Network security, analysis and monitoring are a few of the biggest concerns on the minds of network administrators. They want to keep sites running smoothly for users and employees, while keeping information as safe as possible.
Hackers could penetrate firewalls in the middle of the night, or the site could crash on Christmas Day. Virtually anything could happen at any time, and companies need to constantly monitor networks to know when issues arise.
That’s exactly what network monitoring tools do. They keep an eye out for irregularities like high resource usage, changes in uptime, and status request failures. They track events and store information to help users identify which services, servers or hardware an issue can be traced back to.
Many proprietary and commercial tools can get expensive; even the smallest businesses need monitoring tools, too. If you think you can’t afford some of the big-name commercial tools, consider the following offerings, which are either free or open source.
Free Network Monitoring Software
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Product Name: Lansweeper (19 Reviews)
G2 Crowd Satisfaction Score: 80
G2 Crowd Star Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars
Lansweeper is a commercial solution, but offers a freeware version with limited capabilities at no cost. The tool scans and discovers devices across Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems to identify new assets. It has a more narrowed focus than most products on this list, but still qualifies as a monitoring tool per our definition.
Users can schedule complete network inspection scans or let the tool run automatically. The tool will identify physical components, software solutions, event logs, Windows updates and product keys. The information is then stored for users to inspect for changes.
“We have been using Lansweeper since its inception, and don’t know what we would do without it. It surpasses other network inventory software in features, support, and price. We support 4 locations with 350 users and over 1000 devices. Lansweeper enables our IT department to locate detailed network information quickly. “ — Lansweeper review
The free version allows unlimited users, but only 100 assets. The paid plans come at $495 and $995 annually. If users want to track more than 1,000 assets, they’ll need to contact the vendor and develop customized pricing plans.
All of the product’s reviews come from users at either mid-market or enterprise companies. They’re all administrative-level users, but range across a variety of industries. Only one of their reviewers gave the product fewer than 4 out of 5 stars.
Product Name: Intermapper (52 Reviews)
G2 Crowd Satisfaction Score: 64
G2 Crowd Star Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars
Another staple in the relational database world, Intermapper is more of a true monitoring tool than Lansweeper, but it does provide similar automated discovery tools. Still, the product’s true strength lies in its mapping and visualization capabilities.
Mapping features include color-coded identification of resources that indicate proper performance and issue statuses. The maps are highly customizable to properly diagram your network topology. Other features include remote access, bandwidth monitoring and tools to automate issue resolution.
“Intermapper is a great easy to use monitoring tool that allows us the user to effectively monitor any size network. Great notification feature with various options for delaying or modifying how outages and critical devices get reported.” — Intermapper review
The free version includes a perpetual, permanent license, monitoring for up to 10 devices and pooled remote access. Paid plans are billed annually and range from $303 for 25 devices to $765 for 50 devices and custom pricing for larger enterprises.
Of the product’s 52 reviews, 45 users gave the tool 4-r or 5-e star ratings. Most user reviews came from employees at mid-market and enterprise-sized companies. Things users liked most about the tool included live monitoring, threshold=based alarms and SNMP network management.
Product Name: Spiceworks Network Monitor (10 Reviews)
G2 Crowd Satisfaction Score: 70
G2 Crowd Star Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars
For small teams, Spiceworks is 100 percent free and comes with customer support included. The only catch is a tight limit of 25 monitorable devices, which shouldn’t be an issue for small teams.
The tool comes with real-time updates on servers, endpoints and any kind of device with an IP address connected to your network. The tool can generate insights to detect slow or failing systems and alert users right away.
“This is simply the best network management tool I’ve ever used. I’ve implemented Spiceworks in all my jobs and used it with personal clients. You can inventory your entire network with a few clicks. Even if you have remote locations, you can set up a collector agent, it inventories then sends to the server” — Spiceworks review
Additional features for the free version include access to a number of free tools. A blacklist checker helps identify flagged IP addresses to reduce potential malicious visitors. An IP lookup tool lets users see who is on their site. And a help-desk tool comes free to help you communicate with users.
The tool only has 10 reviews, but all of them are 4- and 5-star ratings. They also vary across industry and company size, but most fall under the mid-market tier. Some things users said they liked most about the tool were live monitoring, SNMP network management and general network management.
Product Name: Wireshark (37 Reviews)
G2 Crowd Satisfaction Score: 39
G2 Crowd Star Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars
Wireshark is a widely used network monitoring tool that is fully open source, and released under the GNU General Public License version 2. It runs across many platforms, including most operating systems from Windows and macOS to Solaris and FreeBSD.
Main features include inspection of hundreds of different protocol types, offline analysis and standard three-pane packet browsing. It can capture different packet types and file formats, capturing almost any kind of file being transferred over the network.
“Wireshark is an amazing tool when it comes to managing a network. It captures packets in real time, allowing you to deeply study the inner workings of the network you’re connected to and the causes to some problems that may persist.” — Wireshark review
It’s one of the most widely used and well-known network monitoring tools, and probably has the deepest breadth of features on this list. Because of that, things can get a little complicated for new users. But experienced IT professionals are likely familiar and comfortable with the tool.
Some things users said they liked most about the tool were its detailed network analysis capabilities, live monitoring, analytical functions and error tracking. Users were almost evenly distributed across company sizes and concentrated in IT industries.
Product Name: PRTG (16 Reviews)
G2 Crowd Satisfaction Score: 26
G2 Crowd Star Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars
PRTG is not open source, but it does offer a freeware edition, much like Lansweeper. The free version is limited to 100 sensors, which can be allocated across the number of devices in your network.
While most companies charge by device, PRTG is evaluated by sensors the company calls the “simplest & fairest” way to evaluate uses. Sensors measure different components of each device such as its CPU or a port, so most devices have between 5 and 10 sensors.
Paid versions range from $1,600 to $60,000 annually with discounts for multi-year deals. On its site, PRTG’s vendor Paessler touts the tool’s 200,000-person user base and an average ROI of 3.5 months.
“PRTG is a very powerful and dependable monitoring tool. It is our main monitoring solution and we use over 1000 sensors with the product. It is very cost effective for the amount of functionality you get from it and can monitor a vast range of technologies with more and more being added with each update. “ — PRTG Review
The tool has plentiful features for traffic and performance monitoring. You can create network maps and distribute monitoring to better manage individual locations or clustered devices. Users can also choose from multiple interfaces and set up custom alerts via an API or SMS messaging.
PRTG’s reviewers were mostly administrator-level employees at mid-market, IT-focused companies. A few things users said they liked most about PRTG were SNMP scanning, SNMP Network Management, live monitoring and network inventory management tools.
Product Name: Zabbix (22 Reviews)
G2 Crowd Satisfaction Score: 3
G2 Crowd Star Rating: 4.0 out of 5 stars
Zabbix is an open-source network monitoring solution designed for enterprise-class networks. It’s been around since 2001 publically, but began as an internal software project in a bank three years prior.
Features include proactive monitoring to identify odd functions before failure occurs and agentless monitoring to track availability. It also comes with additional monitoring features for other systems, tools for capacity planning and distributed monitoring to isolate network management.
A Zabbix API is also available to simplify script automation, make application monitoring more flexible and configuration management tools to improve application functionality.
“Zabbix is a customizable open source tool that adapts well to a wide variety of applications, allowing centralized monitoring of a complete infrastructure. It’s easy to build custom plugins for applications that may not be part of the existing community. It’s a very visual tool and useful for trending and visualizing your data.” — Zabbix review
Like Wireshark, it’s available under the GNU General Public License version 2. Companies can set up monitoring on up to 100,000 devices at once. Those can include applications, servers, databases and networking equipment.
Despite being an enterprise-focused tool, six reviews came from small-business users and 25 came from mid-market employees. The majority of reviews came from administrators at IT-focused companies. It only had one 1-star review and 39 4- or 5-star reviews.
Ease of Use
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These tools can help allocate resources and optimize performance. They’ll also prevent network failures and simplify the growth process for startups and identify security threats. A secure network is becoming more and more necessary in today’s digital world and the interconnectivity of IoT devices will only give your system administrators more to worry about.