When it comes to large networks with the potential for hundreds of thousands or even millions of requests each day, even the most minuscule delays can amount to hours of collectively lost time. What would be a trivial bottleneck in a small home or office network can become a snowballing avalanche of outages, delays, and angry customers in an enterprise network. So how do we achieve optimal performance?
Application and server monitoring software can range from home-brewed solutions thrown together with a few lines of code, all the way up to enterprise scale implementations designed to be used across a global network for large service providers.
Every administrator is going to have a slightly different take on what’s ideal for performance monitoring. Some will want to see every last detail of resource usage and optimize all their applications to fit that need. Others are purely interested in service response and uptime. Most will want a mix of both. None of these approaches are wrong, and finding the right server monitor that fits your needs is a huge part of network optimization.
There is no “one size fits all” solution to server performance monitoring, so we’ve compiled a list that comprises a range of platforms and applications. This list includes everything from open-source, free solutions, to enterprise-grade paid implementations used by some of the biggest networking giants on the planet. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the goal is to help find the right one that works for your network.
What to Look for in a Server Monitoring Tool
Performance and resource usage of the application itself
Good monitoring applications will use a minimum of resources to do their job. Even comprehensive networking suites usually place a strong focus on minimizing the amount of system and network resources they use to do their jobs. The best performance monitors will utilize just enough resources to effectively maintain close watch over the nodes they are assigned to.
Before jumping into any application, it’s good to know exactly what it needs to do in a given network. Some performance monitors are very basic, only tracking system resource usage on a server. Others are more robust and will track everything from bandwidth to system usage and perform in-depth analysis on a node-by-node basis. These systems often come in larger packages designed or intended to be used with other applications to create a full network management system. Deciding which features are needed on your network will help you narrow down which pieces of software will potentially work for you.
Presentation and ease of use
Many performance monitoring applications come with detailed graphs, charts, and statistical information to help you better understand how your network is working. The way this information is displayed plays a big part in how useful it will ultimately be. The way this information is presented and organized is also a huge factor in how easy the software is to use. Being able to quickly identify which parts of a usage report are valuable to your network will increase efficiency and help you get more out of your software.
Does the software need to be installed on one centralized control location, or on every node it is monitoring? Is it a cloud-based service? Are agents easily installed if they need to be placed on multiple nodes throughout the network? Even small networks should take this into consideration, as ease of installation on a given device can vary widely from network to network.
Here is our list of the best server and applications performance monitors available:
- SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor (FREE TRIAL)
- Paessler PRTG Network Monitor (FREE TRIAL)
- ManageEngine OpManager
- Open NMS
- WhatsUp Gold
The first entry on this list, SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor, is a standalone product in the overarching Orion platform family developed by SolarWinds. An extremely versatile application monitor that is designed to scale with your network, Server and Application Monitor can be set up to be a one-stop shop for a variety of networking needs.
Thanks to its quick and easy setup, Server and Application Monitor can be rapidly deployed to monitor large and complex network environments. SolarWinds provides an exhaustive list of application monitoring templates so that it can be tailored to fit almost any environment.
It allows for infrastructure monitoring on both AWS and Azure cloud-based IaaS configurations, giving administrators the control they need over their entire network, regardless of physical location or setup. Virtualization monitoring is also available, giving Server and Application Monitor the versatility it needs to fit into the vast majority of network and service designs.
Automatic asset discovery and an active inventory help make even complex networks a breeze to establish within the software, and SolarWinds product enables storage performance monitoring to help ensure smooth data access across large storage platforms. The software is able to help diagnose and identify the root cause of application problems for quick solutions to potential issues.
As a part of the larger Orion platform, SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor can be combined with other products to give comprehensive management coverage over web performance, network, database, and virtualized resource configuration and monitoring. SolarWinds offer a free 30-day download for evaluation on their site.
Paessler PRTG Network Monitor is a highly customizable performance monitoring solution that extends its flexibility all the way down to its pricing system. With a freeware version offering up to 100 free “sensors,” this can be a good option for networks that will scale over time without breaking the bank.
Each monitored resource on a given device is considered a “sensor.” As an example, monitoring the CPU usage on a server would be a single sensor. PRTG estimates that most devices would require anywhere from four to seven sensors each, so even its freeware version can work for small- to medium-sized networks.
Automatic device discovery enables fast deployment, and PRTG can monitor on-site or cloud-based resources. Customized alerts and bandwidth monitoring provide critical details on network and application slowdowns. A wide range of data presentation options help the analysis of key performance information in a way that makes sense to its users.
The software’s pricing is based on how many of these sensors will be deployed across a network, with different price tiers based on total sensors. You can download and evaluate PRTG Network Monitor on a free 30-day trial from Paessler’s site.
A popular open-source NMS software, LibreNMS is the first entirely free entry on this list. It has a detailed and extensive knowledge base to help new users get accustomed to the software. Years of combined community collaboration and tinkering has led to numerous plugins, variations, and implementations of LibreNMS.
Automatic network discovery is supported by a huge range of plugins designed for device configuration, performance monitoring, and consistent performance. Oxidized, RANCID, and Nisen are just a few popular plugins that are easily paired with LibreNMS for a comprehensive network management system.
LibreNMS also supports access to the platform from a mobile device with an available Android and iOS app. This gives administrators control over their networks even when away from the office. Distributed polling gives LibreNMS the capability to scale and provide a solution even for large networks.
As an open-source software, LibreNMS has a huge amount of depth and flexibility, but most of its advantages will come from experienced users with the time to dive into the nitty-gritty insides of LibreNMS. While diving into LibreNMS’ codebase isn’t a requirement by any means, most of its strengths shine when it’s operated by individuals who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Read the installation docs to get started.
4. ManageEngine OpManager
ManageEngine’s OpManager is a dedicated performance and infrastructure monitoring tool. It provides scaling performance monitoring across a range of devices and includes all the standard performance monitoring statistics, including CPU usage, memory, storage, and more.
ManageEngine’s major selling point for OpManager is its inclusion in the larger ManageEngine product family, making it a single cog in a larger wheel of networking products. It can function perfectly well as a standalone product but was designed with the intention of being used with other ManageEngine software to comprehensively manage larger networks.
OpManager also features PGSQL database statistics, giving DBAs detailed information on performance and query times across large networks. This tool helps give data-intensive networks that are heavily reliant on databases a valued tool in reducing query times and improving efficiency.
OpManager includes a fair amount of customization in terms of monitoring configurations and custom alerts, helping to give administrators only the information and warnings they need to run their networks effectively. ManageEngine offer a 30-day free trial download for evaluation.
The second open-source entry on this list, OpenNMS is a network management software with a lot of utility and a dedicated user base. There are two branching distributions of OpenNMS, each with their own unique advantages.
The first, Meridian, is the standard OpenNMS distribution. It is essentially the “stable release” of OpenNMS and features the most product and community support of the two releases. The majority of OpenNMS users will choose to run Meridian.
The second distribution is Horizon. It could loosely be described as a beta platform for new technologies, ideas, and implementations. There is significantly less documentation and community support for Horizon, as most users will be coding and documenting for Meridian. It exemplifies the bleeding edge of OpenNMS open-source framework.
OpenNMS features configurable service monitoring, performance management via a range of standard protocols, and allows for customized alerts. Automatic network discovery combined with topology discovery helps for quick and easy setup along with additional insights into the framework of its assigned network.
OpenNMS also integrates easily into existing infrastructure, with a significant amount of documentation from its community, to help with easy setup and integration into an existing platform. Read the installation docs to get started.
6. WhatsUp Gold
WhatsUp Gold is a dedicated performance monitoring platform with a wealth of customization options in its interface. It features an easy to use, intuitive interface that can be customized to display different amounts of information. This display can also be configured so that information is compartmentalized and only accessible by those who need it. You can easily configure specific types of information to be shown to the teams that need it most.
WhatsUp Gold also has automatic layer 2/3 network mapping to help easily setup a comprehensive picture of the current working network. This network map shows up in a convenient display that makes discovering potential faults or performance bottlenecks a simple task.
One of WhatsUp Gold’s main features is its ability to proactively monitor and alert when potential problem areas rear their ugly heads. Smart workflow design helps keep these alerts brought to the forefront when necessary so potential issues can be addressed quickly and without service interruption. Download an free trial version from their site.
Designed specifically to be used as an enterprise-scale network performance monitoring solution, OP5 handles expansive networking environments extremely well. Everything from its dashboard, to its network mapping display, to the customization available within the software points to OP5’s intended usage as a service-provider scale monitoring platform.
A great example of this is OP5’s macro view of monitored network nodes. An available map widget gives a real, global picture of how each system is interconnected based on geographic location.
OP5’s flexibility comes from its inclusion of widgets that can be added or removed from the central dashboard, giving administrators full control over the amount of information displayed. These widgets can be configured to display compartmentalized information to different departments to help personnel focus on critical data.
Visual reporting gives detailed information on potential bottlenecks or problem areas. These visual representations include graphs and charts to get a clear picture on when and where an issue could arise.
Additional redundancy monitoring helps further reinforce OP5’s design goal of being a one-stop shop for enterprise-scale networking monitoring needs. Find out more about pricing on their download page.
8. Icinga 2
Another open-source performance monitoring tool, Icinga 2 is designed to provide robust performance monitoring while consuming a minimal amount of system resources. Available in a number of different variants and distributions, Icinga touts a huge amount of flexibility in an entirely free package.
Able to be integrated with other popular open-source tools, Icinga 2 can comprise one part of a complete network performance monitoring solution that is scalable to almost any size. Dynamic customization within the software itself, along with rules-based performance configurations allow administrators to tweak Icinga’s installation to meet their needs.
Icinga 2 efficiently uses system resources to create a bare-bones resource footprint while still providing enterprise-grade performance monitoring and statistics. Detailed performance data help guide users to potential problem areas, and a comprehensive alert system warns administrators of impending disaster.
As an open-source tool, much of Icinga’s flexibility comes in the numerous variants and plugins that can be utilized with the application. Even without extensive tweaking and research, Icinga 2 is incredibly capable as an out of the box performance monitoring solution, but open-source enthusiasts will welcome the additional versatility that design philosophy provides. Visit their repositories on Github for download and installation information.
Anturis offers a performance monitoring platform that is an SaaS cloud-based implementation. This gives it some unique upsides for network administrators seeking a more mobile monitoring platform to work with. Anturis has options for both agent and agent-less deployments, making it incredibly useful for highly mobile networking environments, or as a bridge platform to work from on more fluid networking setups.
As a cloud-based service itself, it makes sense for Anturis to be able to monitor cloud-based services, and it is able to do so with minimal setup. It can monitor across multiple geographic locations, further reinforcing its design philosophy of being able to handle highly complex, extremely mobile networking infrastructures. This also gives it good marks as a scaling performance software able to handle large network monitoring.
A range of custom notifications and delivery methods keep administrators alerted to the key details and critical systems that need to be given attention for consistent service. Anturis can track standard performance metrics on servers and monitor networks for traffic to improve bandwidth and help identify problem areas where changes may be needed. Anturis offer a range of free and paid plans to suit your network’s needs.
Another SaaS cloud-based performance monitoring solution, LogicMonitor gives the same flexible advantages to dynamic networking environments that can utilize a more mobile monitoring application. Able to be quickly deployed and take advantage of automated device discovery, LogicMonitor can analyze resource usage on both on-site and cloud-based infrastructure.
A customized dashboard can have information compartmentalized to provide information to groups or personnel that need it most. With a wide range of data presentation options, this information can be customized to quickly give important details on usage statistics, system loads, and application performance.
Flexible alerting and the ability to monitor and analyze network configurations in real-time give additional utility to LogicMonitor. It can actively monitor configuration changes and look for performance impacts to help give ever-changing networks valuable insight into the overall health of the network. LogicMonitor offers a 14-day free trial on their website.
Best Performance Monitoring Tools: SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor and PRTG Network Monitor
SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor and PRTG Network Monitor are two of the highest performance tools on this list. The variety of infrastructure they can monitor has made them two of the best performance monitoring tools in the world.
SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor can monitor hardware as well as AWS and Azure IaaS infrastructure.
PRTG Network Monitor has its own unique sensors that you can download to monitor individual tools. For smaller organizations, PRTG Network Monitor is a particularly great choice. The reason is that there is a free version that supports up to 100 sensors. 100 sensors will cover many smaller networks without the hefty price tag that is associated with network monitoring products.
It is worth mentioning that both tools bring convenience to the table as well. PRTG Network Monitor and SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor each have an autodiscovery feature to identify devices in your network automatically. Autodiscovery makes sure that you’re always working with the most up to date version of your networking environment.