Best Windows System Monitoring Tools: Top 6 Reviewed in 2018

System Monitoring can be a challenge for many administrators. It’s not that uncommon for today’s networks to have dozens or even hundreds of server. And you need to keep a watchful eye on each and every server’s operating parameters. This is where a system monitoring tool can come in handy. Typically, these systems will watch your servers and other devices while you can concentrate on more productive tasks. And if something goes wrong, if an operational parameter exceeds its normal range, the system will alert you. Today, we’re having a look at six of the best Windows system monitoring tools.

We’ll begin by discussing the need for system monitoring. We’ll see how the complex systems of today have so many components that it’s almost impossible to keep an eye on everything without assistance, We’ll then discuss the built-in monitoring tools that are present in every system. They’re a good starting point to understand what monitoring is all about. This will bring us to the features and operation of system monitoring tool. This is what they do and how they do it. And once we’re all on the same page, we’ll review the six best system monitoring tools for Windows.

The Need For System Monitoring Tools

Although it would certainly be useful, we can’t have eyes everywhere. Yet, we have to constantly remain aware of the status of all the equipment we manage. Today’s systems are way more complex than those of just 10 years ago. And they have many more components. Likewise, more processes than ever are running on a typical computer. Each of these processes consumes part of its host’s system resources. And when resources are all used up, things start to go wrong. Processes crash, errors happen. Things don’t go well.

In order to ensure that things always run smoothly, you need to constantly check your equipment’s operational parameters so that you can react preemptively before problems arise. It’s not uncommon for a system administrator to be responsible for the operation of dozens if not hundreds of devices, making it almost impossible to watch them all. There’s just too many of them.

Another problem is that most server operational parameters are not readily available and some tool must be used to access them. Mainframe computers of yesteryear had all sorts of gauges and light on their control panels to alert administrators of abnormal conditions. Some early PCs and networking equipment had remnants of those–I recall a home computer that had an LED that flashed every time an interrupt was raised or this ethernet hub that had a “collision” LED–but they have long since disappeared.

This is when system monitoring tools become a necessity. They allow system administrators to spend their time on more constructive and useful tasks while the tool does the monitoring, alerting the administrator when something is wrong, usually before it becomes a real issue. This gives the system administrator enough time to react and fix the problem.

Virtualized environments are a specific use case that requires specialized monitoring. When several virtual instances have to share the resources of a host server, both the host and each virtual instance need to be monitored. And hosts server have specific operational parameter and monitoring requirements that many Windows system monitoring tools lack. For those, you need specific VM monitoring tools.

Built-in Monitoring Tools

Most modern operating systems include some form of built-in monitoring tool. Windows, for instance, has the Task Manager. This is a very handy tool that every system administrator should be familiar with. Its main pane will show the processor, memory, disk, network, and graphics processor utilization of each running process. Its performance tab will give you detailed graphs of the evolution over time of several operational parameters such as processor utilization, memory, disk, and each network interface.

Another tool that has been present on Windows systems for a while but is less used today because much of the information it provides is now available in the Windows Task Manager is called the Resource Monitor. It provides much of the same information that’s available from the task manager but it is more oriented to show the usage of both hardware and software resources by the different processes currently running.

System administrators with a Unix or Linux background will likely be familiar with two command-line utilities: ps and top. The former lists all currently running processes and optionally their processor and memory utilization. As for top, it is a similar tool although it will typically include more information presented in a tabular format.

Features And Operation Of System Monitoring Tools

System monitoring tools are all different. And while each claims to be better than others, in reality, they are all much alike in their core functionality. we’ve compiled a list of the main features that you will find in most system monitoring tool. It should help you clarify your monitoring needs and compare different tools.

The most basic feature of system monitoring tools their ability to remotely monitor multiple servers. The best systems will monitor various operating systems and some will have distributed monitoring to facilitate multi-site implementations. Some tools will also provide an auto-discovery mechanism to automatically scan your network as add every monitorable device it finds. This could be a one-time, post-installation process or a continuous one that will add any new server as it is brought up. Monitoring tools should be as unintrusive as possible. You don’t want them to put an additional load on your servers. They also need to be scalable. Your network will more than likely grow over time and your monitoring tool needs to be able to follow that growth.

Typically, system monitoring tools will monitor a wide range of metrics such as server availability, CPU usage, memory usage, disk space, CPU temperature, and power supply voltages. When applicable, some will also measure response time and upload/download speeds. Application monitoring is also common with system monitoring tools. The best ones use a deep knowledge of the applications to monitor several of their specific metrics. This is particularly useful for web servers or database servers, for example.

The next big function of system monitoring tools is alerting. What’s the use of monitoring your environment if nothing happens when things go wrong? Monitoring systems will automatically alert administrators of any abnormal parameter. Most systems come with predefined alerting thresholds although customizing them to your needs is always possible and certainly recommended. Notification methods and alert thresholds can usually be customized. Most systems will pop a message box on their console but also send email, SMS, pager messages, etc. Some system will also trigger actions–either built-in or custom scripts–when alerts are raised.

Those are the basic functions that most system monitoring tools share but there’s usually more. Reporting is often an important part of monitoring tools with the best one offering both pre-built and customized reports. Reporting, of course, also implies the collection of historical data.

If servers are not the only devices you want to monitor, perhaps you’ll need a different tool. For instance, networking devices–such as switches and routers–have very different monitoring requirements than servers. Consequently, some dedicated monitoring tools exist for these devices. They rely on the Simple Network Management Protocol or on NetFlow to get networking device’s operational data and display it in a useful manner. If you want more information about network monitoring tools, these two articles will be of interest:

12 Best Network Monitoring Software and Tools Reviewed in 2018

Best WiFi Analyzers to Keep an Eye on the Invisible (Windows, iOS and Android)

The Best System Monitoring Tools For Windows

So, now that it’s clear why you may need a Windows system monitoring tool and that you know some of the functionalities you should be looking for, let’s proceed and review the different tools we recommend. Some are free, some are paid or subscription -based but all will provide a much-needed assistance when it comes to keeping a closer eye on your servers.

1. SolarWinds Server Health Monitor (Free Download)

If you don’t already know SolarWinds, it is more than about time you learn about the company. SolarWinds makes some of the best network and system administration tools. SolarWinds is also known for making a handful–actually, quite a few handfuls–of free task-specific tools such as the Advanced Subnet Calculator or the Server Health Monitor, the number one entry on our list of the six best Windows system monitoring tools.

SolarWinds Server Health Monitor - Server Details

FREE DOWNLOAD: SolarWinds Server Health Monitor

The SolarWinds Server Health Monitor, or SHM, can monitor the availability, health, and performance of up to 5 servers. This is a serious limitation although it could be enough for some smaller businesses. It is also limited in what it can monitor. It will only work with Dell PowerEdge™, HP ProLiant™, and IBM eServer™ xSeries servers. It also supports a few models of blade enclosures from Dell and HP as well as a few VMware hypervisors. The tool uses a combination of methods like SNMP, WMI, and CIM to pull operational data from the servers it monitors.

The tool’s dashboard shows you the overall health of the monitored servers. Individual servers can be clicked to get a list of all the monitored parameters that you can also click for greater detail. It gives you some insight into the general health of a small group of servers. We haven’t mentioned alert or reports for a simple reason, there are none. This is an entry-level tool that will require you to keep an eye on its screen which, of course, is better than checking five server screens.

2. SolarWinds Server And Application Monitor (Free Trial)

Next on our list is another tool form SolarWinds. The Server and Application Monitor starts where the Server HealthMonitor stops. It is a similar tool but with a much broader feature set. It is part of the Orion suite of administration and management tools. We looked at another tool from the Orion suite in a recent article: Best Free sFlow Collectors and Analyzers Reviewed in 2018.

As its name implies, this advanced tool will not only monitor servers but also the applications running on them. It is a complete solution that can scale from the smallest networks to large, multi-site corporate networks with hundreds of servers, both physical and virtual. It can also monitor servers in cloud environments such as those from Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor - Summary Dashboard

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When first set up, the tool will auto-discover hosts and devices on your network. Only then, of course, can you start monitoring them. A second discovery scan is necessary to detect applications running on each server. Optionally, you can supply a list of applications and have the scan only look for those.

Once it’s up and running, using the Server and Application Monitor is very intuitive. Clicking on Node Detail, for instance, will show you that node’s performance and health information. Graphical and Tabular formats are available for the displayed information.

Pricing for the SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor starts at just below $3 000. If you prefer to try before you buy, a free 30-day trial version is available for download.

3. WhatsUp Gold

WhatsUp Gold from Ipswitch is another common name in the field of monitoring tools. What was once just an up-or-down monitoring tool has evolved into one of the best system and network monitoring platform. It has everything that’s expected from a Windows system monitoring tool. You get the monitoring of operational parameters–of course–and you also have completely customizable alerting and reporting.

WhatsUp Gold Screenshot

Setting up WhatsUp Gold is easy, thanks to its auto-discovery engine that will find your devices and add them to the monitoring console. It will find physical servers, virtual servers, cloud servers, applications and networking equipment. The tool has a map view where you can see the different component’s interconnections. It is clickable for more information on each device.

WhatsUp Gold is available as a free version but it is limited to monitoring only five devices. Paid licenses are available in three levels of increasing functionality and pricing is based on the number of monitored devices. A free, time-limited trial version is also available.

4. ManageEngine OpManager

Our number four entry is the OpManager from ManageEngine. ManageEngine is also known for making some great tools to help administrators manage their equipment. The OpManager is one such tool. It is another all-in-one package that will monitor your server’s (physical and virtual) and your network equipment’s vital signs and alert you as soon as something is out of range.

ManageEngine OpManager - Server Monitoring Dashboard

ManageEngine claims its OpManager can be installed in less than two minutes. It will then discover your devices and start monitoring them without needing complex configuration steps. The package has a very intuitive user interface where you’ll easily find the information you need. It also has very good pre-built reports as well as custom ones. The product’s alerting features are also very complete.

The ManageEngine OpManager is available in the Essential edition for small and medium enterprises with up to a thousand devices at prices starting at just over $700 for 25 devices. For larger organizations, there’s an Enterprise edition which can scale up to ten thousand devices. Its price starts at under $20k for 500 devices. The price for both editions varies according to the number of monitored devices and a free 30-day trial is also available.

5. Nagios XI

You may already know Nagios Core, an open-source monitoring platform that’s been enjoying decent popularity for years. Nagios XI, a commercial version of Nagios, can be thought of as Nagios on steroids. It has a richer feature set, easier installation and setup, and a more polished feel. Nagios XI is a true enterprise-grade server and network software. It uses the same core engine as its open-source brother but bolts-in a very powerful, customizable GUI.

Nagios XI Home Dashboard

Nagios XI offers an all-inclusive monitoring solution for applications, services, operating systems, network protocols, systems metrics, and network infrastructure. And if that ain’t enough, third-party add-ons let you monitor virtually all applications, services, and systems.

Nagios XI is available in Standard and Enterprise editions. The latter has additional functionality and includes additional features to assist in large-scale configuration, forecasting, and scheduled reporting. If you want to try the product, a free version is available but it is limited to monitoring seven devices.

6. Zabbix

Our last entry, Zabbix is one of the best free and open-source system monitoring platform. It is over 20 years old and has a massive 300 000 users worldwide. This is a true enterprise-grade system that can scale to very big networks. Zabbix will monitor networks, servers–both local and cloud-based, and the services running on those servers.

Zabbix Dashboard

Although the product is free, ancillary services can be purchased from Zabbix. Among the most popular are five levels of technical support and a complete certification training program. If you prefer to remain on the free side, community support is also available and very good.

Feature-wise, Zabbix has everything you’d expect from products costing thousands of dollars. Its alerting is second to none and so is its reporting engine. With a price point that is hard to beat, you might want to give Zabbix a try.

Wrapping Up

Windows system monitoring tools let system administrators worry about important things while they take care of watching servers and applications for them. Any of our top 6 best Windows system monitoring tool is an excellent option. More than anything, your choice of platform will be guided by your exact needs and personal preferences. All of our top 6 picks can be tested at no charge so feel free to experiment and try a few to make sure it does what you need.

Read Best Windows System Monitoring Tools: Top 6 Reviewed in 2018 by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

5 Best Spiceworks Alternatives for Even Better Monitoring

Spiceworks is many things. First, it is an online community of millions of network administrators and thousands of vendors. But Spiceworks is also a software developer and publisher. The company mainly makes software for help desk management, inventory management, and network monitoring. It is Spiceworks’ network monitoring tool that caught our attention today. It’s a great piece of software with lots of excellent features. The Spiceworks Network Monitor is free but it is ad-supported software and that bothers some potential users. Users of Spiceworks have also complained about the lack of customizability of the package. For these reasons, we’re presenting five of the best Spiceworks alternatives.

Before we reveal our top five best Spiceworks alternatives, we’ll first give you some background about Spiceworks, what it is, where it’s coming from and what products and services it provides. Then, we’ll tell you how the Spiceworks Network Monitor–or pretty much any other network monitoring tool–works. We’ll finally spend some time discussing the tool’s shortcomings. After all, what’s missing in Spiceworks is probably what you’ll be looking for in alternative solutions. Next, we will reveal what our top 5 best Spiceworks alternatives are. For each tool, we provide a brief review of its main features.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Best Packet Sniffers and Network Analyzers – Top 7 Reviewed in 2018

About Spiceworks

Spiceworks was founded in early 2006 in Austin, Texas. It is essentially a professional network for the information technology industry although it was originally started to build IT management software. Today, Spiceworks is an online community allowing users to collaborate with one another and also participate in a marketplace to purchase IT services and products. Spiceworks is estimated to be used by more than six million IT professionals and three thousand technology vendors.

As a software developer and publisher, Spiceworks has three main products. There’s a help desk management platform called Spiceworks Help Desk, an IT assets inventory management tool called Spiceworks Inventory and a network monitoring platform called Spiceworks Network Monitor. All these tools are not open-source but are available for free to anyone.

The Spiceworks Network Monitor

The Spiceworks Network Monitor is a typical network monitoring tool that primarily uses SNMP to poll monitored devices for their operational parameters on a regular basis. It provides an overview of the monitored devices on a dashboard that can be drilled down to view details about individual systems. It can also watch the evolution of some critical parameter and trigger alerts when they exceed some predefined value. Alert notifications are sent by email to the administrators. The Spiceworks network monitor will monitor both servers and networking equipment. An important feature of Spiceworks’ products is that, although they are available for free, they are ad-supported and display advertisings on each of their web-based interface screens.

How Does It–Or Any Other Network Monitoring Too–Work?

When it comes to monitoring networks, there are several ways you can go about it. It depends on the level of detail you want. In most situations, administrators are specifically interested in the operational parameters of networking equipment such as CPU load or memory usage and the bandwidth utilization–in bits per second–of the various interfaces.

Network Monitoring tools such as the Spiceworks Network Monitor use SNMP, a feature that is built into most network equipment. SNMP-enabled devices have counters and gauges that can be remotely read by monitoring systems. In particular, there are gauges for processor and memory utilization and bytes in and out counters for each interface.

Without drowning in technical details, let’s try to explain how it works. For counters gauge-type parameters like CPU and memory utilization, it’s a simple matter of reading them using SNMP. But for counter-type parameters, things are a tad more complicated. You see, network devices typically don’t have bandwidth utilization gauges for their interfaces. What they have are byte in and bytes ou counters that keep incrementing. They have one such pair of counters for each interface. On a side note, they also have similar errors in and errors out counters that some monitoring tools can use to give you an interface’s error rate, often a good indicator of an interface’s general health.

The SNMP network monitoring tool polls each device it monitors at 5-minute intervals and reads the bytes in and bytes out counters of each interface. The rest is just a mathematical exercise. The tool subtracts the previous values of the two counter from the current ones. The results are the number of bytes in and out in five minutes. It then multiplies these numbers by 8 (the number of bits in a byte) and divides them by 300 (the number of seconds in five minutes) to get the average bandwidth usage in bits per second over the past five minutes.

Most monitoring tools don’t just do the SNMP reading and the maths, though. Usually, they’ll store the results in some sort of database or file and create graphs or tables showing the data evolution over time which they display on some kind of dashboard.

RELATED ARTICLE: Best SNMP Network Monitoring Tools We Put to Test in 2018

Some Drawbacks Of Spiceworks Network Monitor

As good as it is–and it is actually quite good–the Spiceworks Network Monitor has been severely criticized. The main peeve users have with it is the ads that are displayed on every screen of the user interface. This is something some of us would get used to, though, and it might not be enough to prevent anyone from using such a great free tool.

But there are also some functionality issues. It is particularly present in the tool’s alerting system. Although some competing tools are heavily customizable when it comes to alerting, this is not the case with the Spiceworks Network Monitor. First, there’s no way you can send different alert notifications to different users. Everyone receives every alert. In larger organizations where different groups manage different equipment, this can be a major annoyance. Also, the tool won’t use your email infrastructure to send the alerts. Instead, notifications are handled by spiceworks.com. And this brings us to another shortcoming of the tool, it requires users to authenticate with spiceworks.com instead of using some form of local authentication. This can be viewed as a security issue by some organizations.

The Best Spiceworks Alternatives

A quick Internet search will reveal dozens of network monitoring tools. Some are commercial, some open-source. We’ve tried to include the best five Spiceworks alternatives we could find. Our list features a combination of paid and free tools. For the paid ones, a free trial is available so you’ll be able to try any of them. Keep in mind that many of these tools require some efforts to set them up correctly so you might want to avoid trying too many.

1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (Free Trial)

SolarWinds is famous for its excellent network administration tools and for its numerous free tools. Its flagship product is called Network Performance Monitor, or NPM, a complete network monitoring solution. The tool features a user-friendly GUI interface that administrators can use to monitor devices and to configure the tool.

To add a device to the Network Performance Monitor, you specify its IP address or hostname and SNMP connection parameters. The system queries the device and lists all the available SNMP parameters. All you have to do is pick those you want to include on your graphs and reports. And talking about adding devices, this tool’s scalability is one of its best features. It suits the smallest of networks and scales up to large networks with thousands of devices spread over many sites.

SolarWinds NPM Summary

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Since alerting is a big shortcoming of the Spiceworks tool, let’s see what NPM has to offer. Its alerting system is actually second to none. It is highly customizable if you’re so inclined but it can also be used out-of-the-box with minimal configurations. The alerting engine is smart enough not to send notifications for “unimportant” events in the middle of the night or to send hundreds of notifications for as many unresponsive servers when the main issue is a down router or network switch.

SolarWinds Network Performace Monitor starts at just under $3 000 and goes up according to the number of devices to monitor and the selected optional components. The pricing structure is quite complex so you’ll need to contact the SolarWinds sales team for a detailed quote. If you prefer to try the product before committing to purchasing it, a free 30-day trial version is available for download from the SolarWinds website.

2. PRTG

The Paessler Router Traffic Grapher–which is usually simply called PRTG is another great monitoring system. Its publisher claims that PRTG can monitor all systems, devices, traffic, and applications of your IT infrastructure. It is an all-inclusive package that does not rely on external modules or add-ons that need to be downloaded and installed. Because if its integrated nature, PRTG is quicker and easier to install than most other network monitoring tools. PRTG lets you select between a few different user interfaces. There’s a Windows enterprise console, an Ajax-based web interface, and mobile apps for Android and iOS.

PRTG - Device Overview

One of PRTG’s best feature is its autodiscovery system. It will scan network segments and automatically recognize a wide range of devices and systems, creating sensors from predefined device templates. We also loved PRTG’s map feature where you can create custom maps with your monitoring data. As for alerting, it is highly flexible and customizable. When using the free client apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, you can even get push notifications directly to your device. You can also set up notifications via email or SMS according to your needs. A powerful API will even let you write your own notification scripts.

The PRTG pricing structure is pretty simple. There’s a free version which is full-featured but will limit your monitoring ability to 100 sensors. There’s also a 30-day trial version which is unlimited but will revert back to the free version once the trial period is over. If you want to keep monitoring more than 100 sensors beyond the trial period, you’ll need to purchase a license. Their price varies according to the number of sensors from $1 600 for 500 sensors to $14 500 for unlimited sensors. Each monitored parameter counts as one sensor. For example, monitoring bandwidth on each port of a 48-port switch will count as 48 sensors.

3. WhatsUp Gold

WhatsUp Gold from Ipswitch is another well-known name in the field of monitoring tools. It used to be an up-or-down type of monitoring but it has since evolved into a full management toolkit with proactive monitoring for network traffic, applications, virtual environments, and device configurations. Today, WhatsUp Gold has everything we’ve come to expect from an enterprise-grade monitoring tool, all available through an intuitive GUI.

WhatsUp Gold features an auto-discovery engine that will find your devices and add them to the monitoring console. It will not only find your networking equipment but also physical servers, virtual servers, cloud servers, and applications. There’s also a map view that’s clickable for more information on each device.

WhatsUp Gold Dashboard

WhatsUp Gold also has an excellent alerting system to let you know about problems before users call. Through the tool’s Alert Center, you can opt to use out-of-the-box thresholds or adjust them to your specific needs. The system allows you to create action policies to define what happens when a state change occurs. Alerts can be transmitted by email, SMS, Slack, or IFTTT posts. The system can also restart services and trigger web alarms.

A free edition of WhatsUp Gold is available–as it always was–although it is now limited to monitoring a maximum of five devices. For more devices than that, paid licenses are available in three levels of increasing functionality with a pricing structure based on the number of devices to be monitored. There’s also a free, full-featured trial version that you can use for a limited time.

4. ManageEngine OpManager

ManageEngine is another of the best publishers of network management tools. The OpManager is a complete management solution that will handle pretty much any monitoring task you can throw at it. The tool runs on either Windows or Linux and is loaded with great features. Among others, there is an auto-discovery feature that can map your network, giving you a uniquely customized dashboard.

The ManageEngine OpManager dashboard is super easy to use and navigate, thanks to its drill-down functionality. And if you are into mobile apps, there are apps for tablets and smartphones allowing you to access the tool from anywhere. This is an overall very polished and professional product.

ManageEngine OpManager Dashboard

When it comes to alerting, this is just as good in OpManager as are all its other components. It has a full complement of threshold-based alerts that will help detect, identify, and troubleshoot network issues. Multiple thresholds with various notifications can be set for every performance metric.

If you want to try the product before buying, a free version is available. Although it is a truly free version rather than a time-limited trial, it has some limitations such as letting you monitor no more than ten devices. This is insufficient for all but the smallest of networks. For larger networks, you can choose between the Essential or the Enterprise plans. The first will let you monitor up to 1,000 nodes while the other goes up to 10,000. Pricing information is available by contacting ManageEngine’s sales.

5. Cacti

We’ve decided to include Cacti on our list for a few reasons. First, it is possibly the most used free and open-source monitoring system. It might not be as feature-rich as some commercial products but, given its price, it a great tool. Another reason for its inclusion is historic. Aside from MRTG–which is the mother of all network monitoring tools, Cacti is possibly the oldest still around.

Cacti Screenshot

Cacti was first released back in 2004 as a web front-end to RRD tool, the logging and graphing component of MRTG. Its main components are a fast poller, advanced graph templating, and multiple data acquisition methods. Cacti also feature user access control and each user can be configured to view a different set of graphs, a useful feature for large deployments with multiple support teams. Cacti also boasts an easy to use web-based interface. It can scale from a small business or home LAN to complex networks with thousands of devices on multiple sites.

Cacti uses RRDTool to store data in a SQL database and to create the graphs. It is primarily written in PHP, making it easy to modify to suit your needs. The tool has built-in templates for several types of devices that already includes most of the elements you might want to monitor on those. And Cacti is so popular that many device-specific templates can be downloaded either from device manufacturers’ websites or from community-driven Cacti forums. The only thing missing from Cati is an alerting feature. But with its open-source PHP code, nothing stops anyone from adding it, though.

In Conclusion

While the Spiceworks Network Monitor is an excellent tool, a few drawbacks can stop some from liking it or even from trying it. Fortunately, the market is more than saturated with similar network monitoring tools. We’ve introduced the five best we could find. The selection is based on our criteria and opinion. You might have a favorite tool that we failed to mention. This list could have been 20 or 25 items long and it would still be incomplete. But in our humble opinion, these 5 are the best Spiceworks alternatives you can find.

 

Read 5 Best Spiceworks Alternatives for Even Better Monitoring by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Best IT Infrastructure Monitoring Tools and Software Reviewed in 2018

Since no administrator can have eyes everywhere and yet all need to keep an eye on everything, IT infrastructure monitoring tools are a necessity for most of us. Those tools will effectively keep an eye on things and let you know when something needs more attention. One of the best things about these tools is that there are many to choose from. They might all seem very similar but each has some unique feature that will make it particularly well-suited for your specific needs. This is why we’ve scoured the internet for the very best on the market and we are now bringing you our top ten list of the best IT infrastructure monitoring tools.

Before we reveal our top ten products, we’d like to take some time to go over infrastructure monitoring in general. As you’re about to discover, different administrators and different organizations have different needs when it comes to monitoring. We will then discuss the different types of monitoring systems from the most basic to the elaborate ones. And if you’re curious and love to know how things work, we’ll do our best to explain the essentials of how these tools work. Armed with all this knowledge, you’ll be ready to discover our selection of tools and software.

Infrastructure Monitoring

The need for infrastructure monitoring is quite obvious. Networks are getting bigger and bigger and have more components than ever. It is not uncommon for administrators to have to watch over dozens of devices, if not hundreds. This is simply too much for one person to handle. And it is tedious and boring work, exactly the type of work that is usually best left to a machine.

As much as monitoring is necessary, it is also varied. Different types of systems have different requirements. For instance, while one would likely be more interested in bandwidth usage of networking equipment interfaces, it is the CPU and memory loads that would be interesting on a server. This is why there are often different types of monitoring systems for different types of equipment.

RELATED ARTICLE: 12 Best Network Monitoring Software and Tools Reviewed in 2018

Virtualized environments are a special case and have very specific monitoring needs. This is why some monitoring tools specialize in those. We’ve recently reviewed the Best VM Monitoring Tools to Keep a Watchful Eye On Your Virtual Machines.

To address the requirement of the different types of monitoring, some of the available tools can monitor multiple different environments. They either do it through built-in functionality or by using external add-ons or plugins.

Different Types Of Monitoring Systems

No matter what type of equipment you need to monitor, there are different types of monitoring systems each with increasing level of detail. At the most basic level, you have simple up-or-down monitoring tools. Those will just check that devices are up–and typically alert you when one goes down. They won’t check any of the device’s operational parameters and typically use ping tests to verify that devices are responding.

The next level of monitoring will poll devices–or receive pushed data from the devices themselves or from an agent–to get different operational parameters. They’ll typically store those parameters in a database and display them on some form of tabular or graphical dashboard.

The top level of monitoring adds some kind of alerting feature. It can be based on measured or calculated data with either predefined or user-defined alerting thresholds. Some systems also use a built-in knowledge base to trigger alerts based on certain operational parameters or combination of parameters. Since the whole purpose of using monitoring tools is to free administrators from having to constantly watch systems, needless to say that these systems are by far the most popular.

How Do Monitoring Systems Work?

Although this might seem like a pretty simple question, answering it is not. The problem is that there is not one universal way that every monitoring systems use. There are, however, a few methods and protocols that are used by many tools. We’ll try to explain how some of those operate.

At the base of many monitoring tools is the Simple Network Management Protocol, or SNMP. It specifies a communication scheme between a monitoring platform and the monitored device as well as the structure of the monitored data. SNMP monitoring tools connect to monitored devices at regular intervals to read operational parameters. For example, CPU utilization or memory usage gauges can be read through SNMP.

For network equipment monitoring, some counters called bytes in and bytes out can also be read via SNMP. Typical network equipment has a pair of those counters for each network interface. These are not gauges, though. They are counters that indicate how many bytes have been transmitted and received since the last equipment reset. By knowing the polling interval, simple mathematics will allow monitoring system to calculate average bandwidth utilization.

For monitoring servers, other techniques can be used. In the Windows world, the WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation) protocol is typically used to communicate between monitoring systems and monitored servers. Other protocols like WBEM (Web-Based Enterprise Management) or CIM (Common Information Model) are used in a similar way in the non-Windows world.

Many monitoring systems communicate with monitored hosts via a locally-installed agent. Using agents has several advantages. It gives monitoring system developers the best flexibility in defining what information is exchanged and how. And with the agent running locally on the monitored system, it will typically have access to more information than what’s available using standard protocols. Agents have a price, though. They are running on the monitored system and, as such, they consume some of its resources.

Our Top 10 Best IT Infrastructure Monitoring Tools And Software

1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (Free Trial)

SolarWinds’ flagship product is called the Network Performance Monitor, or NPM. It is a complete network monitoring solution. The tool’s primary assets are its simplicity, its scalability, and its customizability. The tool’s GUI is very intuitive and easy to use and learn. It will scale from the smallest network to huge installations with thousands of devices over multiple sites. As for the customizability, it is everywhere: in the dashboard, the views, the reports, the alerts.

SolarWinds NPM Summary

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The Network Performance Monitor’s alerting system is among the best. It can either be fully customized to your needs or be used out-of-the-box with minimal configurations. The built-in intelligence of the alerting engine will not send notifications for “unimportant” events in the middle of the night or send hundreds of  “device unreachable” notifications for a device located behind a down router or network switch.

SolarWinds Network Performace Monitor starts at just under $3 000 and goes up according to the number of devices to monitor and the selected optional components. It will only monitor networking devices. If you have servers to monitor as well, you’ll also need the SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor reviewed below. If you’d rather try the product before purchasing it, a free 30-day trial version is available for download from the SolarWinds website.

2. SolarWinds Server And Application Monitor (Free Trial)

If, instead of networking equipment, what you need to monitor are servers and their processes, then what you need is the Server and Application Monitor, also from SolarWinds. As you’d guess from its name, it monitors applications as well as the server hosting them. The software can scale from very small networks to large ones with hundreds of servers–physical or virtual–spread over multiple sites. The tool can also monitor cloud-hosted services like those from Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor - Summary Dashboard

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Setting up the tool is easy and the initial configuration is done with the help of an auto-discovery process. It is a two-pass process that will first discover servers, then applications. To speed up the process, a list of applications to look for can be supplied. After the initial setup, the user-friendly GUI makes using the Server and Application Monitor easy. Information can be displayed in a table or graphic format.

Pricing for the SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor Is similar to that of the Network Performance Monitor. And like its cousin, a free 30-day trial version is available for download.

3. PRTG

PRTG is an integrated tool that will monitor any system, device, traffic, and application in your IT infrastructure. PRTG is quicker and easier to install than most other network monitoring tools. The publisher claims you could start monitoring within two minutes. PRTG’s auto-discovery system will scan network segments and automatically recognize a wide range of devices and systems. It will then create sensors from predefined device templates.

PRTG Screenshot

The platform also proposes a highly flexible and customizable alerting system. You can get alert notifications pushed to your mobile device when using the free client apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. You can also get them via email or SMS according to your needs.

There’s a free, full-featured version of PRTG which is limited to 100 sensors. There’s also a device-unlimited 30-day trial version. To monitor more than 100 sensors, you’ll need to purchase a license. Price increases with the number of sensors starting at $1 600 for 500 sensors up to $14 500 for unlimited sensors. Note that each monitored parameter–not device–counts as one sensor. For example, monitoring the bandwidth on each port of a 48-port switch will count as 48 sensors.

4. WhatsUp Gold

Once just an up-or-down type of monitoring tool, WhatsUp Gold has evolved into a full-fledged monitoring system with all the bells and whistles. It has, for instance, one of the best alerting systems and can be configured to transmit alerts using a multitude of ways including email and SMS, to name a few.

WhatsUp Gold Screenshot

WhatsUp Gold won’t only monitor devices, it will also monitor selected services and processes. It will, for instance, monitor Exchange and SQL servers, Active Directory, IIS and Apache Web services. And if your organization is using cloud-based equipment, WhatsUp Gold will also monitor AWS or Azure installations.

5. Nagios (Core and XI)

Two versions of Nagios are available. There’s a free open-source version called Nagios core and a commercial product called Nagios XI. Both use the same core–hence the name of the free version–but while the free one relies on community-developed add-ons and plugins for most monitoring tasks, the commercial product includes them.

Nagios XI Dashboard

Nagios an excellent monitoring solution for applications, services, operating systems, network protocols, systems metrics, and network infrastructure. And if that ain’t enough, third-party add-ons let you monitor virtually anything.

Nagios XI is available in Standard and Enterprise editions. The Enterprise Edition has some additional functionality and boasts features to assist in large-scale configuration, forecasting, and scheduled reporting. The standard edition starts at $1 995 while the Enterprise starts at $3 495. A free version of Nagios XI is available but it is limited to monitoring seven devices.

6. ManageEngine OpManager

The ManageEngine OpManager is another all-in-one package that will monitor both your servers’ (physical and virtual) and your network equipment’s vital signs and alert you as soon as something is out of specs. The tool boasts an intuitive user interface that will let you easily find the information you need. An excellent reporting engine is included along with some pre-built reports as well as custom ones. The product’s alerting features are also very complete.

ManageEngine OpManager Dashboard

The ManageEngine OpManager is available in two versions, The Essential edition is intended for small and medium organizations with up to a thousand devices with prices starting at around $700 for 25 devices. For larger organizations, choose the Enterprise edition which can scale up to ten thousand devices. Its price starts at under $20 000 for 500 devices. Like with most similar commercial monitoring tools, a free 30-day trial is also available.

7. OP5 Monitor

OP5 Monitor is an open-source network monitoring tool which is based on a Naemon, a fork of Nagios. It is advertised as “the enterprise-level open-source monitoring solution“. Among its main features, we can mention its fully customizable dashboard where you can choose to only display what’s important to you. It also has excellent scalability, particularly in distributed environments.

OP5 Monitor Screenshot

The alerting features of OP5 Monitor are also very complete. Alerts don’t only trigger notifications, they can also launch event handlers; scripts that can make issues self-healing. The tool integrates easily with other systems–such as ticket management or CRM–and it has a developer-friendly API if you want to extend its functionality

Pricing for the OP5 monitor can be obtained by contacting OP5 directly. Although there is no free trial version available, an online demo available should you want to see the product in action before buying.

8. Zabbix

Zabbix is known to be one of the best free and open-source system monitoring platform. This enterprise-grade system can scale from small to very big networks. Zabbix can monitor networks, both local and cloud-based servers, and the services running on them.

Zabbix Dashboard

Zabbix’s business model is unique. The product is free but ancillary services can be purchased from Zabbix. Among the services you can purchase you’ll find five levels of technical support and a complete certification training program. This is totally optional as community support is also available for free and very good. Finally, its alerting features are excellent and so is its reporting engine.

Zabbix has all you’d expect from an enterprise-grade monitoring tool except the high price tag. The only thing you’ll need to spend to give Zabbix a try is your time.

9. Icinga

Just like our previous pick, Icinga is an open source monitoring platform with a feature set that matches most of the best commercial products. One of the main differences in Icinga is the extensive use of plugins. There are literally thousands of them to perform various monitoring tasks and extend the product’s functionality. And if you have a special need for which there’s no plugin, you can always write one yourself.

Icinga Tactical Overview

Another excellent feature of Icinga is the alerting and notification. You can customize alerts to be triggered by any condition you can think of. And it’s just as flexible on how alerts are transmitted. The product has segmented alerting that allow it to send some alerts to some administrators and other alerts to different ones for the best flexibility.

10. Observium

Observium is another open-source monitoring platform whose main feature is a beautiful, intuitive, and simple yet powerful user interface that shows the health and status of your network. It can monitor most technologies and vendors such as Cisco, Windows, Linux, HP, Juniper, Dell, FreeBSD, Brocade, Netscaler, NetApp. This tool only runs on Linux.

Observium Screenshots

Observium is easy to set up and it almost configures itself, thanks to its auto-discovery feature. Like other products, it might need some tweaks to get it to work exactly as you want. The tool offers user-defined alerting thresholds. Another great feature of Observium is how it integrates with other systems, pulling their information and displaying it on its dashboard.

Observium is available in two versions. There’s Observium Community, the truly free and open source offering which is updated twice a year. There’s also Observium Professional with a few more features and daily updates.

Conclusion

No matter which of our top ten tools you choose, you’ll have an excellent monitoring platform. Although they all are functionally equivalent, they are not identical. The main difference is often the look and feel of the tool’s dashboard, a very subjective matter. Choosing the right monitoring system is a difficult task but nothing stops you from trying a few. Most of them can be installed quickly and easily.

 

Read Best IT Infrastructure Monitoring Tools and Software Reviewed in 2018 by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Best MRTG Alternatives to Improve Your Network Monitoring in 2018

The Multi Router Traffic Grapher, or MRTG, is the granddaddy of all network monitoring platforms. It was created in the mid-1990’s to fill a need for a tool to display a low-bandwidth Internet link’s utilization. It quickly evolved into a rather complete monitoring solution that can poll almost any number of devices and build pretty graphs showing their interface’s utilization. It is still in relatively widespread use although the latest version is now 6 years old.  Today, we’re showing you the five best MRTG alternatives. They address most of MRTG’s shortcomings and usually provide a far better experience, a prettier interface, and an easier configuration.

MRTG Screenshot

Before we reveal our top five picks of the best MRTG alternatives, we’ll first get to know MRTG in a bit more details. We’ll explain how the tool works in the background. And since the goal of most MRTG alternatives is to address the original system’s shortcomings, we’ll also discuss what those are and what can be done about them. Some can easily be fixed while others are inherent to the technology used. We’ll finish off with the core of our subject and review the five best MRTG alternatives. Our list has a mix of free and commercial software, some of which can easily scale up to very large networks.

(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About MRTG

According to Wikipedia, MRTG is a “free software for monitoring and measuring the traffic load on network links. It allows the user to see traffic load on a network over time in graphical form“. While this description is scrupulously exact, it doesn’t say much.

To better understand MRTG, let’s go back in history to the summer of 1994 at the DeMonfort University in Leicester, UK. The university then had over 1000 networked computer sharing a single 64 kbps Internet link. Needless to say that, even in these days of mostly text-based computing, the link often suffered important congestion. It was clear that the university couldn’t get a bigger circuit for at least a year so it was decided to put something in place so that every user could see a live depiction of the circuit’s bandwidth utilization over time.

The Multi Router Traffic Grapher was born. Every five minutes, it polled the octet counters of the university’s Internet gateway router. The software used this data to derive the average transfer rate of the Internet link for every five-minute interval. The tool also generated a web page with four graphs showing the transfer rates for the last day, week, month, and year.

MRTG Index Page 1

From then on, everyone with a web browser was able to monitor the status of the link. Of course, the availability of the graphs did nothing to increase the link’s capacity but it provided the necessary arguments to convince the university managers that a bigger link was indeed needed. To this day, capacity planning is still one of the main uses for MRTG and alternative systems.

How Does It Work?

MRTG capitalizes on the Simple Network Management Protocol, or SNMP, a feature that is built into most network equipment. SNMP-enabled devices have counters that can be remotely read by monitoring systems like MRTG. It is efficient and it gets the job done. All the MRTG alternatives proposed here use SNMP in a similar way.

We’ll spare you most of the technical details and all the jargon but you might want to know how it works. In the context of monitoring bandwidth usage, two specific SNMP parameters are of interest. One logs the number of bytes out of an interface and the other logs the number of bytes in. Switches, routers, and other networking equipment have one pair of those for each interface.

So, MRTG polls each device it monitors at 5-minute intervals and reads the value of the two counters for each interface it is configured to monitor. Then, it subtracts the previous values of the two counter from the current ones. The results are the number of bytes in and out in five minutes. Using simple maths, it multiplies these numbers by 8 (the number of bits in a byte) and divides them by 300 (the number of seconds in five minutes) to get the average bandwidth usage in bits per second over the past five minutes.

Of course, MRTG does not only do the maths. it also stores the values it reads every five minutes in a round-robin archive file–a type of file that automatically summarizes older data and never grows beyond a certain size–and creates nice-looking graphs showing the parameter’s evolution over time. And since those graphs have to be put somewhere, MRTG also builds web pages to hold the graphs.

MRTG’s Shortcomings

Although MRTG has some strong points going for it–such as being free and open-source and written mostly in Perl so anyone can easily modify it and adapt it to his needs–the software has a few serious shortcomings. First and foremost, MRTG is a rather old tool with a strong Unix background. It has been ported to the Windows platform a while ago but the installation process is quite cumbersome. The process is well documented in a document named mrtg-nt-guide. Doesn’t that name give you an idea of the document’s age?

I’ll save you the details but suffice to say that the installation steps are numerous and complicated. For instance, you need to install Perl on your computer before installing MRTG. Also, MRTG can’t run as a service unless you use an external utility that can run any application as a service. The documentation suggests one such tool which used to be free but is now a paid program. Overall, installing MRTG on Windows can be a pain in the you-know-where.

Another problem with MRTG is that its configuration is mostly done via text files that must be edited. In this day and age where we’ve become accustomed to GUI control panels and autoconfiguration wizards, this may feel somewhat dated. One thing is for sure, the tool has a steep learning curve.

MRTG includes a tool called cfgmaker–a Perl script–that will create MRTG configuration files based on information pulled from an SNMP-enable device but using it is definitely not intuitive. And, as you may have guessed, there is no discovery process that will scan your network for SNMP manageable devices and let you pick those you want to monitor.

Finally, the “current” version of MRTG dates from January 2012, more than six years ago. This can mean two things. Either the product is that good and requires no additional functionality or bug fixes or it is no longer actively maintained. I opt for the second. It doesn’t mean that the product is not good anymore. It’s certainly as good as it was back in 2012 but chances are that newer alternative products have newer features or use better–and possibly faster–technologies.

The Best MRTG Alternatives

We’ve scoured the Internet looking for the best MRTG alternatives. Specifically, we were looking for products that didn’t have the shortcomings of MRTG while accomplishing essentially the same task i.e. measuring interface bandwidth utilization and displaying it as graphs on a web page. Some of our finds are huge commercial tools that have many more functionalities than MRTG and that can cost up to thousands of dollars while others are just “improved” versions of MRTG with essentially the same functionality but a cleaner and easier to use interface.

1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (Free Trial)

SolarWinds usually requires no introduction with network administrators. The company has been famous for a while for its excellent network administration tools and for publishing many free tools to accomplish specific tasks. SolarWinds’ flagship product is called Network Performance Monitor, or NPM. It is a complete network monitoring solution that goes way beyond MRTG’s functionality. But since we’re talking about MRTG alternatives, let’s first concentrate of NPM’s MTRG-like features.

Just like MRTG, SolarWinds NPM polls network devices using the SNMP protocol and reads their interfaces’ counters. NPM stores the results in an SQL database and uses the polled data to build graphs showing each interface’s usage.

SolarWinds NPM Summary

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The system uses a user-friendly GUI and adding a device is as simple as specifying its IP address or hostname and SNMP connection parameters–known as community strings. The tool then queries the device and list all the SNMP parameters that are available and lets you pick those you want to include on your graphs. A typical network switch or router, for example, will have traffic and error counters for each interface as well as CPU and memory utilization counters.

The Network Performance Monitor’s scalability is one of its best features. It will scale from the smallest of networks up to large networks consisting of tens of thousands of devices spread over many sites. To help with scaling up, upgrading licenses is an easy process.

Another great feature of NPM is its ability to automatically build network maps and to display a visual representation of the critical path between two devices or services. This feature is invaluable when troubleshooting application access issues.

Price wise, SolarWinds Network Performace Monitor starts at just under $3 000 and varies according to the number of devices to monitor and the selected optional components. You’ll need to contact the SolarWinds sales team for a detailed quote. But if you’d want to try the product before you buy, a free 30-day trial is available, as it is for most paid SolarWinds products.

2. PRTG

PRTG or, more precisely. the Paessler Router Traffic Grapher is another excellent monitoring system. It is an enterprise-grade product which Paessler claims to be the easiest to set up. According to Paessler, PRTG can be set up in a couple of minutes. Your experience may vary and we certainly spend more than that but it’s still very easy and quick to set up. Definitely more so than MRTG so it does address one of its major limitations.

PRTG Screenshot

As easy as it is to install, the product is still feature-rich. As an example, it comes with several different user interfaces. There’s a Windows enterprise console, an Ajax-based web interface, and mobile apps for Android and iOS. The mobile apps fully exploit the platform’s capabilities and can, for instance, scan QR codes affixed to equipment to quickly access their graphs.

PRTG can be downloaded from the Paessler website where you’ll need to choose between two options. There’s the free version which is full-featured but will limit your monitoring ability to 100 sensors or the free 30-day trial version which is unlimited but will revert back to the free version once the trial period is over. Each monitored parameter counts as one sensor. For example, monitoring bandwidth on each port of a 48-port switch will count as 48 sensors.

3. ManageEngine OpManager

OpManager from ManageEngine–another top-of-the-line maker of network management tools–is our third pick. It can run on either Windows or Linux and boast several great features, Among others, there is an auto-discovery feature that can map your network and display it on its dashboard. The miniature, color-coded graphs shown at the top of each page are also a great feature of the product.

ManageEngine OpManager Dashboard

Back to the product’s dashboard, it is super easy to use and navigate and it has drill-down functionality. If you are so inclined, there are also apps for tablets and smartphones that will let you access the system from anywhere. This is an overall very polished and professional product.

A free version is available should you want to try it before purchasing. This a truly free version and not a free trial. It is, however, limited and will let you monitor no more than ten devices. If you manage a tiny network, perhaps you can get by with the free version. As for paid versions, you can choose the Essential or the Enterprise plans. The first will let you monitor up to 1,000 nodes while the other goes up to 10,000.

4. Cacti

Cacti is a close parent of MRTG. Its main component is RRDTool, a data logging and graphing system that was developed by Tobi Oetiker, MRTG’s primary developer. This heritage is pretty apparent when you look at Cacti’s graphs which are amazingly similar to MRTG’s.

Cacti is a free and open-source complete network monitoring tool. The main components of Cacti are a fast poller, advanced graph templating, and multiple data acquisition methods. Cacti also features user access control built right into the product. It’s also got an easy to use web-based interface. Cacti scales very well from the smallest single LAN installations up to complex networks with thousands of devices on multiple sites.

Cacti Screenshot

Cacti uses RRDTool to fetch and store data in a SQL database and to create the graphs and it is primarily written in PHP and can be modified to suit your needs. One of its strongest features is its templates. There is a built-in template, for example, for Cisco switches that already includes most of the elements you might want to monitor on such a device. But there are not only device templates, there are also graph templates. They make configuring the tool much easier. And you can build device-specific templates if they don’t already exist.  There are also many device-specific templates that can be downloaded either from each device manufacturer’s websites or from community Cacti forums.

5. Observium

Observium is a monitoring platform that features low-maintenance and auto-discovery. It supports a wide range of device types, platforms and operating systems including, among others, Cisco, Windows, Linux, HP, Juniper, Dell, FreeBSD, Brocade, Netscaler, NetApp. Observium’s primary focus is providing a beautiful, intuitive, and simple yet powerful user interface showing the health and status of your network.

Observium Port Details

The product is available in two versions. There’s the Observium Community is which available for free to everyone. This version receives updates and features twice a year. There’s also Observium Professional which has additional features adds comes with daily updates. Both editions only run on Linux platforms.

Observium offers way more than just bandwidth monitoring. For instance, there’s an accounting system that will measure total monthly bandwidth usage in the 95th percentile or in total transferred bytes. It also has an alerting function with user-defined thresholds. Furthermore, Observium integrates with other systems and can pull their information and display it within its interface.

Observium users love how easy it is to set up and how it almost configures itself. Nothing is perfect, though, and finding the software can be a challenge. There doesn’t appear to be a download section on Observium’s website. There are, however, detailed installation instructions for several Linux distributions that do include the links to get the package.

In Conclusion

As much as MRTG has always been–and still is–an excellent product, there are now more polished products that are available. Many have extended features and all are easier to set up and use. They’re still complex products and they will require some initial efforts but they will be well rewarded.

Read Best MRTG Alternatives to Improve Your Network Monitoring in 2018 by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

12 Best Network Monitoring Software and Tools Reviewed in 2018

Network tools have evolved a lot since their inception some thirty years ago. They are now more flexible and easy to set up than ever. Not every administrator like them but all agree–sometimes unwillingly–that they are necessary, even though they can be viewed by some as a necessary evil. We’re using the term monitoring tool loosely as a generic term to describe several different types of tools. All have one thing in common, though, they’re used to monitor some normally hidden parameter of our networks.

Today, we’re bringing you our pick of the top 12 network monitoring tools. We have a combination of SNMP monitors, NetFlow collectors, and up or down monitoring tools.

Before we dive into the core of our subject, we’ll briefly pause to discuss network monitoring tools in general. We’ll explain why you need to use them and what types of tools there are out there. As you’ll see, there are different types of tools for different purposes. And once we’re all on the same page, we’ll reveal our 12 best network monitoring tools, briefly reviewing each one.

Why Use Network Monitoring Tools

There’s a very simple reason why anyone would want to use network monitoring tools. More than anything, it has to do with the fact that we normally can’t see what’s going on inside the network. We’ve all seen networks compared to highways and data packets compared to cars using those highways. But there’s a big difference. The traffic on a highway is visible. You just have to look and you’ll see whether or not there’s congestion.

It’s not so simple with networks. Everything happens at the molecular level inside copper wires or optical fibers. And even if we could see the traffic going by, it is so fast that we wouldn’t be able to make any sense of it. Monitoring tools allow us to visualize the traffic and load levels of wired and wireless networks. Some of them are intended as surveillance tools while others are troubleshooting tools or even forensic investigation tools.

Different Tools For Different Tasks

Network monitoring tools fall mainly into three categories. There are bandwidth usage monitor, network analyzers, and packet sniffers. There also other types of tools as well as tools that are hybrids of several types but their number is limited. The one you’ll choose depends on your expected results. Each type of tool will be best suited for a specific task.

Bandwidth monitors use the SNMP protocol to poll networking devices and read their interfaces’ traffic counters. They use these numbers to compute bandwidth usage by unit of time–usually in bits per second or bps–and display it on a graph showing its evolution over time. They are typically used for capacity monitoring and planning. They will let administrators see the evolution of bandwidth usage and proactively plan the upgrade of overutilized circuits.

Network analyzers go a bit deeper and take advantage of the NetFlow feature of many networking equipment. NetFlow–which also goes by other names depending on the manufacturer–collects detailed data about each conversation a device handles and sends it to a flow collector and analyzer. The collected information can include source and destination addresses and ports, type of traffic, QoS parameters, and several more element that allow the analyzer to not only know how much data is transferred but also what data is transferred. It is, for example, very useful in pinpointing bandwidth hogs or identifying unwanted traffic on a network.

Packet sniffers are some of the deepest monitoring tools. As their name implies, they connect to a network where they capture every data packet going by. But they don’t only capture them. They also decode them and display their headers and sometimes even the data payload when it’s not encrypted. Their strength and usefulness come mainly from their ability to filter captured data according to several criteria, letting users zero in on precisely the data that interests them. They are typically used for advanced debugging such as when you’re trying to figure what is slowing down a specific server or service. Those are complex and highly specialized tools that typically go well beyond monitoring so we’re not including any such tools on our list.

Our Top 12 Best Network Monitoring Tools

Our list of the 12 best network monitoring tools includes mostly SNMP bandwidth monitors as they are arguably the most useful.  We’re also including other types of tools such as flow analyzers and up or down monitors.

1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (Free Trial)

The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor, or NPM, is Solarwind’s flagship product. It is possibly one of the best SNMP bandwidth monitoring tools. It is packed with so many features that a whole article could be written about it. Among the product’s main advantages, its simplicity has to be emphasized. But we don’t mean simple as in incomplete but as easy. Its dashboard, views, and charts can be customized at will. It can be set up with little efforts and start monitoring within minutes. NPM is also easily scalable. It can monitor networks of almost any size.

SolarWinds NPM Summary

FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds network performance monitor

The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor will periodically poll your networking equipment to read their interface counters. It will then compute the bandwidth utilization and display it as graphs showing its evolution over time. Configuring the tool is easy and requires that you specify a device’s IP address and then pick which parameter you want to monitor. NPM also has many advanced features such as the possibility to built network maps and display the critical path between two devices, a handy feature when troubleshooting slowdowns.

Pricing for the Network Performance Monitor is very reasonable, starting at around $3000. A 30-day trial is available should you prefer to try the product before buying it.

2. SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (Free Trial)

Our second pick is also from SolarWinds. It makes sense as the company makes some of the best networking tools. The NetFlow Traffic Analyzer provides somewhat of a more detailed view of network traffic. Instead of showing bandwidth usage in bits per second, it goes deeper and will provide detailed information on what the observed traffic is. It can, for instance, report on what type of traffic is more prevalent or what user is using more bandwidth. Several different views are available on the tool’s dashboard such as top applications, protocols or talkers, for instance.

SolarWinds NTA Dashboard Summary

FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds Netflow traffic analyzer

As one would guess from the product’s name, the NetFlow Traffic Analyser relies on the NetFlow protocol to gather detailed usage information from your network devices. Originally from Cisco, the NetFlow protocol allows devices to send detailed information about each network “conversation”, or flow, to a NetFlow collector and analyzer such as the NetFlow Traffic Analyzer. NetFlow is not limited to just Cisco devices, though. Many manufacturers include the functionality or an equivalent in their equipment. In recent years, the NetFlow protocol has been standardized as IPFIX, or IP Flow Information Exchange, by the IETF.

Like most SolarWinds tools, a free 30-day trial version can be downloaded from SolarWinds. This is a fully featured version that has no limitation but time.

3. PRTG

The Paessler Router Traffic Grapher, or PRTG, is one of the easiest and fastest to set up. According to Paessler, you could be up and running within minutes. While this might be a slight overstatement, it is true that setting up the product is impressively fast. Part of the ease of setting up the product is its autodiscovery feature where PRTG will scan your network and automatically add the components it finds.

PRTG Screenshot

PRTG’s user interface–or rather user interfaces–is another one of the tool’s strength. You can choose between a native Windows console, an Ajax-Based web interface or mobile apps for Android or iOS. The mobile apps will let you scan a QR code affixed to your equipment to quickly view its status. PRTG can monitor several parameters–not just bandwidth utilization–using SNMP, WMI, NetFlow, and Sflow.

4. WhatsUp Gold

WhatsUp Gold from Ipswitch has been around for a while. The tool’s primary function is monitoring system availability rather than operational parameters. As its name implies WhatsUp Gold will tell you what’s up and what’s not. It has one of the best alerting systems and can be configured to transmit alerts using a multitude of ways including email and SMS, to name a few.

WhatsUp Gold Dashboard

WhatsUp Gold doesn’t only monitor devices, it can also check that services are responding. For example, it will check the availability of Exchange and SQL servers, Active Directory, IIS and Apache Web services. And if your server farm is cloud-based, WhatsUp Gold will also monitor AWS or Azure installations.

5. Nagios

Nagios is available either as a free, open-source tool that can be downloaded and used by anyone or as a commercial product called Nagios XI. As you would expect, the commercial product has more features. But even the free edition is a very potent tool. Somewhat like WhatUp Gold, Nagios’ primary–and original–purpose is up or down monitoring.

Nagios XI Dashboard

The biggest advantage of Nagios–especially the open-source version–is its community support. Several community-developed plugins, front ends, and add-ons are available directly from the Nagios website. But if you want even more functionality, you’ll go for Nagios XI. This version adds bandwidth usage monitoring and many more useful features. A free trial is available if you want to see for yourself what this tool can do for you.

6. Zabbix

Another open-source product, Zabbix offers a very polished look and feel, much like you’d expect from a commercial product. But the product doesn’t just have a good-looking web-based interface, the feature set is impressive as well. Zabbix will monitor most network-attached devices, not just networking equipment.

Zabbix Dashboard

Zabbix uses SNMP and also IMPI for monitoring devices. You can use the tool to monitor bandwidth, device CPU and memory utilization, general device health as well as configuration changes. The alerting system in Zabbix is also impressive. It will not only send email or SMS alerts but also run local scripts. It is fully configurable as are most areas of this excellent product.

7. ManageEngine OpManager

The ManageEngine OpManager will let you monitor routers, switches, firewalls, servers, and VMs for
fault and performance. Network devices’ performance is checked in real time and can be viewed on live dashboards and graphs. Critical metrics such as packet loss, errors, and discards are monitored. The tool will also monitor your physical and virtual servers’ performance metrics like availability, CPU, disk space, and memory utilization.

ManageEngine OpManager Dashboard

OpManager comes with more than 100 built-in reports. Each can be scheduled, customized, and exported as needed. The product is available in three versions: Free, Essential and Enterprise. They differ in the number of devices they can monitor–from 10 to 10 000–and their feature set, with higher versions sporting more advanced features.

8. Icinga

Icinga is another open source monitoring platform. It has a clean user interface and a feature set that can rival some of the best commercial products. Like most similar packages, Icinga uses SNMP to gather usage data from devices. One of the areas where Icinga particularly shines is its use of plugins. There are thousands of them to perform various monitoring tasks and extend the product’s functionality. And if you can’t find the right plugin for your needs, you can always write one yourself.

Icinga Tactical Overview

Icinga’s alerting and notification features are also among its strong suits. Alerts are fully configurable as to what triggers them and how they are transmitted. Another cool feature is segmented alerting that will let you send some alerts to some users and other alerts to different people for the best flexibility.

9. Spiceworks Network Monitor

The Spiceworks Network Monitor claims to be simple and easy to use. And it is. It is, after all, one of the most popular free network monitoring systems. Everything is free with the Network Monitor. Even the support. This is not something that’s commonly seen with free software. There’s a catch, though. This is not one of these highly scalable systems. On the contrary, this one was created with smaller networks in mind. It will perfectly suit you if your network has no more than 25 devices. While this is not much, it is certainly enough for many small businesses.

Spiceworks Network Monitor Screenshot

The tool’s dashboard can be customized to your needs. with a variety of color-coded graphs. Alerts are another major feature of the Spiceworks Network Monitor. Alert notifications are totally user-configurable and can be different for each device. However, although you can set alerting thresholds, you can’t create custom alerts to be notified of specific conditions. Another drawback of this tool is that it is ad-supported which can be annoying and unprofessional looking.

10. LogicMonitor

LogicMonitor claims to be “the leading SaaS-based performance monitoring platform for Enterprise IT“. And when it comes to cloud-based monitoring, it is, indeed, one of the best tools you can use. LogicMonitor will automatically detect devices on your network and start collecting data right after installation. It relies on over a thousand modules to assist users and automate monitoring and alerting. It can be used to monitor a wide range of devices and technologies, including cloud services from AWS or Azure. What’s more natural than monitoring cloud services with a cloud-based tool?

LogicMonitor NOC Overview Dashboard

One of the best features of LogicMonitor is its forecasting engine. It can predict your future needs based on the current usage and trend. This is an excellent feature when looking at long-term capacity planning. LogicMonitor comes in three versions: Starter, Pro, and Enterprise. They differ by the number of services they can check and the data retention duration. You’ll need to contact LogicMonitor to get pricing information. A 14-days free trial is available.

11. Observium

Observium is an ideal network monitoring solution for organizations of all sizes. And if the user base is a testament to the tool’s quality, you’ll be glad to know that it is used by major players such as Yahoo, Twitch, and Spotify. Observium not only uses SNMP as its main protocol. It also uses LLDP, CDP, FDP, and EDP. Observium features autodiscovery which will add devices to your console and displays their operational parameters as graphs. The user interface features a very thorough overview page where you can see the whole network at a glance.

Observium Screenshot

Observium also features threshold alerts which enable users to receive alerts when certain criteria are met. For instance, you could receive a notification whenever a device’s available memory drops below 70%. You could also receive a notification when a particular service goes down. Observium is available in two versions. Observium Community is available for free to everyone and is updated twice annually. Observium Professional adds priority access to daily updates and new features for a small yearly fee.

12. Zenoss Core

Zenoss Core might not be the best-known monitoring tool yet we felt it deserved a spot on our list due to its feature set and professional aspect. The tool can monitor many things such as traffic flows or services like HTTP and FTP. Zenoss Core has a clean and simple interface and its alerting system is excellent. We particularly loved the multiple alerting mechanisms that will alert a second person if the first one does not respond within a predefined delay.

Zenoss Core Dashboard

On the downside, this is one of the most complicated systems to install and set up. The process is command-line driven. In this day and age of GUI installers, configurations wizards and autodiscovery, this may seem a bit archaic. Fortunately, there is ample documentation available and the end result makes it worth the installation efforts.

Wrapping Up

This list is far from complete. It could be twenty-five, fifty, or perhaps even on a hundred item long. We’ve picked those twelve tools we thought were the best. Any of them is a valuable tool that will assist network administrators in their monitoring efforts. With many of these products complementing each other in terms of feature set, it’s not rare to see organizations use a combination of tools for the best possible coverage of their monitoring needs. And with most of them being free or offering a free trial, there’s no reason why you can’t try several of them and see what best fits your needs.

Read 12 Best Network Monitoring Software and Tools Reviewed in 2018 by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter