- Best network monitoring tools
- What is a network monitoring tool?
- How network monitoring tools work
- What is the importance of network monitoring?
- What is the categorization of network monitoring?
- How to choose a network monitoring tool
Best network monitoring tools
You can choose from many different network monitoring tools, with both free and premium options available. All of them can monitor the performance and stability of your network infrastructure, but some services offer useful extra features and specializations. Listed below are some of the most popular network monitoring tools available, presented in no particular order.
Icinga is an open source, free network monitoring software that you can use to assess performance across networks, Cloud services, and data centers. The software is web-based and can be configured through either a GUI (graphical user interface) or with DSL (domain specific language).
Users can access the GUI and interact with a simple dashboard to view performance data. Problems arising on the monitored systems are flagged with colored-coded messages to make them easier to read at a glance.
If you need extra functionality that the base program doesn’t offer, it’s easy to quickly add extensions. Community-generated modules can be used to facilitate most monitoring features you might need. Extensions created by the community (one of the benefits of the software being open source) can be downloaded from the Icinga Exchange.
NinjaOne offers a Cloud-based portal for viewing and tracking network data, meaning that you won’t need any specialized servers or other hardware to deploy it.
Like most good monitoring solutions, NinjaOne provides a platform where data can be collated and examined. However, it’s particularly useful for organizations with a number of remote locations because administrators can set up multiple sub-accounts for each site. Data is logged separately and categorized by site, making it easy to identify where problems are manifesting.
Another bonus with NinjaOne is that it reports problems to administrators via email or SMS. No one has to monitor the software in real-time. If networking issues arise, a notification is generated and the problem can be quickly isolated and resolved.
Paessler PRTG Network Monitor
Paessler’s PRTG Network Monitor is a service that monitors networks using packet sniffing, SNMP, and WMI.
When deploying your PRTG package, sensors are set up. A sensor is essentially a mechanism that tracks one kind of performance metric. By selecting the specific sensors you want, you can create a very tailored setup, designed in response to the specific needs and topography of your network.
Don’t use VoIP regularly? You don’t need the VoIP sensor. Interested in tracking hardware performance? Turn on the Hardware Parameter sensor. Customization and flexibility are a big selling point for PRTG. This versatility makes it a good option regardless of an organization’s scale and the scope of its monitoring needs.
OpManger tracks data from across both networks and servers. Not all network monitoring tools can log server performance (CPU, disk capacity, memory use, and other relevant metrics). You could find a separate server monitoring service, in addition to network performance tracking, but OpManager does both.
Like PRTG, OpManager is heavily customizable. Users can set up their own interface, choosing a combination of data widgets to display the information that is relevant to them. The service uses an autodiscover feature to quickly find and map new devices as they connect to the network and flag threats via email, SMS, and webhook.
Overall, OpManager is a versatile tool. However, it might not be the first choice for network administrators who don’t require server monitoring.
Datadog is a Cloud-based network monitoring tool. Depending on your needs, you can purchase Datadog services for monitoring network traffic, device activity, or both.
The Datadog network monitoring service continually refreshes its autodiscovery feature, and any changes in network topology are immediately reflected on a visual map. As soon as a new device is added, it is inventoried and its traffic can be monitored.
You can set specific parameters to trigger alerts for metrics you think are important. For example, if data usage rises above a preset threshold on certain devices, you can be notified via Slack, SMS, email, or PagerDuty.
Nagios Core is an open source, free-to-use network monitoring solution. You can track data through an accessible web interface, with well-presented, color-coded information covering a wide range of network metrics.
You can set Nagios up to track the performance of networks, applications, and servers, and a huge variety of community-created modules and add-ons are available. Of course, the software doesn’t enjoy the same level of support as paid alternatives, but it’s a good option if you have to integrate the open-source software with other custom applications.
One downside of Nagios Core is the complexity of its setup. Compared to some premium services, the monitoring system is not ready to use out of the box and requires some technical know-how to deploy and modify.
Catchpoint is a Cloud-based platform made up of several different tools, all aimed at the delivery of web pages. One of the Catchpoint components is Catchpoint Network Experience, which is probably the closest thing they have to network monitoring software.
However, it’s important to note that Catchpoint Network Experience doesn’t monitor LANs or other similar network structures. Instead, it tracks the performance of web pages and web applications and will alert administrators if technical issues arise for their users. If you want to make sure your applications are functioning properly and respond quickly if people are having problems connecting to them, Catchpoint can help.
Catchpoint can also track the performance of virtual private networks, or VPNs, but again, these are not LANs. If you’re looking for a more traditional network-focused tool, Catchpoint isn’t a good choice.
What is a network monitoring tool?
A network monitoring tool is a system that studies incoming and outgoing network traffic, using specialized hardware or software. These network monitoring tools offer a variety of functions, ranging from basic data gathering to live performance reports delivered via SMS or other platforms.
The purpose of a network monitoring tool is to identify networking problems so they can be resolved. In some cases, a service might display data that reveals inefficiencies in routing, which a proactive administrator can then improve upon. In others, the software could generate alerts when a router stops working or a networked device behaves in an unusual or risky way. In most cases, you can choose from many different possible metrics.
How network monitoring tools work
Network monitoring tools rely on several commonly used network protocols. One widely used protocol for network monitoring is SNMP, or the Simple Network Management Protocol. SNMP allows devices like routers and network switches to communicate status and performance metrics to a central management system.
For Windows operating systems, WMI, or Windows Management Instrumentation, helps with network monitoring. WMI is Microsoft’s implementation of the Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) standard, and it enables the collection of system and performance data.
In Unix and Linux systems, SSH authentication, or Secure Shell authentication, is used for network monitoring. SSH provides a secure channel for communication between devices and allows administrators to remotely access and manage servers.
In all cases, regardless of the protocol used, network performance data is gathered in real-time and collated for visualization on a central management portal.
What is the importance of network monitoring?
Network monitoring is important for two reasons. The first is performance optimization. By monitoring network traffic, you can identify problems like defective hardware, inefficient routing paths, and congestion points. Armed with that information, steps can be taken to improve a network’s speed and stability.
Monitoring is also an important network security measure and can help to keep your networks, devices, and users safe from online threats. Network monitoring programs can watch for suspicious behavior that might indicate a compromised device, recognize the signs of external cyberattacks, and flag up potential insider threats. Network monitoring solutions are vital for cyber threat monitoring, as well as helping to improve user experience.
What is the categorization of network monitoring?
Most network monitoring functions fall into one of four categories.
- Availability monitoring systems check whether a device is working, or available, on a network. In most cases, this is done using the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP), Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), or the Syslog protocol.
- Configuration monitoring involves tracking the configuration of different network devices. At a minimum, configuration monitoring features should be able to alert administrators if some nodes on the network are not configured correctly. More advanced programs can automatically roll back unauthorized configuration changes when they occur.
- Performance monitoring focuses on the overall speed, efficiency, and stability of a network. Performance can be tracked and improved using network packet sniffers, SNMP, and streaming telemetry.
- Cloud infrastructure monitoring encapsulates any monitoring systems implemented to track the performance of Cloud applications. While specialized Cloud monitoring solutions are available, some network monitoring systems can also be applied to Cloud setups or may have in-built Cloud performance monitoring features.
How to choose a network monitoring tool
If you plan to implement network monitoring tools, you’ll need to find a system that works for your specific needs. However, several key factors should be considered before selecting and deploying a monitoring system.
- Automation. Your network monitoring tool should be able to carry out certain actions automatically. For example, a good monitoring tool will automatically log data on potential networking problems to be reviewed later. Ideally, it should also send reports automatically when preset conditions (like poor network performance) are met. Even better, a good network monitoring tool can resolve problems without human assistance — rolling back unauthorized configuration changes, for example, and adding new devices to its inventory.
- Threat prevention. Try to find a network monitoring tool with some built-in threat prevention capabilities. In addition to logging performance data, a good monitoring system could also watch for known threat indicators, limit risky user activities, and alert admins to cyberattacks against the network. Remember, a good network management tool should improve both efficiency and security.
- Diverse features for long-term scalability. Unless you have extremely specific requirements, you should look for a tool with a diverse and, ideally, customizable range of features. Find a system that offers both background data gathering and real-time monitoring. Does a service track hardware and application performance? Your network and your monitoring needs may change over time, so finding an adaptable, dynamic program now can future-proof your monitoring practices.
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