet CalculatorAn IP address management tool.

46. Spiceworks Internet Outage HeatmapA free online ad-hoc connection testing tool.

47. Spiceworks InventoryA free, ad-supported network device monitor that includes a software auditor.

48. Spiceworks Network MonitorA real-time network device monitor.

49. Spiceworks TracerouteAn ad-hoc connection testing utility with a GUI interface.

50. Aribada NetAdminA network device monitor with some endpoint management functions.

51. Aribada MIB BrowserA network device management tool.

Monitoring Tools Operating Systems

Many more network monitoring tools run on Windows than Linux, and monitoring tools that run on Macs are very rare. The table below shows you which operating system the tools in our guide will work on.

SolarwindsNetwork Performance MonitorYesNoNo
SolarwindsNetFlow Traffic AnalyzerYesNoNo
SolarwindsNetwork Configuration ManagerYesNoNo
SolarwindsUser Device TrackerYesNoNo
SolarwindsIP Address ManagerYesNoNo
SolarwindsNetwork Bandwidth Analyzer PackYesNoNo
SolarwindsIP Control BundleYesNoNo
SolarwindsEngineer's ToolsetYesNoNo
SolarwindsNetwork Topology MapperYesNoNo
SolarwindsNetwork Automation ManagerYesNoNo
SolarwindsNetwork Operations ManagerYesNoNo
SolarwindsPermissions Analyzer for Active DirectoryYesNoNo
SolarwindsReal-Time Bandwidth MonitorYesNoNo
SolarwindsIP Address TrackerYesNoNo
SolarwindsTraceroute NGYesNoNo
SolarwindsGNS3 Network EmulatorYesNoNo
SolarwindsPort ScannerYesNoNo
PaesslerPaessler PRTGYesNoNo
PaesslerCertificate ImporterYesNoNo
PaesslerMIB Importer and ConverterYesNoNo
PaesslerNetFlow TestersYesNoNo
PaesslerSFlow TesterYesNoNo
PaesslerSNMP TesterYesNoNo
PaesslerWMI TesterYesNoNo
AxenceAxence Net ToolsYesNoNo
ManageEngineNetwork Configuration Manager Add-OnYesYesNo
ManageEngineIP Address Management Add-OnYesYesNo
ManageEngineSwitch Port Mapper Add-OnYesYesNo
ManageEngineNetflow Monitoring ModuleYesYesNo
ManageEngineFirewall Log Management Add-OnYesYesNo
ManageEngineApplication Performance Management Plug-InYesYesNo
ManageEngineNetFlow AnalyzerYesYesNo
ManageEngineNetwork Configuration ManagerYesYesNo
ManageEngineMobile Device Manager PlusYesYesNo
ManageEngineSNMP MIB BrowserYesYesNo
ManageEnginePing and TracerouteYesYesNo
ManageEngineWindows Health MonitorYesYesNo
ManageEngineSyslog ForwarderYesYesNo
SpiceworksSpiceworks IP ScannerYesYesYes
SpiceworksPort Scanner and TesterYesYesYes
SpiceworksIP LookupYesYesYes
SpiceworksSubnet CalculatorYesYesYes
SpiceworksInternet Outage HeatmapYesYesYes
SpiceworksSpiceworks InventoryYesNoNo
SpiceworksSpiceworks Network MonitorYesNoNo
SpiceworksSpiceworks TracerouteYesNoNo
AribadaMIB BrowserNoNoYes

Recommended network monitoring tools

Different network monitoring tools providers aim at different sectors of the market. In this list, providers that specialize in tools for large networks come first. Within each provider section, the smaller, stand-alone tools are at the bottom of the list and comprehensive system management tools are listed at the top.

Solarwinds Tools

Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor

Solarwinds includes a range of network monitoring tools from complete endpoint management systems through to a series of free network testing utilities The company also produces a server monitoring system and other server related tools, such as a Web Application Firewall. The major Solarwinds applications are better suited to large corporations. However, the free network tools would be suitable for any size of network.

Solarwinds focuses its business on producing comprehensive network management systems. However, sometimes, you just need a single utility to add on to your existing toolset. You can find a number of these useful utilities on the Solarwinds website. They are completely free to use.

Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds NPM screen

  • Works on Windows
  • Editor’s Pick

This is the key network monitoring tool offered by Solarwinds. It focuses on keeping track of the network equipment and network-attached devices you have working for your company. It doesn’t track traffic flows or give you the ability to examine the packets of data that pass around the network. This network tool can work with both wired and wireless networks.

The dashboard is comprehensive and includes the use of graphics, such as charts and graphs to give you an instant overview of the state of the network’s equipment. The monitor regularly polls devices for their statuses. However, the agents on those devices will send an alert if an unexpected condition arises on that piece of equipment.

The Network Performance Monitor relies on procedures of the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). All new network-enabled devices have SNMP agents installed on them by the manufacturer — the protocol is an industry standard — so you don’t need to install any client software on any of the devices on your network.

The alerts that show up in the dashboard can be customized and you can filter to only show priority conditions. The dashboard can be altered, allotting access to data to different users. This enables you to delegate work to a team of administrators. You can set different alerts to go to different staff members, or even to outsourced support services. That means if you are not responsible for maintaining a piece of equipment, those who are will be notified of the error without your intervention.

The Solarwinds system is very easy to set up. It performs a network discovery to list all of the devices connected to your network. This is a very useful feature because it enables you to check for rogue devices. Ongoing monitoring will also highlight any attempt to connect an unauthorized device to your network.

There is no free version of Solarwinds. The cheapest price for the system is $2,895. Prices rise for networks with more network nodes. You can get a 30-day free trial to check out the Network Performance Monitor.



SolarWinds Network Performance MonitorDownload FREE 30-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds Traffic Analyzer

  • Works on Windows

Although the Network Performance Monitor includes a LAN analyzer, which detects the devices connected to a network, it doesn’t include a traffic analysis tool. The Solarwinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer performs this function for both wired and wireless networks and it is sold separately.

The traffic analyzer consolidates data arising from:

  • Cisco NetFlow
  • Juniper J-Flow
  • sFlow
  • Huawei NetStream

You can check on the traffic bandwidth usage on each link of your network and see which applications and protocols are using the most bandwidth. If you integrate the NetFlow Traffic Analyzer with the Solarwinds User Device Tracker, you can also identify which users are using the most bandwidth. This allows you to issue warnings to the major bandwidth users, or even suspend a user from the network.

You can watch the throughput of data through each of your network devices, highlighting potential bottlenecks. This feature enables you to improve capacity and head off network overcrowding. The performance analysis dashboard, called PerfStack, assists you in isolating which application, users, links, or devices are going to give you problems with traffic capacity. You can also monitor the traffic flowing to cloud services. There is a specific dashboard page for monitoring HTTP and HTTPS traffic.

The system stores your network traffic data and produces graphs and charts that visualize your physical network’s durability. Customizable reports communicate findings to other stakeholders.

The price of the Solarwinds Network Traffic Analyzer starts at $1,875 and you can get a free 30-day trial.


SolarWinds Netflow Traffic AnalyzerDownload FREE 30-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds Network Configuration Manager (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds Network Configuration Manager

  • Works on Windows

The Network Configuration Manager integrates well with the Network Performance Monitor. You can back up the configuration of any device, which enables you to roll back a configuration if anything goes wrong during config changes. The stored configurations also let you replace a piece of equipment easily.

Network compliance is easy to check on thanks to a very well-laid out dashboard screen for that task. It shows you instantly when the settings of a piece of equipment have been changed without authorization. You can reset those settings centrally from the management console.

The manager integrates Cisco vulnerability reports to spot weaknesses in your equipment. A lot of the routine tasks performed to check on your network equipment configuration can be automated with this system.

The layout of the screens is very similar to the look and feel of the Network Performance Monitor, so it will be very easy for your team to use both systems together. Once team members get used to the automation procedures of Network Performance Monitor, they will have no difficulty setting up customizations and scripts in the Network Configuration Manager. As with Network Performance Monitor, you can limit access to the controls and the data in the dashboard of the Network Configuration Manager, allowing access only to specific users. This provides a tool for team members allocated various configuration duties.

The software comes with 53 standard report formats, which present your work to the management team. This tool is available for free for 30 days. The price for the Solarwinds Network Configuration Manager starts at $2,845.


SolarWinds Network Configuration ManagerDownload FREE 30-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds User Device Tracker (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds User Device Manager

  • Works on Windows

The user device tracker locates and monitors the users and devices on a network, the port activity of those devices, and some of the applications running on the network. You can examine the active ports of discovered devices on wired and wireless networks. Other information on each device, depending on the device type, includes VLAN circuit, the switch name, and vendor information.

Switches and wireless access points have a special page in the dashboard, which features dials that explain the response times, packet loss, and utilization of each device’s CPU and memory. The switch metrics show what devices are nearing their full capacity and reclaim blocked ports to free up some capacity. You can turn ports on or off from a central location on any device connected to the network.

The discovery of all devices on the network will highlight rogue devices. You can also command a special watch list of devices, naming them by MAC address, IP address, or host name. Get a live report on port usage for any device connected to the network, including VLAN status and the port’s configuration.

The User Device Tracker works particularly well with the Network Configuration Manager of Solarwinds. If you also have the Network Performance Monitor and the IP Address Manager modules, you can assemble all packages into a unified administration dashboard.

The user tracking features of this tool gives you a login history of all of the users that accessed the network. The dashboard gives you information on each user. Apart from the username, you can see that person’s real name, office location, email address, and user group. The user activity report will list all of the endpoints that the user logged in through. This is a useful tool to identify hacker or virus activity on compromised accounts.

The User Device Tracker is priced by Solarwinds from $1,895, and you can get a 30-day free trial.


SolarWinds User Device TrackerDownload FREE 30-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds IP Address Manager (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds IPAM

  • Works on Windows
  • Editor’s Pick

The Solarwinds IP Address Manager is the final element in the unified administrator’s dashboard. With this module you complete the full suite of Solarwinds primary network monitoring tools. The IPAM presents a full DDI monitor. However, it does not act as a DHCP server or a DNS server. Instead, the IPAM will monitor and coordinate your DHCP and DNS server and track IP address usage on the network.

As with all of the Solarwinds network monitoring tools, this module automates several tasks. You can customize procedures and implement your own scripts to carry out routine tasks and log information on address activity. This system can detect abandoned IP addresses to help you to return them to the DHCP address pool. Rogue addresses and can also be highlighted easily by the automated IP address management system sweeps.

This tool will alert you to unexpected conditions, such as unauthorized IP address intrusion and subnet IP address scope utilization. This will help you to resize the address pools for all of your subnets if they use up all their allocations. As with other Solarwinds network tools, those tools can be directed to a specific team member or members, and you can grant access to information and controls in the dashboard to different users or user groups.

The Solarwinds IP Address Manager interacts with Cisco, Microsoft, and ISC DHCP servers and Microsoft and BIND DNS servers. The monitor can cope with virtual environments and will integrate with VMWare vRealize Orchestrator.

The IP Address Manager can be tested on a 30-day free trial and prices start at $1,995.


SolarWinds IP Address ManagerDownload FREE 30-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack

  • Works on Windows

The lack of a LAN analyzer in the Network Performance Monitor is an obvious shortfall, so Solarwinds offers a bundle with a discounted price if you buy the Network Performance Monitor and the NetFlow Traffic Analyzer together. This bundle is also available on a 30-day free trial.


SolarWinds Network Bandwith Analyzer PackDownload FREE 30-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds IP Control Bundle (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds IP Control Bundle

  • Works on Windows

This is another combo deal offered by Solarwinds. It includes the IP Address Manager and the User Device Tracker.


SolarWinds IP Control BundleDownload FREE 30-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds Engineer’s Toolset (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds Engineers Toolset

  • Works on Windows
  • Editor’s Pick

As an alternative to the Network Performance Monitor and its associated modules, Solarwinds offers a couple of other packages, and the Engineer’s Toolset is one of these. This package includes more than 60 network management and troubleshooting tools.

These utilities offer real-time and on-demand tools. However, if you trust systems with a human element more, these tools would provide you with excellent assistance in your monitoring activities because you aren’t presented with a uniform monitoring system, but adjustable utilities instead.

It would be impossible to detail all of the tools in this package without letting this guide run on longer than War and Peace. However, a key factor in the toolset is an autodiscovery feature that will trace all of your network devices. This is a great aide for tracking down intrusion and unauthorized connections to the network. It will also help you to get an overview of the extent of your entire network because it includes internet connectivity, cloud services, and virtualization.

As with the Network Performance Monitor, you get SNMP alerts with this package in the form of two tools, called SNMP Trap Editor and SNMP Trap Receiver. These will notify you of unexpected error conditions occurring on the devices connected to your network. Hardware performance is fulfilled by tools called Response Time Monitor, Memory Monitor, CPU Monitor, and Interface Monitor. A TraceRoute implementation helps you track traffic flows on the network.

The Subnet Calculator, DHCP Scope Monitor, DNS Structure Analyzer, DNS Audit, and IP Address Management help you set up the address on your network. Ping Sweep and DNS Analyzer enable you to check on the addressing status of the network devices and ensure that all equipment can be contacted.

Configuration management utilities in the tools include Config Compare, Config Downloader, Config Uploader, and Config Editor.

The interface of the Engineers Toolset is not as sophisticated as the main Solarwinds facilities monitoring packages: Network Performance Monitor, IP Address Manager, User Device tracker, and Configuration Manager. However, there is a browser-based console that gives access to all of the utilities in the toolset. The Engineer’s Toolset actually extends beyond the functionality of the main Solarwinds tools by bundling in stress testing tools. These include WAN Killer, which emulates network traffic according to commanded variables that include packet size and bandwidth.

Security testing tools enable you to run a simulated attack on the network. The Router Password Decryption, SNMP Brute Force Attack, and SNMP Dictionary Attack tools can verify the strength of your authentication policies.

Solarwinds offers a 14-day free trial of the Engineer’s Toolset. The package costs $1,495.


SolarWinds Engineer's ToolsetDownload FREE 14-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds Network Topology Mapper (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds Network Tpology Mapper

  • Works on Windows

If you need to keep track of your network, but you think the Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor is a bit too feature-rich for you, the company has an alternative network mapping system for you to consider.

The Network Topology Mapper gives a facility to discover all of the devices on your network and plot the layout of all of the connections between them. The system uses ICMP, SNMP, WMI, and CPM procedures to discover all of your equipment on the network. The mapper can even trace the connections and setup of a virtual environment, communicating with VMWare, Hyper-V and other virtual management systems.

Once the autodiscovery feature has mapped the network, you can add or change details on the discovered records. The network mapper will rescan the environment to report changes in the network, including moved, added, or removed devices. Scans can be scheduled to run at intervals or on command.

The mapping function includes a range of formats to produce several different maps from the same data. This enables you to create different angles on the data. By providing different perspectives and contexts, the mapper makes it easier to identify potential problems. The mapper can depict networks at the link layer or the network layer of the OSI stack.

Data can be exported to productivity and presentation software packages. The graphical capabilities of the Network Topology Mapper will help you comply with stands requirements for:

  • PCI
  • SOX
  • FIPS 140-2

The Solarwinds network mapping package costs $1,495 and you can try it for free for 14 days.


SolarWinds Network Topology MapperDownload FREE 14-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds Network Automation Manager (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds Network Automation Manager

  • Works on Windows

The Network Automation Manager is an alternative to the Network Performance Monitor, the Configuration Manager, the NetFlow Traffic Analyzer and the IP Address Manager. Whereas the Network Performance Monitor focuses on the health of the devices connected to the network, the Network Automation Manager monitors the flows of traffic. You can monitor WANs, not just LANs, so this would be a useful tool for companies that want to centralize the administration of multi-site networks.

The network analysis tools in this package monitor the flows of traffic on each link, showing where capacity issues can cause the network to slow. The utility is able to analyze information from:

This data and that of the switch port manager will help you identify which ports, processes, applications, and users are generating the most traffic.

Switch port monitoring feeds into the analysis of traffic to examine network equipment and see which are overloaded. The source of the traffic is identified by MAC address and IP address.

Testing services in the package include a traffic simulator that test the performance of Cisco routers or remote locations. This helps get the bandwidth of internet links right.

The configuration management utilities of this package enable you to view, edit, backup, and restore device configurations. The tool monitors the configurations of all devices constantly, so you will be notified if anyone changes the settings of a piece of equipment. The config manager will help you stay in compliance with industry regulations, such as:

  • SOX
  • PCI

The IPAM segment of the Network Automation Manager coordinates with your DHCP and DNS servers to give you one central console to manage address scopes. The tool discovers subnets and displays the address pools allocated to them. You can track utilization of addresses, reclaim abandoned addresses, and adjust the scopes of your subnets.

The Network Automation Manager is available for a 30-day free trial.


SolarWinds Network Automation ManagerDownload FREE 30-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds Network Operations Manager (FREE TRIAL)

Solarwinds Network Operations Manager

  • Works on Windows

This network management package integrates monitoring of on-premises, cloud, and hybrid networks.

The network monitor can provide performance metrics for WANs and large-scale networks. The checks performed in this tool will make sure all of your network equipment is functional and give feedback on bandwidth usage of data in transmission around the network. You can examine single links and end-to-end data flows.

The monitoring coverage extends to users and applications to trace where all of the demand for bandwidth originates. One of the monitoring points of the system is on the ports of switches. This enables you to track the traffic originating from each endpoint. You can simulate traffic loads on external links to test the capacity of your Cisco routers.

There are a couple of optional extras available with the Network Operations Manager. These will enable you to monitor servers and applications and well as your network.

The Network Operations Manager is offered on a 30-day free trial.


SolarWinds Network Operations ManagerDownload FREE 30-Day Trial at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds Permissions Analyzer for Active Directory (FREE DOWNLOAD)

Solarwinds Permissions Analyzer for Active Directory

  • Works on Windows

Get an overview of your Active Directory entries with this handy free tool. AD uses permission inheritance, which can be hard to track by the time it gets down to a specific user. So having those rights written out explicitly is a big help.

The Permissions Analyzer covers files and resource sharing permission for groups and individual users. The groups and users are presented as a list, which you can search to get to a specific user quickly.


SolarWinds Permissions Analyzer for Active DirectoryDownload FREE Edition at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds Real-Time Bandwidth Monitor (FREE DOWNLOAD)

solarwinds real-time bandwidth monitor

  • Works on Windows

The Real-time Bandwidth Monitor covers some of the functionality of the Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor. As the name suggests, it gives live data on bandwidth availability and usage. The throughput is displayed as a constantly updating line graph, and you can get reports from several interfaces simultaneously. There is no charge for the Real-time Bandwidth Monitor.


SolarWinds Real-Time Bandwidth MonitorDownload FREE Edition at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds IP Address Tracker (FREE DOWNLOAD)

Solarwinds IP Address Tracker

  • Works on Windows

This free IPAM is a cut-down version of the Solarwinds IP address Manager. The utility will scan your network and log all IP addresses in use. That information is available for you to see, but it also gets archived, providing historical logs.

The tool will detect subnets and account for their existence when tracking address usage. You can detect IP conflicts with this tool. However, unlike the paid version of the IPAM, it won’t interact with your DNS and DHCP servers, so a lot of cross-referencing will have to be done manually or through a separate tool. The paid IPAM can manage up to 2 million IP addresses, but the free version imposes a limit of just 256 addresses. Although the IP Address Tracker would be of no use for a large network, it may be just the thing for a small business system.


SolarWinds IP Address TrackerDownload FREE Edition at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds Traceroute NG (FREE DOWNLOAD)

Solarwinds Traceroute NG

  • Works on Windows

Traceroute is a well-known command line utility, but it is nice to get some extra functionality in it with this Solarwinds version. The operations of Traceroute NG are a little slicker than the standard utility because it is able to detect path changes and report on them.

This utility can be set to run all the time, and it will write its findings into a text file. The tool can analyze both TCP and ICMP paths and it is compatible with both TCP IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. You can download and use Traceroute NG for free.


SolarWinds Traceroute NGDownload FREE Edition at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds GNS3 Network Emulator (FREE DOWNLOAD)

GNS3 Network Emulator

  • Works on Windows
  • Editor’s Pick

This is a handy free tool for testing the suitability of new network equipment before you hook it up to your live system. Solarwinds has made an emulator that interacts with the network equipment made by more than 20 different vendors. The tool will produce network traffic and run it through the testbed so you can stress test your new device without letting it fail on your live network.


SolarWinds GNS3 Network EmulatorDownload FREE Edition at SolarWinds.com

Solarwinds Port Scanner (FREE DOWNLOAD)

Solarwinds Port Scanner

  • Works on Windows

Port Scanner is a free utility that will list the TCP and UDP ports of a device at a given IP address. The report that comes back shows whether each port is open or closed and shows the IANA reserved purpose for each port. You can edit those IANA port usage definitions and the results of each scan can be saved to a file. You will need to import the data into another application in order to get analysis tools, but this free utility is a great data gathering workhorse.


SolarWinds Port ScannerDownload FREE Edition at SolarWinds.com

ManageEngine Tools

ManageEngine website

ManageEngine is a contender for Solarwinds’ crown as the network tools industry leader. The company is part of ZoHo Corporation, which is well known for its business tools, such as the accounting package ZoHo Books and email provider ZoHo Mail.

The company has a very similar product configuration to that run by Solarwinds. The main network monitoring package is called OpManager. The other three packages offered by the company are Network Configuration Manager, NetFlow Analyzer, and the OpUtils combination of IPAM and switch port management. These three packages can be added onto OpManager to make a comprehensive network management system. Manage Engine also makes server and application management software.

A number of the apps bundled into OpManager can be used for free if you don’t want to buy the main network monitoring bundle. These individual tools can come in very handy and plug gaps in your toolset if you buy a network monitoring system that isn’t as feature-rich as OpManager.

ManageEngine OpManager

OpManager dashboard

  • Works on Windows and Linux
  • Editor’s Pick

OpManager is a comprehensive network monitoring tools that focuses on the health of devices connected to the network. The ManageEngine interface is very professional and includes graphic elements such as graphs and charts to make the current status of the network instantly comprehensible.

The monitoring system of OpManager is based on SNMP. These also provide alerts sent out by device agent software in case of unexpected error conditions. All of your network-enabled devices should already have SNMP agents installed on them. As SNMP is a universal standard, you don’t need to worry about whether the software on each device will be compatible with OpManager’s network monitor. That pre-loaded firmware means you don’t have to be present when the equipment is plugged in to ensure its setup because all initialization procedures can be performed automatically from a remote location. The network monitor covers WANs, which means it will cover several remote locations, together with internet connections that join them together into one large multi-site network.

Initial setup is made easier by the autodiscovery feature that will explore all of your network and log all of the devices connected to it. The system continuously monitors the status of all network devices and will spot when a device is offline, removed, moved, or added to the network.

OpManager integrates server monitoring, so you don’t just get a network administration tool. The integration of server and network monitoring is particularly interesting if you use a virtual environment. Keeping tabs of virtual servers and terminals is a tricky business that requires data both from the network and from the computing hardware. OpManager can interact with top virtual systems on the market:

  • VMware ESX servers and Guest OS
  • Citrix Xen servers
  • Application servers, Active Directory, SQL and Exchange servers
  • Hyper-V servers

OpManager can monitor cloud services and VoIP network services. The dashboard can be customized and you can create different views on the data and controls for separate user accounts. This will enable you to delegate tasks to team members without giving each specialist access to the controls needed by colleagues.

The dashboard can be accessed from a smartphone or tablet. You and your team can keep in touch with the network status without being chained to a desk. Alerts can be notified by email or SMS and different conditions can be routed to different team members.

This is an infrastructure monitoring system more suitable for big businesses with large networks. You can opt for the Essential package, which allows you to monitor up to 1,000 devices, or the Enterprise Edition, which can cover up to 10,000 connected devices. The company offers a cut-down version of OpManager for free to small businesses with ten nodes or fewer on their networks.

The central OpManager package can be enhanced with the addition of add-ons. These add-ons are integrated versions of ManageEngine’s other three main network tools: OpUtils, Netflow Analyzer, and the Network Configuration Manager. All of these ManageEngine modules have the same look and feel, so all four packages can be used together seamlessly through one dashboard.

Other add-ons are available for server and application monitoring, too. However, this guide will just list those add-ons that relate to network administration.

The free tools listed further down in this guide are all bundled in with the standard OpManager package. You also get a remote desktop connection utility, which gives you access to remote devices. A custom Telnet and SSH facility helps you query remote devices.

OpManager Network Configuration Manager Add-On

OpManager Network Configuration Manager

  • Works on Windows and Linux

The Network Configuration Manager add-on will back up the settings for all of your devices. This is important in case someone botches a change, in which case you can just roll the device back. The Network Configuration Manager will monitor the settings of each device and alert you of any changes. Again, the presence of that backup means you can reset the config back to your standard set up.

All of the configuration process can be handled from one central location. You can even cover large multi-site WANs from one console. All of these monitoring and policy enforcement tasks can be automated, making it a lot easier for you to complete all of your config chores without calls and emergencies getting in the way.

The add-on arrives with templates and scripts to help you automate routine tasks, but you can also use the data collected by the real-time monitor to build up historical data to create your own custom queries and reports. These provide great presentational aids for when you need to justify your budget to the C-Suite.

Firmware updates can be rolled out automatically with the Network Configuration Manager. Your network is probably composed of equipment sourced from a range of vendors, and keeping up with operating system versions and patches can be a full-time job in itself. This add-on reduces the version control issues of network management to a background task.

Getting on top of patching will improve the security of your network. The ability to spot unauthorized configuration changes is also an important task for network and data security.

OpManager IP Address Management Add-On

OpManager IP Address Manager

  • Works on Windows and Linux

If you have a small network, you can probably run periodic checks on your IP address usage and compare those results with your DHCP server reports in a spreadsheet. But as your network grows, that task soon becomes unmanageable. Keeping the DNS server up to date with addressing changes can also get out of control. Once you split the network into subnets, then you have a whole other set of problems to deal with.

The IP Address Management module of ManageEngine keeps on top of all addressing issues. It doesn’t replace your DHCP servers or your DNS servers. However, it can communicate with them, importing data and providing you with one central console for all of your DDI tasks.

IPAM is a big issue for large networks and that is the target market that ManageEngine aims at with this add-on for OpManager. One thing that makes the ManageEngine IPAM a little different to all the others on the market is that it is very closely linked to the system’s switch port management utility. So, you get a lot of switch data in with your IP address usage reports.

As with any IPAM, the module reports on all of the current IP addresses in use on the system. This matches up with DHCP records to highlight allocated addresses that have been abandoned, letting you reclaim and return them to the pool. The IPAM also cycles through your DNS server records, performing reverse lookups, highlighting out-of-date mappings, and guarding against address conflicts.

The subnet address scope monitoring works within warning levels, setting low and high utilization levels to show you which subnets are over-allocated and which need larger scopes. You can have reports emailed to you and also export data to CSV or XLS files to perform ad-hoc analysis.

The interface for the IPAM is great because it shows the hierarchy of scopes and lets you drag and drop allocations to easily reassign ranges of addresses. You can identify usage by IP address, MAC address, DNS name, or switch identifiers (name, port, or alias). Again, that switch detail inclusion is rare in IPAMs.

Reporting includes subnet scans and audit trails. This IPAM is a great addition to OpManager for those managing large and complicated networks.

OpManager Switch Port Mapper Add-On

OpManager Switch Port Mapper

  • Works on Windows and Linux

Although the IPAM includes a lot of switch port mapping, to get a really thorough overview of your network equipment usage, you should probably also go for the Switch Port Mapper Add-on.

This lists all of your switches as well as all devices and endpoints connected to each switch. Data is maintained in real time and also stored for historical analysis. You can search the mapper by IP address, MAC address, DNS name or network location. The mapper can detect VLAN settings and distinguish between data and VoIP traffic.

You can block or unblock any port on any switch on your network from a central location, no matter where it is. This is a great feature for a large corporation with a WAN that extends all over the country, or even all over the world. The port access control features work with SNMP and can help shut down a network path to isolate an endpoint that displays virus infection characteristics.

OpManager Netflow Monitoring Module

OpManager Netflow Monitor

  • Works on Windows and Linux

The Netflow Monitoring Module gives you a view on the data flows over your network. You can view traffic patterns and bandwidth utilization. These views can examine a whole network by tracing end-to-end performance or by examine the network link by link.

Bandwidth consumption can be segmented by application, user, protocol, and endpoint. This is a particularly useful tool when combined with the switch port monitoring functions of OpUtils (see below).

The monitor references the native network data throughput systems of network device manufacturers, such as:

  • NetFlow
  • sFlow
  • J-Flow

This information feeds into the Netflow Monitor, which collates and presents that information in a more digestible format. Data is presented as numbers, lists, graphs, and charts. Those graphics highlight bottlenecks and can help you plan capacity. Other reporting features of the module include:

  • QoS reporting
  • CBQoS reporting
  • IP SLA monitoring
  • AVC support
  • WLC reporting
  • Throughput billing

The traffic pattern perspective that the Network Monitoring Module offers gives you the scope to analyze behavior and detect attacks on the network. The types of hacker activity that can be highlighted by the monitor include DDoS attacks and advanced persistent threats.

Data is presented live in the dashboard, but it is also stored to give you historical data for trend analysis and capacity planning.

OpManager Firewall Log Management Add-On

OpManager Firewall Log Management add-on

  • Works on Windows and Linux

Although firewall management is usually classified as an application task, we have included this add-on because you need to make sure that your network is fully protected and firewalls play an important role in system security.

This module isn’t a firewall in itself, but it helps you to sort through the log files generated by your firewall. This is an important function of your job if you adhere to security and service level standard compliance for:

  • ISO 27001
  • NIST

The action data recorded by your firewall is important information that is often overlooked as a source for network security management and analysis. The interfaces of your network to the outside world are as important as the security and performance of all of your network devices. This module examines the bandwidth arriving at your firewall and looks at the data flow of the traffic that passes through it. This can tell you when a failed attack has occurred.

The module also records the type of traffic. The firewall data gives you insight into the URLs accessed from within your network and which employees generate traffic blocked your firewall rules.

This useful module allows you to periodically check the normal functions of the network and spot loopholes and oversights in employee access policies. You might also use this utility when examining attack defense contracts and load balancers.

OpManager Application Performance Management Plug-In

OpManager Application Performance Management add-on

  • Works on Windows and Linux

This plug-in is probably a little out of scope for this guide on network monitoring services. However, it fits well with the server management functions built into the OpManager software, and it can help you get more detailed views on where your network traffic comes from.

This module feeds in well with the Switch Port Mapper because you can throttle or block applications when they are chewing up your capacity and ruining the network for all other tasks. The application usage of a network can get out of hand, so getting better information on application performance can help decide which applications you should support and which you should find more efficient alternatives for.

ManageEngine OpUtils

OpUtils IPAM

  • Works on Windows and Linux

If you found a network monitoring system that you really like and you don’t want to replace it with OpManager, you don’t have to pass on all of the ManageEngine products. The OpUtils package can be bought as a stand-alone package without OpManager. This system combines the functionality of the IP Management Add-on and the Switch Port Mapper add-on explained above, making for a slightly unique combination in the network monitoring industry.

The IPAM and Switch Port Mapper modules are complimented by a MIB browser to help you look at the data collected by SNMP device agents. You get several other ManageEngine utilities in with this package, which include the MAC Address Resolver, an SNMP Ping utility, the Network Scanner, and a DNS resolver. There is a free version of OpUtils, but that doesn’t include the MIB browser, the IPAM, or the Switch Port Mapper. However, the SNMP MIB Browser can be downloaded separately for free.

ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer

ManageEngine Netflow Analyzer

  • Works on Windows and Linux

The Netflow Monitoring Module of OpManager can be bought as an independent package. NetFlow Analyzer gathers data from:

  • NetFlow
  • J-Flow
  • sFlow
  • cflow
  • Appflow
  • NetStream
  • FNF

The dashboard presents this data in graphic format plus lists of events. The package can interact with equipment manufactured by a long list of vendors including like Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Juniper, 3COM, Foundry Networks, and Extreme.

Utilities in the NetFlow Analyzer give you reports on the traffic of each network interface at one-minute intervals. This information is also assembled for end-to-end traffic analysis, giving you insights into which links in your network are under strain.

The traffic analysis capabilities of this package identify irregular activity that could signify virus attacks or network intrusion. The analyzer can point out what applications produce the most traffic, which could signify inefficient apps or malware activity.

The analyzer can monitor voice and video traffic as well as pure data to help you to channel your different streams more effectively. The capacity planning reports of NetFlow Analyzer are also useful for helping you decide where your budget should be directed on the network infrastructure and software. Another reporting utility gives you billing capabilities for cost center fee distribution.

ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager

OpManager Network Configuration Manager

  • Works on Windows and Linux

This package is an independent version of the OpManager Network Configuration Manager Add-on. The manager focuses on the configurations of network devices, such as switches, routers, and firewalls.

The package will automate a lot of your configuration management tasks, starting with an autodiscovery function that lists your network equipment in the dashboard. You can then archive all of the current configurations of those devices to get a starting point for your configuration management. From that baseline, the manager will monitor any changes in the configuration of all devices and alert you about them. You get information on which user made changes to a devices configuration as well as the date and time of the change.

The backups are useful for making any official changes to the configuration of a device. Those approved settings can be rolled back in case any errors occur in the change process. You can roll out configuration changes to groups of similar devices from one central location. The Network Configuration Manager is able to control multi-site WANs, which reduces the costs of maintaining a network admin team at each location.

ManageEngine Mobile Device Manager Plus

Mobile Device Manager Plus

  • Works on Windows and Linux
  • Editor’s Pick

If your enterprise sends employees out in the field, then you need to give them mobile devices from which they can access to the company network — it is an important productivity move.Allowing employees to use their own mobile devices to access company resources is a popular policy. However, you don’t want to risk compromising the security of your network and data by allowing uncontrolled access from mobile devices.

Mobile Device Manager Plus configures company and user-owned devices and allows them access to the network. As well as configuration functions, this package includes mobile application management functions to allow safe access to your application server from mobile devices. You can lock down devices and limit their use of applications. This is called “kiosk mode” and is useful if your company wants to use smartphones and tablets for presentations or for point-of-sales devices, or to pass out to delivery drivers for routing schedule access.

The functions of Mobile Device Manager Plus allow you to treat company and user-owned devices differently. This is great of you want to implement a BYOD policy. In the case of user-owned devices, you can create a corporate profile on the phone that keeps company apps and data separate from the apps installed by the device’s owner.

The system tracks the locations of all of the devices that have access to the network. In the case of loss or theft, you can lock or wipe the device from your central console, wherever that device is located. Regular security sweeps of devices will alert you to any devices that have been compromised by viruses or that have been jailbroken, allowing access to the root system. These risky devices can be quarantined to prevent access to the network until they have been cleaned and reconfigured.

The mobile content management module distributes documents to devices and keeps track of who got which copy. Cloud backup can be disabled for company documents, controlling where every copy of a business file is located. Any updates to a file are automatically distributed to all of those devices that were sent a copy of the original version.

Security on mobile devices is enforced by the provision of an approved VPN and the separation of company activities and owner activities on user-owned devices.

A mobile email management system comes with Mobile Device Manager Plus. It uses “containerization” to keep email access on the device separate from other apps on the phone. You can limit the apps on a device that can open attachments and even ban users from downloading certain attachment file types.

Mobile Device Manager Plus is available for on-premises installation or as a cloud service. ManageEngine pitches to all sizes of businesses with its Mobile Device Manager Plus package. A free version is available for small businesses, up to 25 devices.

Mid-sized enterprises would probably opt for the Standard Edition, while larger corporations can buy the Professional Edition with more features. Both paid versions of the system start off with the ability to manage fifty devices, and you can add more devices to your implementation for a higher fee.

ManageEngine SNMP MIB Browser

ManageEngine SNMP MIB Browser

  • Works on Windows and Linux

The Management Information Base is a core element of the Simple Network Management Protocol. Each device state is stored in a hierarchy and identified by a segmented code. Unless you have a reference guide on hand, it is almost impossible to know what each of those codes mean, so a MIB browser that decodes every identifier is a really handy tool.

If you have a comprehensive network monitoring tool, then the interpretation of MIB codes will probably be provided for you. However, if you can’t justify the expense of a full system, this free network monitoring tool will help work out which condition on which device is reporting an error. A module in this tool receives trap notifications from device agents and decodes the MIB identifier of each.

ManageEngine Ping and Traceroute

ManageEngine Ping and Traceroute

  • Works on Windows and Linux

You probably use ping and traceroute all the time in your job. However, it is nice to get a GUI for them instead of using the command line.The ping utility will give you roundtrip time, packet loss percentage and the number of hops to your stated destination IP address.

You can simultaneously monitor connections to as many as 10 destinations.

The traceroute tool reports the number of hops, however, this utility also shows the IP addresses of every device that messages pass through in order to reach a destination IP address.

The Free Ping Tool package includes other utilities, which include a DNS lookup module and the HTTP Performance Monitor. This gives you a very attractive real-time graph showing the TCP connection time, redirection time, and response time of your website. Snapshots of the live graph can be exported to PDFs.

ManageEngine Windows Health Monitor

  • Works on Windows and Linux

Although the name of this app might make you think it’s not a network monitoring tool, many features of this free utility reatly help with network administration tasks. For example, the monitor includes a TCP port scanner, which can tell you which ports on a server are open. You can specify individual ports to monitor, or enter a range of port numbers.

The monitor covers bandwidth usage information and response times of your server. CPU, memory, and disk usage are accounted for as well. You can monitor up to 20 servers simultaneously with the Windows Health Monitor, although they must all be running Windows.

The layout of the Windows Health Monitor includes some great graphics, showing utilization metrics in the form of dials, graphs, and charts. The graphics are color coded so you can instantly spot capacity exhaustion. The monitor generates status reports and even emails those reports to a list of recipients.

ManageEngine Syslog Forwarder

ManageEngine Syslog Forwarder

  • Works on Windows and Linux

The Syslog Forwarder is a handyfree network monitoring tool that helps filter and prioritize system messages and collate them at a syslog server. This Windows-based application stores records of all of the system event messages that it receives. So, if you set it to block certain message levels, or ignore specific devices, those log records are not entirely lost, they are just trapped on their way to the syslog server.

Paessler Tools

Paessler is another front runner in the network monitoring market. They offer a network management environment called PRTG as well as individual network tools, some of which are free. The Paessler monitoring system is a good option for mid-sized networks.

Paessler offers no other standalone monitoring packages other than PRTG. However, the company does offer a series of useful individual tools for free. Paessler makes a range of traffic flow data testing tools and an SNMP interpreter.

Paessler PRTG

Paessler PRTG dashboard

  • Works on Windows
  • Editor’s Pick

The main product of Paessler is the “all-in-one” PRTG network monitoring system. The package monitors a network and servers without the need for extra modules. The system can monitor multi-site WANs and both wired and wireless networks. The software for the monitoring system is available for Linux, Windows, and MacOS, or you can opt to use PRTG as a cloud-based service.

Paessler’s main network monitoring technology is based on SNMP. The SNMP agents that the network monitor communicates with are referred to as “sensors” in Paessler parlance. The cheapest version of Paessler PRTG will cover 500 sensors, so this would be a very good proposal for a mid-sized network. Small businesses might also consider Paessler PRTG because the free version allows up to 100 sensors.

PRTG can monitor virtual environments, both onsite VLANs and cloud services. The monitor can communicate with:

  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Citrix Xen
  • Parallels Virtuozzo Containers
  • Amazon EC2

The PRTG package will more or less install itself, communicating across the network to discover all of its devices. Once these agents have been discovered, you can choose which attribute you want to monitor — the price you pay for the system depends on the number of SNMP factors that you want to include. The SNMP reports that the monitor collects can be examined through a drill-down function. You can issue ad-hoc polls of specific device agents through an SNMP tester in the dashboard.

SNMP traps are displayed as alerts in the dashboard, and you can send them to staff as SMS messages or email. The dashboard features color-coded lists, bar charts, graphs, and dials, so you can easily spot error conditions.

As well as detecting network devices and assessing your servers, the network monitoring system uses a packet sniffer and Cisco NetFlow data to monitor the traffic on your network. Those traffic reports give you link-level data and build up to provide end-to-end flows. They show where potential bottlenecks lie, giving you an opportunity to expand capacity or throttle certain apps. The traffic data can isolate flows generated by each application and protocol crossing your network. You can identify users and endpoints that create the highest volumes of data on the network.

The IP management functions of PRTG are not as strong as those available from Solarwinds or ManageEngine. The system will scan your network and give you an IP address usage report, but it doesn’t interact with your DNS and DHCP servers, so it is fair to say that there isn’t a full IPAM available with PRTG.

PRTG includes a patching mechanism for Windows devices, but it can’t track other operating systems or firmware. The console of PRTG lists the current operating system versions and patch status of your Windows devices, but there’s no configuration management system to check for changes in network equipment or archive backups of those configurations.

You can get Paessler PRTG on a 30-day free trial, and remember, the package is free to monitor 100 sensors or fewer.

Paessler Certificate Importer

Paessler Certificate Importer

  • Works on Windows

This free tool is probably only of interest to customers of Paessler PRTG. It is a sort of bug fix to solve an error message that may occur if you have a web server that PRTG monitors. Communications between your web server and PRTG are encrypted, but the PRTG needs an SSL certificate in order to implement that network security. A PRTG subscription gives you the right to an SSL certificate from Paessler, but it doesn’t come pre-installed and setting it up manually is difficult. The Certificate Importer automates the allocation of an SSL certificate to your PRTG console so you can protect communications with your web server.

Paessler MIB Importer and Converter

Paessler MIB Importer

  • Works on Windows

The Management Information Base of SNMP records device attributes in a hierarchy that is denoted by a dot-separated string of numbers that look a little like an IP address. An alternative format uses alphabetical codes, but both difficult to decode.

The MIB Importer and Converter is a free tool that enables you to read MIB-formatted responses from your SNMP agents and work out exactly what they are telling you.

If you have a network monitoring environment, then all of the MIB interpretation is probably taken care of. However, if you just have a small network and no SNMP management software, then this interpreter is a lot easier to use than a MIB reference guide.

Paessler NetFlow Testers

Paessler Netflow Tester

  • Works on Windows

Cisco routers use their own communication format called NetFlow. Most network management systems that report of network traffic flows interpret NetFlow messages and present them in a digestible format. However, if you don’t have a “bells and whistles” network management system, you are missing out on all of the information that these NetFlow messages can give you. The NetFlow Testers capture NetFlow messages and dump them into a file so you can read them. This tool can be downloaded for free.

Paessler sFlow Tester

Paessler sFlow Tester

  • Works on Windows

The sFlow standard isn’t proprietary to any particular device manufacturer. It works at the OSI layer 2 (Data Link) level to communicate events on a specific hop of a network. sFlow operates on UDP port 6343 and most network equipment can be set to present its messages.

You need to enable sFlow messaging on your routers and switches. Those devices should have sFlow version 5 in order to communicate with the Paessler tool. The sFlow Tester is free and it will capture those messages and write them to a file for you to view.

Paessler SNMP Tester

Paessler SNMP Tester

  • Works on Windows

We’ve talked a lot about the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) in this guide. It is the industry standard method for messaging between devices and a central network manager, so just about every network monitoring package on earth relies on SNMP messages.

There are several versions of SNMP and you might have an SNMP monitor program that only recognizes one particular version. Incidentally, Paessler PRTG has built-in recognition of all SNMP formats. Another problem you may face when trying to communicate with an SNMP agent is that, although SNMP capabilities are present on just about all network-capable devices, a lot of manufacturers ship their equipment with the SNMP agent turned off.

The SNMP Tester simply sends a test message to each device to check whether the SNMP agent is turned on and to find out which version of the protocol it uses. This tool is free.

Paessler WMI Tester

Paessler WMI Tester

  • Works on Windows

The Windows Management Instrumentation standard is another protocol that underpins many network management tools. This tester will send access messages to your Windows server to see whether the WMI function is operating. This information can save you a lot of time when installing a Windows network monitoring system that doesn’t seem to work. The WMI Tester is free to use.

Spiceworks Tools

Spiceworks produces a range of free and ad-supported system management tools. So, if you can put up with the advertisements, you will enjoy using these very useful management tools for free. One of the company’s main products is a cloud-based Help Desk tool and its system monitoring tools can all interact with that facility.

Spiceworks Inventory

Spiceworks Inventory

  • Works on Windows
  • Editor’s Pick

Spiceworks Inventory is a more comprehensive free network monitoring tool than the company’s IP Scanner (see below). However, it is only available for Windows whereas the IP Scanner works on Macs and Linux computers.

Inventory performs on-demand network scans. This includes an autodiscovery function so you don’t have to type in all of your network device details every time. Also, the scans can be run on a schedule, so if you choose a short repeat time, you will get near-live data out of this tool.

Be aware that Spiceworks delivers all of its applications for free and draws its profits from advertising, so an advert panel is in the dashboard. Apart from that, the interface is very well presented. Device listings can be sorted, filtered, and searched.

The Inventory package includes a reporting module that gives you the opportunity to create and schedule your own custom reports. You can create regular information updates that focus on specific device activity or types of transactions. The system includes standard alert conditions. You can set parameters for critical conditions that you want to be warned about.

The monitor tracks software on all of the devices so you can keep on top of your license utilization. Inventory also gives a user-by-user view of your network and device usage.

Unusually, for a free tool, customer support is included with this service. The Spiceworks website also has a very active Community section where you can ask for tips and advice from other Spiceworks users.

Spiceworks offers a free cloud-based Help Desk system. If you sign up for it, you can send feeds from the Inventory package to the Help Desk to track problem resolution.

Spiceworks Network Monitor

Spiceworks Network Monitor

  • Works on Windows

Network Monitor is another great free tool from Spiceworks that only runs on Windows. This is a real-time version of the IP Scanner and will continuously check the status of the ports on each of the devices on your network.

You don’t have to load up the information with the devices that you want include in the monitor because it will discover all of the devices connected to your network. The dashboard is customizable, so you can set it up to just show the features you are interested in. The status of each device includes its data throughput. Color coded graphs detail the systems of all equipment at a glance.

The alerts of the system can also be customized. You can set tolerance levels so the capacity or status warnings will only be issued at a level that concerns you. Alerts can be displayed in the dashboard, sent to you by email, or both.

The Dashboard of the Spiceworks Network Monitor has a very professional look and feel to it. No one will imagine that you got it for free.

Spiceworks IP Scanner

Spiceworks IP Scanner

  • Works on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS

When you install Spiceworks IP Scanner, only a small agent program is downloaded onto your computer. The rest of the system is run remotely.

Communication between the agent on your computer and the cloud processing system is encrypted. The data is also encrypted on the server. A password is necessary to get into your account and see the results of scans.

The dashboard is accessible via web browser, so it can run on most operating systems including Windows, Ubuntu, and Debian Linux. The IP Scanner is one of the few network monitoring tools that can be downloaded onto Macs. Spiceworks doesn’t officially support the Safari browser, but the company reports many users access the system through Safari without problems.

The IP Scanner begins by searching for all of the devices connected to your network. Information on each device is listed in the dashboard. For each piece of equipment you will see its IP address, MAC address, hostname, manufacturer, operating system, and list of open ports. Scan results are searchable, and you can filter and sort device records. The data in the scan results can be exported to a CSV file. Spiceworks IP Scanner is free to use.

Spiceworks Port Scanner and Tester

Spiceworks Port Scanner

  • Works on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS

Spiceworks runs a number of handy free online network testing tools, and this is one of them. The Port Scanner and Tester work through your browser, so it doesn’t need to be downloaded onto your computer, making it operating system-agnostic.

The scanner checks the status of a number of the ports on your computer or network device. Enter the IP address or hostname of the device that you want scanned. As the system works over the internet, it only tests externally accessible ports. The services that run on the ports that the scanner tests include FTP, IMPA, and SSH. Ports protected by a firewall are not scanned.

This network tool is useful for checking the setup of your firewall and for testing whether port forwarding is working properly.

Spiceworks Traceroute

Spiceworks Traceroute

  • Works on Windows

You probably use Traceroute at the command line. The Spiceworks adaptation of this popular network tool gives a graphic display of routes. This is another free tool from Spiceworks. Unfortunately, it only runs on Windows.

The display lists each hop in the route. The router that is the destination of each link is displayed with its hostname, physical location, and IP Address. The latency and throughput for each hop is also shown, and that gives you an idea of where to find the problem link that is slowing down connections.

Spiceworks IP Lookup

Spiceworks IP Lookup

  • Works on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS

This is another free online Spiceworks tool that you can use regardless of your operating system. The lookup facility will report back on a given IP address, hostname, or domain name. You will receive information on the owner of that address and where the address is registered. The location of the address is illustrated by a map.

This is a useful tool to trace activity on your network. The results page has a second enquiry level that checks for malicious activity from the given IP address once the location information has been displayed.

Spiceworks Subnet Calculator

Spiceworks Subnet Calculator

  • Works on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS

Dividing your network into subnets will improve response times because fewer devices have to compete for access to the same wire. However, sorting out IP address ranges for each subnet can be difficult to work out manually. This handy free online tool does all of the hard work for you.

This is an online tool that you access through your browser, so it doesn’t matter what operating system you have.

Spiceworks Internet Outage Heatmap

Spiceworks Internet Outage Map

  • Works on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS

If you experience difficulties with your internet activities, then the reason could be your ISP, or a key transport provider experiencing and outage. This online tool is available for free and can be accessed from any operating system. It shows where in the world internet disruptions are occurring.

The top panel of the utility shows a scrollable map of the world. The number of tested services providers within the current view is calculated and displayed on the map. Outages are colored red, a problem under investigation is colored yellow, and problem-free services are colored green.

The tool lists all of the internet service providers in the world that have recently experienced outages. The list can be filtered by time to show only those services that experienced problems within the last 24 hours, within the last three days, or within the last week.

Axence Tools

Axence Screenshot

Axence has been producing network monitoring tools for 12 years. You may not have heard of this company if you are in North America because most of its user base is in Europe. Made in Poland, Axence produces English language versions of its network monitoring software as well as Polish-language interfaces.

Axence network monitoring tools will help your enterprise grow from a small business to a mid-sized one. The company offers a network monitoring system called nVision and a package of 10 very useful free network monitoring tools.

Axence nVision

Axence nVision

  • Works on Windows

The nVision package includes five infrastructure monitoring modules. The core Network Monitoring module is free to use. If you add on the other four modules you can still use the system for free for up to 10 device agents. Those other four modules are Inventory, Users, Helpdesk, and Dataguard.

The Network Monitoring module checks on the health of devices that connect the network. The module also covers some attributes of your servers and internet gateways. The conditions that the system looks out for include the temperature in the server room.

To implement the other four modules of nVision, you need to install an Axence agent on each device that you want to monitor. These programs behave almost exactly the same as SNMP agents. Although Axence could just have used the SNMP standard, which all network devices have pre-loaded, it seems that the system’s pricing structure is based on the number of devices monitored and using custom agents enables them to enforce that tariff.

The Inventory module helps track software license usage and looks out for unauthorized software on your machines. The Users module includes a gateway that blocks access to blacklisted websites. The activity monitor checks on the application and network usage of each workstation. You can install a monitoring agent on mobile devices running Android, and then include those devices in your software audits.

The Helpdesk module includes patch management and software distribution functions. So, this module, together with the Inventory module, provides configuration management for network endpoints.

The Dataguard module has two functions. The first is an antivirus management system to protect the network. The second element of Dataguard is a kind of Mobile Content Management system. This blocks users from copying data onto mobile devices or portable storage without permission. Authorized data transfers are logged, so you know exactly who has what information on mobile devices.

Axence Net Tools

Axence NetTools

  • Works on Windows
  • Editor’s Pick

The ten tools included in the free Net Tools package are:

  • Netwatch
  • Network, Port, and Service Scanner
  • Wintools
  • TCP/IP Workshop and SNMP Browser
  • Traceroute
  • Netstat
  • Local Info
  • Lookup
  • Bandwidth
  • NetCheck

The Netwatch module gives you a live report on response times and packet loss on the network. This information can be viewed on a per-application basis. These are network applications, such as HTTP and FTP. In total, you can get the performance data for 50 different applications from Netwatch. Device status alerts are provided and optionally emailed to you by Netwatch.

Netwatch also includes an IPAM element, although this is not comprehensive. The system checks the addresses on the network against your DNS server entries every ten minutes to ensure that the DNS records are valid.

Network data is shown in real time and stored for later viewing of historical data. This is useful for capacity planning and trend analysis. Data can be exported to XML, HTML, and text files for creating presentations.

The Network, Port, and Service Scanner includes an autodiscovery function that lists all devices connected to your network. For each discovered device, you get a list of open ports. The scanner checks what network services are active on each port.

The Wintools utility checks on WMI messages for Windows servers. These reports give you live information on CPN, memory, and disk usage on each Windows server, plus a list of processes running on each machine. The tool includes a registry editor and an event log viewer.

The TCP/IP Workshop and SNMP Browser queries SNMP agents running on network devices. The browser decodes the complicated MIB structure so you can see exactly which conditions each report line refers to.

Traceroute is a handy tool that most network administrators use on the command line. Axence gives you a world map and plots the routes that it discovers. This is a great feature that lets you see instantly where your traffic is coming from as well as where your outbound connections route through. The utility reports packet loss and response times for each route.

NetStat gives you a list of the inbound and outbound connections on all of the ports of your network equipment.

Local Info lists the configuration details of each of your network devices. This is a very powerful little tool that goes some way to match the sophisticated configuration management modules of the more expensive network management systems in this list. If you store the information that is reported by Local Info, you create the configuration backups needed to detect unauthorized configuration changes and restore devices to their authorized configurations.

The Lookup tool gives you information from DNS servers and the WHOIS database on the internet. These are not DNS records on your own network — you get that information through the Netwatch tool.

The Bandwidth tester reports on your network capacity utilization and the NetCheck tool tests the status of your physical hardware, looking for problems in elements, such as the wiring of your network.

If you have a small network, the information that these free tools provide enables you to keep on top of your monitoring tasks while still requiring some manual checks and comparisons.

Aribada Tools

Aribada website screenshot

Aribada, Inc specializes in utilities for Macs, iPads, and iPhones. Its stable of products includes some really useful network monitoring tools. The company is based in Romania, with offices in the United States. Aribada has found a very interesting niche in sticking to products for Macs and iOS devices, especially by writing networking applications for those operating systems.

Aribada NetAdmin

  • Works on Mac OS
  • Editor’s Pick

The Aribada website only shows the NetAdmin systems as being available for iOS. However, it is available for download to Macs from the Apple Store.

NetAdmin is a cheap ($38.99) network monitoring tool. Its more advanced partner, NetAdmin Pro ($49.99) is also available for Macs. The network monitor gives constant live data and can cover both wired and wireless networks. The system can detect mobile devices connected to the network as well as network equipment, computers, servers, and office equipment, such as printers.

The underlying technology of this package relies on SNMP and the native Mac network monitoring system, Bonjour. Computer health, network latency, port scanning, IP allocation history, and wifi router details are all available from this tool.

The monitor is able to communicate with devices that run Windows, Linux/Unix, Mac OSX, Android, and iOS. It can also monitor network printers and VOIP handsets.

The Pro version of this package can monitor larger networks than the standard version and it also includes a MIB browser.

Aribada MIB Browser

Axence MIB Browser

  • Works on Mac OS

The MIB Browser that comes as an extra feature of the Pro version of NetAdmin is also available as a stand-alone package for $7.99. This GUI interface gives you meaningful names for the attributes detailed in the SNMP Management Information Base. You will struggle to understand the codes that make up the MIB dictionary without an interpreter. This MIB Browser is probably the best SNMP code interpreter on the market for Macs.

Network monitoring tool selection

Integrated network monitoring packages make system administration a lot easier to perform. You might have been getting by with just individual tools that gather information on specific aspects of your network. However, putting that information together to get an overall view of the network can be very time consuming.

As you can see from the descriptions of monitoring tool suites, quite often, you need to gather information from a lot of different sources in order to fully monitor and protect your network. However, if you are used to making ad-hoc investigations and you don’t want to change that habit, you will find a lot of free network monitoring utilities in this guide that will aid those tasks.

The graphics used to present data in the dashboards of the tools in this guide accelerate problem detection and decision making. A lot of these tools run continuously and will alert you to critical failures or approaching capacity limits. You can even get those alerts sent to you by SMS or email so you don’t have to sit at your desk watching the screen in order to do your job.

Ultimately, deciding which network monitoring tool to get for your company will come down to which system gives you the information you are looking for in the right order and in the right format. Fortunately, you can try out these systems for free and get a good feel for which network monitoring tool suits you best. Choosing a network monitoring system that is appropriate for your size of network is also important. The ordering of the tools in this guide runs from network monitoring systems that are suitable for large corporations at the top of the list down to systems for small networks at the end.

Take control of your network and spot problems before they happen with proper network monitoring. Get a network monitoring tool to help you perform your tasks with competence.

Further reading

Comparitech networking guides

Other information on network monitoring

Image: HA0476-007 by Highways England via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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