Top 7 Network Performance Testing Tools

Whenever you suspect something wrong with the performance of a network, your best course of action is to run some tests to confirm that there is indeed an issue and also to help you locate it and, eventually, fix it. There are many network performance testing tools available. So many that picking the one that is the best fit for your specific need can turn out to be a hefty challenge. Luckily, we’ve done some of the hard work for you and we’ve compiled a list of some of the best network performance testing tools and we’re about to review them, highlighting each product’s core features.

Before we begin, we’ll briefly discuss network performance in general. We’ll do our best to describe what it is. As you’ll see, it is, more than anything, a matter of perception. The factors affecting our perception of a network’s performance is going to be our next order of business. Next, we’ll discuss network performance testing, how it’s done and what it entails. We’ll also insist on the distinction between network performance testing and network performance monitoring, two related but different concepts. And once we’re all on the same page, we’ll proceed with reviewing the best network performance monitoring tools.

About Network Performance

As eloquently defined in once sentence on Wikipedia, “network performance refers to measures of service quality of a network as seen by the customer”. There are three essential elements to that definition. The first is the measures part. It established clearly that network performance is something one has to measure. The next important bit is the service quality of a network. Service quality is a generic concept but, as you’ll see, a few specific metrics are associated with it. The last important part is the customer. We’re not interested in network performance as a theoretical thing. What we need to measure is the true user experience.

Several different factors affect perceived network performance and are generally considered important. The first two are bandwidth and throughput but there is often some confusion between these two terms. Bandwidth refers to the carrying capacity of a network. As an analogy, think of it as the number of lanes in a highway. Throughput, on the other hand, refers to the actual usage of the available bandwidth. To keep our previous analogy, a four-lane highway has a bandwidth of 4 000 vehicles per hour but its current throughput could be only 400 vehicles per hours or 10% of its capacity.

Latency, delay, and jitter are more factor affecting the perceived performance of networks. Latency refers to the time data takes to travel from source to destination. It is mainly a function of the signal’s travel time and processing time at any nodes it traverses. It is a physical limitation that cannot be reduced. Delay, on the other hand, can sometimes be improved. It has to do with the time it takes for networking equipment to process, queue, and forward data. Faster, more powerful equipment will generally add less delay to the transmission. As for jitter, it refers to the variation in packet delay at the receiving end of the conversation. Real-time or near-real-time traffic is particularly affected by it as it can cause data packets to arrive out of sequence. In the case of voice over IP, for example, this could result in unintelligible speech.

Many other factors can also affect network performance. The error rate is one of them. It refers to the number of corrupted bits expressed as a percentage or fraction of the total sent.

Testing Network Performance

How does one go about measuring performance from a tue user’s perspective? Well, there is, of course, the possibility of having real users running tests but this can tend to be rather impractical. The next best thing is using a network performance testing system that uses probes deployed at strategic location throughout your network and that can run actual simulation tests between each other to measure true performance using specific types of traffic. This, however, can also tend to be impractical as it requires some preliminary setup. It won’t be of much assistance to help troubleshoot a sudden issue.

In these cases, what you need is a quick and dirty solution. A simple application that you can quickly deploy or install at either end of the segment you need to test and that will let you manually configure and run simulation tests.

Testing vs Monitoring

Another important distinction to be made is the one between performance monitoring and performance testing. These are two similar concepts but there are a few differences. The basic idea is the same: simulating real user traffic and measuring the actual performance of the network. Where it differs is in how and when it is done. Monitoring systems run constantly and perform recurring tests between preconfigured locations and using predefined simulation models. A dashboard will typically be available to display the latest test results and reports can often be generated for various purposes.

Testing is different in that it is typically an ad-hoc process that is run manually whenever a problem is reported or suspected. Tests are also typically run between two specific points on the network where one suspects a problem is. The test will often help identify and pinpoint the problem.

The Best Network Performance Testing Tools

We’ve searched the market for some of the best network performance testing tools. Here’s the result of our efforts. We hope it will help you pick the best tool for your specific needs. If your looking for performance monitoring tools, this is not what this post is about and we suggest you read some of our other posts on the subject. For now, let’s have a look at the features of the best tools we could find.

1. SolarWinds WAN Killer (Part Of The Engineer’s Toolset)

SolarWinds is a common name in the field of network administration. The company is famous for making some of the best network administration tools on the market. Its flagship product, the Network Performance Monitor is generally recognized as one of the best network bandwidth monitoring tools available. And as if it wasn’t enough, SolarWinds has also gifted us with several free tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrators. Such tools include the famous SolarWinds TFTP Server and the Advanced Subnet Calculator.

Although it’s not a network performance testing tool per se, the WAN Killer Network Traffic Generator can be very useful in combination with other tools. Its sole purpose is generating network traffic. It allows administrators to use other performance testing tools for testing performance under high traffic situations, something that not many tools do by themselves.

The tool, which is part of the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset, will let you easily set the IP address and hostname you want to send the random traffic to. It will also let you specify parameters such as port numbers, packet size, and percentage of bandwidth to use. It can even let you modify the Differentiated Services Code Point (DSCP) and Explicit Congest Notification (ECN) settings.

SolarWinds WAN Killer Screenshot

This tool’s primary use is for tasks such as testing traffic prioritization and load balancing. You can also use it to make sure that your network is correctly set up and that huge amounts of unimportant traffic—as generated by this tool—won’t have adverse effect critical traffic. The level of fine-tuning the tool allows will let you simulate almost any type of situation.

The SolarWinds WAN Killer Network Traffic Generator is part of the Engineer’s Toolset, a bundle of over 60 different tools. The toolset includes a mix of the most important free tools from SolarWinds combined with many exclusive tools that you won’t find elsewhere. And most of the included tools are integrated into a common dashboard from where they can be easily accessed.

The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset (including the WAN Killer Network Traffic Generator) sells for $1 495 per desktop installation. You’ll need one license for each user of the tool. But considering all the included tools, this is a very reasonable price. If you want to give the toolset a test-run, a 14-day trial version can be obtained from the SolarWinds website.

Other Components Of The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset

The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset includes several dedicated troubleshooting tools. Tools like Ping Sweep, DNS Analyzer and TraceRoute can be used to perform network diagnostics and help resolve complex network issues quickly. For the security-oriented administrators, some of the toolset’s tools can be used to simulate attacks and help identify vulnerabilities.

SolarWinds Engineer's Toolset - Home Screen

The toolset also features some excellent monitoring and alerting capabilities. Some of its tools will monitor your devices and raise alerts for availability or health issues. And finally, you can use some of the included tools for configuration management and log consolidation.

Here’s a list of some of the other tools you’ll find in the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset:

  • Port Scanner
  • Switch Port Mapper
  • SNMP sweep
  • IP Network Browser
  • MAC Address Discovery
  • Ping Sweep
  • Response Time Monitor
  • CPU Monitor
  • Memory Monitor
  • Interface Monitor
  • TraceRoute
  • Router Password Decryption
  • SNMP Brute Force Attack
  • SNMP Dictionary Attack
  • Config Compare, Downloader, Uploader, and Editor
  • SNMP trap editor and SNMP trap receiver
  • Subnet Calculator
  • DHCP Scope Monitor
  • DNS Structure Analyzer
  • DNS Audit
  • IP Address Management

With so many tools included in the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset, your best bet is most likely to give it a try and see for yourself what it can do for you. And with a free 14-day trial available, there is really no reason not to try it.

2. LAN Speed Test

LAN Speed Test from TotuSoft is a simple but powerful tool for measuring file transfer, hard drive, USB Drive, and network speeds. All you need to do is pick a destination on the server where you want to test the WAN connection. The tool will then build a file in memory and transfer it both ways while measuring the time it takes. It then does all the calculations for you and gives you an evaluation of the transfer’s performance.

LAN Speed Test Screenshot

You can also choose a computer running the LAN Speed Test Server instead of a shared folder as a destination. This effectively takes disk access component out of the equation, giving you a true measure of the network’s performance. The tool is initially set up in its Lite, feature-limited version. To access the advanced features of the standard version, you must purchase a license which is available for only ten dollars, with quantity discounts available. The tool is portable and will run on any Windows version since Windows 2000.

3. LAN Bench

Despite the fact that its developer’s site no longer exists, LAN Bench from Zack Saw is still readily available for download from several software download websites. It is a free and portable TCP network benchmarking utility. The tool is based on Winsock 2.2, a rather old framework but one with minimal CPU usage. That way, you can be reasonably sure that poor CPU performance won’t come and pollute your network performance test results. All the tool does is test the network performance between two computers but what it does, it does well.

LANBench Screenshot

You’ll need to run LAN Bench on two computers, at either end of the network segment you want to test. One instance runs as the server and the other one is the client. The server-side requires no configuration. All you need to do is click the Listen button. The tool’s testing configuration is all done on the client side, before starting the test. You will need to specify the server’s IP address and you can adjust several testing parameters such as the total duration of the test, the packet size used for testing, as well as the connection and transfer mode.

4. NetIO & NetIO-GUI

NetIO-GUI is actually a free front end for the multi-platform command line utility NetIO. Together, they form a very potent performance testing tool. It can be used to measures ICMP response times as well as network transfer speeds for different packet sizes and protocols. All the results are stored in an SQLite database and can easily be compared. This Windows tool is available either as an installable software or as a portable tool.

NetIO-GUI Screenshot

In order to run tests, you need two instances of the tool, one at either end. One side will run in client mode while the other will run in server mode. Using it is rather simple, once you have it running at both ends, you click the start button on the server (typically running at the far end) and, on the client, you simply enter the server’s IP address and pick the protocol (TCP or UDP) that you want to use to run the test. You start the test and let NetIO test the connectivity using various packet sizes before it returns the test results.

5. NetStress

Initially created as an internal tool by Nuts About Nets, NetStress has since started being offered to the public. It is yet another free and simple network benchmarking tool. Like most other similar products, you’ll have to run the tool on two computers at either end of the network that you need to test. It is somewhat easier to use than other tools because it can automatically find the receiver IP address.

NetStress Screenshot

Running a test with NetStress is very simple, although some might not find it self-explanatory. What you need to do is click on the 0.0.0.0 next to Remote Received IP. You then select the IP address that is listed in the window and click OK. Doing that will enable the Start button. Once enabled, you simply click it and the tool starts testing and measuring the TCP and UDP throughput. An interesting option found in this tool the ability to modify the MTU size used for testing. Despite some quirks such as the inability to resize its full-screen window, NetStress is a pretty good tool.

6. Aida32

Aida32 is officially a discontinued product that has been replaced by Aida64 but this older version still very popular and easy to find. Aida is a hardware information and benchmarking tool that can perform many different tests. The reason this specific—and older—version has made it to our list is because it includes an excellent Network Benchmark tool which is no longer available in recent versions. Using the plugin is easy and it can be started from the tool’s Plugin Menu

Aida32 Screenshot

Aida32 tool is not very different in its operation from most others on this list and you’ll need to run it at both ends of the path you want to test. On one of the computers, you need to select Master from the drop-down list that you’ll find at the bottom of the tool’s window. You then go to the Bandwidth tab and click the Start button. On the other computer, you select Slave instead of Master and enter the IP address of the master. Just like you did on the master, you go to the Bandwidth tab and click Start. Once the test completes, the Save button can be used to conveniently save the bandwidth chart in bitmap format.

7. PerformanceTest

PassMark’s PerformanceTest is a complete PC performance benchmarking software. It made it to our list because it features a pretty decent advanced network testing tool that one can use to run network performance tests. The too can run tests on both IPv4 and IPv6 networks. Furthermore, it will let users set the data block size used for testing. It will also allow you to enable UDP bandwidth throttling if you so desire. The network module is well-hidden within the PerformanceTest application. You can access it by clicking advanced and then Network from the tool’s menu bar.

PassMark Advanced Network Test

This is a limited tool where the results are shown in the status area and display the amount of data sent to the server, the CPU load, and the average, minimum, and maximum transfer speeds. While this is not much, it should be enough to determine the consistency of the network’s performance. PerformanceTest is a paid shareware but can be used for free without any limitations for up to 30 days.

Read Top 7 Network Performance Testing Tools by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Our Top 10 Linux Network Performance Tools

Every single network administrator wants to ensure that the performance of whatever they manage is optimal. It’s a simple matter of keeping the users happy. After all, they tend to be the first to notice even the slightest performance degradation. So, if you want to be able to respond to any performance complaint that you’re aware of it and working at fixing it, you need some performance tools. If you work in a Linux shop, this post is for you. We’re about to review some of the best Linux network performance tools.

Our Top 10 Linux Network Performance Tools

We’ll start off by briefly discussing network performance monitoring. Our goal is not to make you a subject matter experts but rather to ensure that we are all on the same page as we explore the different tools which are available. We’ll then jump right into the core of the matter end introduce some ten different Linux tools you can use to monitor, manage, and troubleshoot the performance of your network.

About Network Performance Monitoring And Testing

The thing with network performance monitoring and testing is that it seems like everyone has his own idea of what that means. For instance, we’re often seeing network bandwidth monitoring tools being referred to as performance monitoring. The same is true of traffic analysis tool or packet sniffers. This raises the following question: What is network performance monitoring and testing?

For the purpose of this post, let’s just leave that debate aside and accept that network performance monitoring tools are simply any tool that can be used to measure, assess, troubleshoot, or improve network performance. By using such an all-encompassing definition, we’ll be able to bring you the best assortment of tools and leave it up to you to pick those that can help you with your specific situation or issue.

The Best Network Performance Tools For Linux

So, we’ve compiled this list of some of the most-used Linux tools that can be used to test or monitor various metrics associated with network performance. They are available under most Linux distributions. Each one is useful to monitor and find the actual causes of performance issues. Among all the suggestions below, one is almost certain to fit your specific need.

1. Tcpdump

Tcpdump is the original packet sniffer. It is a tool that is used to dump—hence its name—the content of all the network traffic to the standard output. Through the magic of redirection and pipes, its output can, of course, be directed to any file or even to another process. Since its initial release, the tool went through some improvements and bug fixes but it remains essentially unchanged. It is available on virtually every Linux distribution and it has become the de-facto standard for a quick tool to capture packets. Tcpdump uses the libpcap library for the actual packet capture.

One of the drawbacks of a tool such as tcpdump is that it can collect a huge amount of data. So much so that it could be impossible to find exactly what one is looking for. Fortunately, one of the key’s to the tool’s strength and usefulness is the possibility to apply filters that will let you specify precisely what traffic to capture. You can also pipe the command’s output to grep—another common command-line utility—for further filtering. Someone mastering tcpdump, grep and the command shell can get it to capture precisely the right traffic for any debugging task.

Here’s an example of using tcpdump:

# tcpdump -i eth0

tcpdump: verbose output suppressed, use -v or -vv for full protocol decode

listening on eth0, link-type EN10MB (Ethernet), capture size 96 bytes

22:08:59.617628 IP tecmint.com.ssh > 115.113.134.3.static-mumbai.vsnl.net.in.28472: P 2532133365:2532133481(116) ack 3561562349 win 9648

22:09:07.653466 IP tecmint.com.ssh > 115.113.134.3.static-mumbai.vsnl.net.in.28472: P 116:232(116) ack 1 win 9648

22:08:59.617916 IP 115.113.134.3.static-mumbai.vsnl.net.in.28472 > tecmint.com.ssh: . ack 116 win 64347

You’ll certainly agree that such an output can be a bit cryptic. This is where a true network protocol analyzer can come in handy.

2. Wireshark

You can think of Wireshark as tcpdump on steroids but, in fact, it is much more than that. The reference in packet sniffers, it has become the de-facto standard and most other tools try to emulate it. This does way more than tcpdump, though. It will not only capture traffic. It is a network traffic analyzer as much as it is a packet capture tool. It’s so powerful than many administrators use other tools—such as tcpdump—to capture traffic to a file then load it into Wireshark for analysis. In fact, it is such a common way of using Wireshark that upon startup, you’re prompted to either open an existing capture file or start capturing traffic. Another strength of Wireshark is all the filters it incorporates which allow you to zero in on precisely the data you’re interested in.

Wireshark Screenshot

Wireshark has a steep learning curve but it is well worth learning. It will prove invaluable time and time again. And once you’ve learned it, you’ll be able to use it everywhere as it has been ported to almost every operating system. And to make it even better, it is open-source and available for free.

3. Netstat

One of the problems with troubleshooting TCP/IP connectivity issues comes from the huge number of connections and services typically running on any system. Netstat can be used to help identify the status of each connection and which process is servicing each one, helping you narrow down the search. Netstat, which is available on every Linux distribution, can quickly provide details about client services and TCP/IP communications. In its most basic form, the command displays all active connections on the local computer, both incoming an outgoing.

Netstat can also display listening ports on the computer where it’s run. In fact, the command accepts many options. However, the available options differ between platforms and some options work differently on different platforms. For instance, the -b option on Windows would display the name of the executable associated with each connection—the process servicing the connection—whereas, on Mac OS X or BSD, it is used in conjunction with -i to display statistics in bytes rather than bits. The best way to learn about all the available parameter of your specific version on Netstat is to run it with the -? option to display the tool’s help screen. On Linux, you can also display the Netstat man page to get basically the same information.

Here’s how a typical netstat command and its output look like:

# netstat -a | more

Active Internet connections (servers and established)

Proto Recv-Q Send-Q Local Address Foreign Address State

tcp 0 0 *:mysql *:* LISTEN

tcp 0 0 *:sunrpc *:* LISTEN

tcp 0 0 *:realm-rusd *:* LISTEN

tcp 0 0 *:ftp *:* LISTEN

tcp 0 0 localhost.localdomain:ipp *:* LISTEN

tcp 0 0 localhost.localdomain:smtp *:* LISTEN

tcp 0 0 localhost.localdomain:smtp localhost.localdomain:42709 TIME_WAIT

tcp 0 0 localhost.localdomain:smtp localhost.localdomain:42710 TIME_WAIT

tcp 0 0 *:http *:* LISTEN

tcp 0 0 *:ssh *:* LISTEN

tcp 0 0 *:https *:* LISTEN

4. IPTraf

IPTraf is a console-based network statistics utility for Linux. You can use the tool to gather a variety of information such as TCP connections packet and byte counts, interface statistics and activity indicators, TCP or UDP traffic breakdowns, and LAN station packet and byte counts. It features an IP traffic monitor that shows information about the IP traffic on your network, including TCP flag information, packet and byte counts, ICMP details, and OSPF packet types. With the most recent version dating back to 2005, it is somewhat of a dated tool yet it can provide a lot of useful information if you care to learn how to use it.

IPTraf Screenshot

Other features of IPTraf include general and detailed interface statistics showing IP, TCP, UDP, ICMP, non-IP and other IP packet counts, IP checksum errors, interface activity, packet size counts. It also boasts a TCP and UDP service monitor showing counts of incoming and outgoing packets for common TCP and UDP application ports. Furthermore, a built-in LAN statistics module discovers active hosts and shows statistics showing their data activity. Finally, the tool also has TCP, UDP, and other protocol display filters, allowing you to view only the traffic you’re interested in.

The tool which sports a full-screen, menu-driven operation, will handle most types of network interfaces and it uses the built-in raw socket interface of the Linux kernel. This allows it to be used over a wide range of supported network cards.

5. Nagios

Nagios is different from the previous tools in that it is a full-fledged network monitoring solution rather than a performance testing or assessment tool. It is available in two different versions, the free and open-source Nagios Core and the paid Nagios XI. Both share the same underlying engine but the similarity stops there. Nagios Core is an open-source monitoring system that runs on Linux. The system is completely modular with the actual monitoring engine at its core. The engine is complemented by dozens of available plugins which can be downloaded to add functionality to the system. Each plugin adds some features to the core.

Nagios Core Screenshot

Preserving this modular approach, the tool’s user interface is also modular and several different community-developed options are also available for download. The Nagios core, the plugins and the user interface combine to make a complete monitoring system. This, of course, can mean that setting up Nagios Core is not for the faint-hearted.

As for Nagios XI, it is a commercial product based on the same core engine. It is, however, a complete self-contained monitoring solution. No need to assemble it from various parts. The product targets a wide audience from small businesses to large corporations. As you would have guessed, it is much simpler to install and configure than Nagios Core, thanks in part to a configuration wizard and auto-discovery engine. The main drawback of Nagios XI is its price which starts at around $2 000 for a 100-node license.

RELATED READING: SolarWinds NPM vs Nagios

6. Observium

Observium is another all-encompassing monitoring platform. 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. I doubt that you can find a network-connected device that’s not supported. The tool’s primary focus is providing a beautiful, intuitive, and simple yet powerful user interface visually depicting the health and status of your network.

Observium Screenshot

Although many think of Observium as a bandwidth monitoring tool, it has much more to offer. For instance, it features 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 it is to set up and it almost configures itself through its auto-discovery process. Although there doesn’t appear to be a download section on Observium’s website, there are detailed installation instructions for several Linux distributions that do include the links to get the right package for each distribution. The instructions are very detailed so finding and installing the software should be easy.

This product is available in two versions. There’s the Observium Community is which available for free to everyone. This version receives updates and new features twice a year. There’s also Observium Professional which has additional features and comes with daily updates.

7. Icinga

Icinga is yet another open-source network monitoring platform. The tool is provided with a simple and clean user interface and a feature set that rivals some commercial products. Like most bandwidth monitoring systems, Icinga primarily uses SNMP to gather usage data from devices. However, one of the areas where the tool stands out is in its use of plugins. There are tons of community-developed plugins to perform various performance monitoring tasks and extend the product’s functionality. And if you can’t find the right plugin for your needs, you can write one yourself and contribute it to the community.

Icinga Tactical Overview

Alerting and notification are two of Icinga’s best features. Alerts are fully configurable in terms of what triggers them and how they are transmitted. The tool also features segmented alerting. With this feature, you can send some alerts to some users and other alerts to different people. This is a great feature when you have different systems managed by different groups. You could, for example, have all alerts related to server sent to the server administration team and all alerts related to networking sent to the network support team.

8. Zabbix

Zabbix is another free and open-source network performance monitoring tool. It’s got a highly professional look and feel, much like you’d expect from a commercial product. The good looks of its user interface are not its only asset, though. The product also boasts an impressive feature set. The platform can monitor most network-attached devices in addition to networking equipment. It is a perfect option for monitoring the performance of your whole infrastructure.

Zabbix Dashboard

Zabbix uses SNMP as well as the Intelligent Platform Monitoring Interface (IMPI) for monitoring devices. You can use the software to monitor bandwidth, device CPU and memory utilization, general device health and performance as well as configuration changes. The product also features an impressive and completely customizable alerting system. It will not only send email or SMS alerts but can also run local scripts which could be used, for instance, to fix some issues automatically.

9. Cacti

A post about Linux network performance tools wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Cacti, a free and open-source complete network performance monitoring tool. It’s been around for some fifteen years or so and, although it might not be the most sophisticated of tools, it is still actively developed—with the latest version just a month old—and it gets the job done quite efficiently. Its main components are a fast poller, advanced graph templates, and multiple data acquisition methods. Cacti features user access control built right into the product and the product also boasts an easy to use albeit antique-looking web-based user interface. The tool scales very well from the smallest single device installations up to complex networks with many different WAN sites.

Cacti Screenshot

Cacti, which, at its core is a front end to the RRDtools, uses SNMP to fetch data which it stores in a SQL database. It is written in PHP and can be modified to suit your needs. One of the product’s strongest features is its use of templates. There are built-in templates, for example, for Cisco routers that already includes most of the elements you might want to monitor on such devices. But there are not only device templates, there are also graph templates. Together, templates make configuring the software much easier. You can also build your own customized templates if suitable ones aren’t already available. Also, many device-specific templates can be downloaded from device vendor’s websites and several community-driven Cacti forums offer them for download.

10. Munin

Munin is yet another GUI front end to RRDtools, it is written in Perl and it is licensed under GPL. It is a good tool to use to monitor the performance of networks, systems, applications, and services. It works on all Unix-like operating systems and features an excellent plugin system with some 500 different plugins available to monitor almost anything you want on your network.

Munin Screenshot

Munin presents all the information it gathers in graphs on a web interface but its main strength is how it relies on comparative analysis to try to identify what has changed to cause a performance degradation. A notifications system is available to send messages to the administrator when there’s an error or when the error is resolved.

Read Our Top 10 Linux Network Performance Tools by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Top 5 Open-Source SNMP Monitoring Tools

SNMP, which is built into virtually every networking device is by far the best way to go about monitoring bandwidth usage. Some of the best SNMP monitoring tools, however, can turn out to be rather expensive. Luckily, there are several free and open-source solutions available and we’re about to review a few of the best ones.

We’d all love to benefit from infinite network bandwidth, wouldn’t we? But the reality of very different. Most of the time, we have to do with the bare minimum as bandwidth is still quite expensive. Consequently, networks often suffer from congestion and other problems linked to insufficient bandwidth. At the same time, applications are handling more and more data and need to move it through the network. This puts an additional toll on network bandwidth. To stay out of trouble, you need to keep a close eye on your network and the evolution of its usage and one of the best ways of doing that is to use a bandwidth monitoring tool.

We’ll begin by discussing network monitoring. We’ll briefly explain what it is and the different types of monitoring that are typically available. We’ll then dig deeper into the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and tell you what’s important to know about it, how it works, and how monitoring tools use it to measure — or rather calculate — network bandwidth utilization. And once we’re all on the same page, we’ll get into the core of this post and review some of the best open-sou

rce SNMP monitoring tools. While some are quite rudimentary, others are very polished and professional tools.

About Bandwidth Monitoring

For a network administrator, congestion is the number one enemy. If you compare a network to a highway where traffic is the network’s data, network congestion is similar to traffic jams. But unlike automobile traffic—where congestion can easily be spotted by simply looking at the road—network traffic happens within cables, switches, and routers where it’s invisible. Furthermore, it all happens at blazing speeds. Even if it was visible, it would happen too fast for us to see it. This is why network monitoring tools are so important. They provide network administrators with the visibility they need to ensure things are running smoothly. They can identify congestion or other issues, allowing administrators to take the necessary measures to address the situation.

Another important benefit of network bandwidth monitoring tools is with capacity planning. There is no way around the fact that network usage always grows over time. Just like disk space, the more you have, the more you need. While the current bandwidth of your network might be sufficient now, it will eventually need to be increased. By monitoring bandwidth usage, you’ll be able to plan the bandwidth upgrade before over-utilization becomes a problem.

Different Ways Of Monitoring Bandwidth

There are several ways that can network utilization can be monitored. One way is to capture packets at a given point on the network. It will give you detailed visibility over what’s happening at this particular point but nowhere else. Another way, if your networking equipment supports it, is to have it send out flow data to a flow analyzer that will report on what users, devices, or applications are using the network. Finally, and this is often the preferred way of doing it, you can use SNMP—which, as we said, is built into almost every networking device—to periodically poll devices and read their interface counters which they use to calculate and graph bandwidth utilization. Let’s briefly examine how each type of monitoring works.

Packet Capture

Packet capture is mostly used to troubleshoot specific network issues once you’re aware of them but it’s rarely used for usage monitoring. With packet capture, every data packet in and/or out of a specific device’s interface is captured and decoded. So, while it’s clear that packet capture tools are an invaluable tool for network administrators, they are not the best to just keep an eye on things to ensure all is running smoothly.

Flow Analysis

Cisco Network’s NetFlow technology is and its multiple variants such as J-flow, IPFIX, or sFlow, is a network flow analysis system. Devices that support flow analysis collect information about each data flow—hence the name—which they then sent to a flow collector and analyzer. It gives you detailed qualitative information about your network’s utilization but, if all you want is to monitor bandwidth utilization, it might be more than you need. And if you factor in the efforts required to put it in place, you’ll quickly realize it might not be the best tool for this specific task.

SNMP

The Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) is a complex—despite its somewhat misleading name—system that can be used to remotely monitor, configure and control many different types of networking equipment. Fortunately, you don’t have to know everything about SNMP to use it to monitor a network’s bandwidth utilization. For now, let’s just state that SNMP is used by monitoring tools to read a device’s interface counters and use that data to compute the bandwidth usage and graph its evolution over time. In the next section, we’ll go into more details the inner workings of the Simple Network Management Protocol, ensuring you have enough information to configure and use any SNMP network monitoring tool.

SNMP In A Nutshell

Many SNMP tutorials will be rather technical tell you about MIBs and OIDs. We don’t feel, however, that you have to know everything about SNMP to use it. It’s somewhat like a car. You don’t have to know all about how the engine works to drive one. So, our goal today is to give you just enough information so that you can understand, use, and configure SNMP network monitoring tools, not to make you an SNMP expert, which is something that will come with experience.

First things first, how does one connect and authenticate to an SNMP-enabled device? It is very simple albeit not very secure. On each SNMP device, parameters called community strings are set. You can think of community strings as SNMP passwords. There are typically two community strings configured on each device. One of them is used for read-only access while the other will let one modify some parameters. They can have any value you want and their respective defaults are often set to “public” and “private”. While this is a simple and efficient authentication scheme, it is not secure at all as the community strings are transmitted in clear text over the network and could be intercepted and compromised. This is one reason why many administrators don’t configure read/write community strings on the devices they manage.

So, let’s say that an SNMP network monitoring system connects to a network device using the read-only community string. There are many different operational parameters that can be remotely read. Of particular interest when it comes to bandwidth monitoring are a few metrics called interface byte counters. There’s a pair of them—one for input and one for output—for each network interface. They are simply incremented by the device as bits are received and transmitted on an interface. By reading these values periodically at know intervals—every five minutes is typical, the monitoring tool can compute the number of bits per unit of time–usually per second–which is exactly how bandwidth is expressed.

Concretely, here’s how it’s done: The monitoring tool will poll a device and read its counters. Then, five minutes later, it will read the same counters again. By subtracting the previous value of the counters from the current one, the total number of bytes transferred in and out over the past five minutes is obtained. It is then a simple matter to multiply these numbers by 8–the number of bits in a byte–then divide the results by 300–the number of seconds in five minutes–to get the bits per second bandwidth utilization figures. Those figures are typically stored in some sort of database and used to plot graphs of utilization over time.

A few other SNMP values can be of interest in network monitoring. For example, there are interface input and output error counters. Similar to what’s being done with bytes in and out, these values can be used to compute the number of errors per second, a figure that tells you a lot about the general health of a network link. Other interesting metrics include CPU and memory utilization gauges.

The Best Open-Source SNMP Monitoring Tools

The SNMP monitoring tools market is huge. Big players such as SolarWinds, Paessler A.G. and ManageEngine all have some excellent product to offer. But what about open-source tools? Well, there are probably even more open-source tools than there are commercial ones. In fact, MRTG, the first tool on our list, is likely the ancestor of every other monitoring tool and it is still available today. So, let’s see what the best tools are.

1. MRTG

As we just said, the Multi Router Traffic Grapher, or MRTG, can almost be considered the granddaddy of SNMP monitoring tools. Still in widespread usage, it’s been around since 1995. There’s a reason for this longevity: it gets the job done and it is a totally free and open-source platform. Of course, it might not be the fanciest and the prettiest and its user interface shows signs of age but it’s possibly the most flexible tool. MRTG can monitor many parameters besides bandwidth. In fact, it can monitor, log, and graph any SNMP parameter, and more. While it might not be the most user-friendly monitoring system, it is still possibly the most flexible one. And the fact that it’s the first monitoring system and that it is still around is certainly a testament to its value.

MRTG Screenshot

The two main components of MRTG are a Perl script that reads SNMP data from target devices and a C program that takes the data, stores it in a round-robin database and create web pages with bandwidth utilization graphs. The fact that the bulk of the system is written in Perl and is open-source means that anyone can customize the software to their specific needs. The initial setup and configuration might be somewhat more complicated than what you’d experience with some more polished monitoring systems but documentation is readily available to assist you.

Installing MRTG requires that you first install and configure Perl. It won’t run without it. MRTG can be run as a Windows service instead of an application but doing so requires some advanced manipulations including some registry modifications. Once installed, MRTG is configured by editing its configuration file in a true old-style *nix way. Administrators used to GUI configuration could face a steep learning curve. MRTG is best downloaded directly from its developer’s website. It is available as a .zip file for windows or a tarball for Linux. As of this writing, the latest stable release is 2.17.7, released last July. The tool is still in active development with a few minor releases each year.

2. Cacti

You can think of Cacti as MRTG on steroids. If you look at any of Cati’s graphs, you’ll find a striking resemblance to MRTG’s. This is no surprise as Cacti is built upon RRDTools which is from the same developer and is a direct descendant of MRTG. More about that in a moment.

Cacti is more polished than MRTG with a web-based configuration interface that makes configuring it much easier and more intuitive. It is a complete network monitoring and graphing package. The tool features a fast poller, some advanced device and graph templates, several acquisition methods, and user management features. It is excellent for smaller LAN installations but it will easily scale up to complex networks with thousands of devices over multiple sites.

Cacti Screenshot

To better understand Cacti, you need to know more about RRDtool. According to its developer “RRDtool is an open-source industry standard, high-performance data logging and graphing system for time series data. RRDtool can be easily integrated into shell scripts, Perl, Python, Ruby, Lua or Tcl applications.” If you recall how we said that MRTG uses a C program for data storage and graphing, RRDTool is the evolution of that C program.

In a nutshell, Cacti is just a front end to RRDTool. It stores the necessary data to create graphs and populate them with data in a MySQL database. The software maintains its graphs, data sources, and round robin archives in a database and also handles the data gathering, leaving the graphing to RRDTool. Cacti is a step up from MRTG. Many Cacti users are former MRTG users. I, for instance, got into Cacti when I needed to replace MRTG with something that was easier to configure and use as the network I was managing kept growing.

3. LibreNMS

LibreNMS is an open-source port of Observium, a very potent commercial network monitoring platform. It is a fully featured network monitoring system that provides a wealth of features and device support. Among its best features is its auto-discovery engine. It doesn’t only rely on SNMP to discover devices. It can automatically discover your entire network using CDP, FDP, LLDP, OSPF, BGP, SNMP and ARP. Talking about the tool’s automation features, it also has automatic updates so it will always stay current.

LibreNMS Screenshot

Another major feature of the product is its highly customizable alerting module. It is very flexible and it can sed alert notifications using multiple technologies such as email, like most of its competitors but also IRC, slack, and more. If you’re a service provider or your organization bills back each department for their use of the network, you’ll appreciate the tool’s billing feature. It can generate bandwidth bills for segments of a network based on usage or transfer.

For larger networks and for distributed organizations, the distributed polling features of LibreNMS allow for horizontal scaling to grow with your network. A full API is also included, allowing one to manage, graph, and retrieve data from their installation. Finally, mobile apps for iPhone and Android are available, a rather unique feature with open-source tools.

4. Icinga

Icinga is yet another open source monitoring platform. It has a simple and clean user interface and, more importantly, a feature set that rivals some commercial products. Like most bandwidth monitoring systems, this one uses SNMP to gather bandwidth utilization data from network devices. But one of the areas where Icinga particularly stands out is its use of plugins. There are thousands of community-developed plugins that can perform various monitoring tasks, thereby extending the product’s functionality. And in the unlikely event that you couldn’t find the right plugin for your needs, you can write one yourself and contribute it to the community.

Icinga Tactical Overview

Alerting and notification also among Icinga’s great features. Alerts are fully configurable in terms of what triggers them and how they are transmitted. The tool also features what is referred to as segmented alerting. This feature will let one send some alerts to one group of users and other alerts to different people. This is nice to have when you monitor different systems managed by different teams. It can ensure that alerts are transmitted only to the proper group to address them.

5. Zabbix

Zabbix is another free and open-source product but it has has a highly professional look and feel, much like you’d expect from a commercial product. But the good looks of its user interface are not its only assets. The product also has an impressive feature set. It will monitor most network-attached devices in addition to networking equipment. It would be an excellent choice for anyone in need of monitoring servers in addition to network bandwidth utilization.

Zabbix Dashboard

Zabbix uses SNMP as well as the Intelligent Platform Monitoring Interface (IMPI) for monitoring devices. You can use the software to monitor bandwidth, device CPU and memory utilization, general device health and performance as well as configuration changes, a rather unique feature within this list. This tool does way more than simple network bandwidth utilization monitoring. It also features an impressive and completely customizable alerting system which will not only send email or SMS alerts but also run local scripts which could be used to fix some issues automatically.

Read Top 5 Open-Source SNMP Monitoring Tools by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

The 7 Best Free And Open-Source Ping Monitor Tools

Ping monitoring is not only the simplest form of monitoring, but it’s also possibly the oldest as well and to this day, it is still in widespread use. We’ve found some of the best free and open-source ping monitoring tools and we’re about to review them.

A typical network has so many components that it is of the utmost importance to always keep an eye on everything. But with today’s distributed and/or cloud-based data centers, monitoring is more complex than ever. This is why there is a seemingly infinite number of monitoring systems available, all geared at helping administrators stay on top of everything. Various types of monitoring exist from the simplest to the most elaborate. Today, we’re having a look at ping monitoring, one of the most elementary forms of monitoring. It consists simply of using ping to make sure that each monitored component is up and running and responding within an acceptable time frame.

Before we begin, we’ll spend some time discussing ping, what it is and how it works. Ping is an old utility that is deceptively simple and powerful. But it is so reliable that it has not been superseded by anything yet, despite the fact that it’s bee around for ages. We’ll then have a look at ping as the basis for a monitoring tool and discuss the various common features of such systems. We’ve kept the best for last so we’ll finally review some of the best free and open-source ping monitoring tools we could find.

About Ping

Back in 1983, a developer who was seeing an abnormal network behaviour couldn’t find the right debugging tool so he decided to program one. He called his tool ping which, by the way, comes from the sound of sonar echoes as heard from inside a submarine. Today, ping is available on virtually every operating system with IP networking and although individual implementations vary slightly in their available options, they all serve the same basic purpose. The differences between implementations are mostly related to the available command-line options which can include specifying the size of each request’s payload, the total test count, the network hop limit of the delay between requests. Some modern operating systems include a ping command which serves the same purpose but uses IP V6 addresses instead of IP V4.

$ ping -c 5 www.example.com

PING www.example.com (93.184.216.34): 56 data bytes

64 bytes from 93.184.216.34: icmp_seq=0 ttl=56 time=11.632 ms

64 bytes from 93.184.216.34: icmp_seq=1 ttl=56 time=11.726 ms

64 bytes from 93.184.216.34: icmp_seq=2 ttl=56 time=10.683 ms

64 bytes from 93.184.216.34: icmp_seq=3 ttl=56 time=9.674 ms

64 bytes from 93.184.216.34: icmp_seq=4 ttl=56 time=11.127 ms

--- www.example.com ping statistics ---

5 packets transmitted, 5 packets received, 0.0% packet loss

round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 9.674/10.968/11.726/0.748 ms

How Ping Works

Ping is both clever and simple. The utility simply sends an ICMP echo request packet to the specified target and waits for it to send back an ICMP echo reply packet. This process is repeated a certain number of times (by default, 5 times under windows and until it is stopped under most Unix/Linux implementations.), allowing it to compile statistics. Ping measures the time between the request and the reply and displays it in its results. On Unix variants, it will also display the value of the reply’s TTL field, indicating the number of hops between the source and the destination. In fact, what is displayed in the command response if another place where various implementations differ.

Pings works under the assumption that the pinged host follows RFC 1122 which prescribes that any host must process ICMP echo requests and issue echo replies in return. Most hosts do but some disable that functionality for security reasons. Some firewalls will also block ICMP traffic altogether, preventing ping from doing its job. Pinging a host which does not respond to ICMP echo requests provides no feedback, exactly like pinging a non-existent IP address.

About Ping Monitoring

Given the limited information that can be gathered using ping, monitoring tools making use if it don’t always offer much information other than the up or down status. These tools are primarily used simple to ensure that each host is up and running and that its network connection is operating normally. Some tools do interpret the average response time returned by ping as a measure of how quickly the host is responding or how congestion the network is. While a sudden jump in average ping response time is possibly an indication that something is wrong, it would be a mistake to foolishly jump into conclusions. At best, an abnormally high ping response time should be an indication that further analysis is required.

Some Free And Open-Source Ping Monitoring Tools

There are many free and open-source ping monitoring tools available. What we have for you today are some of the best tools we could find. While they are not all open-source, they are all available for free although some of them in a limited version. Some tools on our list are more than just ping monitoring tools. Some are even full-fledged tools that will not only monitor the status of devices but also the bandwidth utilization of your network as well as critical performance metrics such as CPU or Memory loads.

1. SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset (Free Trial)

SolarWinds is probably one of the best-known names in the field of network and system administration tools. It’s been around for some twenty years or so and has brought us some of the best tools on the market. Its flagship product, the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor has received rave reviews as one of the best network bandwidth monitoring tool. The company is also famous for its free tools, smaller utilities which address a specific need of network administrators. The Network Device Monitor and Traceroute NG are two great examples of those free tools.

We felt that the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset deserved a special mention for several reasons. First and foremost, it includes a very good Ping Monitor module. But as its name implies, this is a set of tools. Oven sixty of them, to be precise. You can use the Engineer’s Toolset to continuously monitor servers, routers, workstations, or other devices to show response time in real-time and display response rates in graphical charts. The toolset also includes a “Simple Ping” tool which is an alternative to the ping that comes with your operating system and can be used to measure a host’s response time and packet loss.

SolarWinds Engineer's Toolset Enhanced Ping Tool

There’s also an Enhanced Ping tool, which provides several graphing options which can help you visualize and more easily identify response-time problems. Together, these ping software tool solutions help ensure you gain the visibility you need to monitor and troubleshoot network connection issues.

Other tools included in the Engineer’s Toolset

Among the 60+ tools that you’ll find in the Engineer’s Toolset, a few are free tools that are also available individually but most are exclusive tools which can’t be obtained any other way. A centralized dashboard lets you easily access any of the included tools. Among the different tools you’ll find, some can be used to perform network diagnostics and help resolve complex network issues quickly. Security-conscious network administrators will appreciate a few tools that can be used to simulate attacks on your network and help identify vulnerabilities.

SolarWinds Engineer's Toolset - Home Screen

The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset also includes a few more monitoring and alerting tools such as one which will monitor your devices and raise alerts when it detects availability or health issues. This will often give you enough time to react before users even notice the problem. To complete an already feature-rich suite of tools, configuration management and log consolidation tools are also included.

While this is not the place to go in details on each included tool, here’s a list of some of the best tools you’ll find in the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset besides its ping monitoring tools.

  • Port Scanner
  • Switch Port Mapper
  • SNMP sweep
  • IP Network Browser
  • MAC Address Discovery
  • Ping Sweep
  • Response Time Monitor
  • CPU Monitor
  • Interface Monitor
  • TraceRoute
  • Router Password Decryption
  • SNMP Brute Force Attack
  • SNMP Dictionary Attack
  • Config Compare, Downloader, Uploader, and Editor
  • SNMP trap editor and SNMP trap receiver
  • Subnet Calculator
  • DHCP Scope Monitor
  • IP Address Management
  • WAN Killer

The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset—including the ping tools sells for $1495 per administrator seat. If you consider that it includes over 60 different tools, this is a very reasonable price. If you want to see for yourself what this toolset can do for you and your organization, a free 14-day trial available from SolarWinds.

2. Zabbix

Zabbix is one of those tools that will do much more than just ping monitoring. It claims to be the ultimate enterprise-class monitoring platform. And it possibly is, especially when compared to other free and open-source tools. At any price, it would be an excellent tool and the fact that it is free and open-source make it an even more interesting proposition. The tool makes use of SNMP to monitor network devices but also local or cloud-based servers. It will let you monitor multiple metrics such as bandwidth, CPU and memory utilization, device health in general as well as configuration changes, a rather unique feature.

Zabbix Dashboard Screenshit

Zabbix boasts an easy to comprehend and use web-based interface and an impressive feature set. It compares very well to commercial products costing thousands of dollars. Its alerting system is possibly among the best in its class with the ability to run local scripts in response to alerts triggered by monitoring events.

While Zabbix itself is free, several services can be purchased from the publisher. These include technical support which is available in five levels and a complete training and certification program with classes throughout the world. This is excellent as the lack of available support is the most common drawback of open-source software. But you don’t have to purchase support services as community support is also available for free.

3. Observium

Observium is another feature-rich monitoring platform. It features low-maintenance and auto-discovery and supports a wide range of device types, platforms and operating systems including, among others, Cisco, Windows, Linux, HP, Juniper, Dell, FreeBSD, Brocade, Netscaler, NetApp. The tool’s primary objective is offering a beautiful, intuitive, and simple yet powerful user interface depicting the health and status of the network.

Observium Screenshot

The product is available in two versions. There’s the Observium Community is which available to everyone for free. This free version receives updates and new features twice a year. There’s also Observium Professional which has an expanded feature set and benefits from daily updates. Both editions only run on Linux platforms.

Observium offers way more than just ping monitoring. It will, for instance, monitor bandwidth utilization and there’s even 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, it integrates with other systems and can pull their information and display it within its interface.

Observium is to set up and it almost configures itself. While there isn’t a download section on Observium’s website, there are detailed installation instructions for several Linux distributions that do include the links to get the package.

4. Nagios Core

Nagios Core is an open-source monitoring system that runs on Linux. it is a completely modular system where Nagios Core is actually only the main monitoring engine. It is complemented by some 50 plugins that can be downloaded to add various functionality to the system. Keeping with the modular approach, there are also different community-developed front ends also available for download. Together, they make for a quite complete albeit somewhat “Frankesteinesque” monitoring system. The main drawback of such an approach is that setting up Nagios Core can be a daunting task.

Nagios Core Screenshot

In addition to this free and open-source version that can be downloaded and used by anyone, there’s also a commercial product called Nagios XI. It has more features. It is also a self-contained tool which makes it much easier to set up. You don’t have to assemble and install multiple separate components.

One of the best features of Nagios Core—the open-source version—is its community. Several community-developed plugins, front ends, and add-ons are available directly from the Nagios website. If you want more built-in functionality, you’ll have to go for Nagios XI which has bandwidth usage monitoring and many more useful features. A free trial of Nagios XI is available should you want to give it a test run and see what it can do for you.

5. LibreNMS

At its core, LibreNMS is a port of Observium. It is another all-inclusive network monitoring system that provides a wide array of features and device support. Among the tool’s best features is its auto-discovery engine which doesn’t only rely on SNMP to discover devices. It can automatically discover your entire network using CDP, FDP, LLDP, OSPF, BGP, SNMP and ARP. The product also features automatic updates, ensuring that it will always stay current.

LibreNMS Screenshot

Another important feature of the LibreNMS is its highly customizable alerting module. It is very flexible and it can send alert notifications using multiple methods such as email—like most of its competitors—but also IRC, slack, and more. If you’re a service provider or your organization bills back each department for their use of the network, you’ll probably like the tool’s billing feature. It can generate bandwidth bills for segments of a network based on either usage or transfer.

For larger networks and for distributed organizations, LibreNMS has distributed polling features allowing for horizontal scaling to grow along with your network. A full API is also included, allowing one to manage, graph, and retrieve data from their installation. Finally, mobile apps for iPhone and Android are available, a somewhat rare feature with open-source tools.

6. Icinga

Icinga is an open source monitoring platform with a feature set that matches most of the best commercial products and a simple and clean user interface. One feature that sets Icinga apart from the rest of the crowd is its extensive use of plugins. And when we say extensive, we mean extensive. There are literally thousands of them available 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 module. 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 recipients and other alerts to different ones for the best flexibility. This is a great feature when you have different systems managed by different groups.

7. Emco Ping Monitor

The EMCO Ping Monitor, while not an open-source product, is still an interesting ping monitoring tool. Right from its Host Status Overview you can view your devices status, ping response times, and outage information. Each host is monitored in real-time and the tool boasts colour-coded graphs to help you see how connections change over time. The tool also lets you look at historic host data for any time span you select. And this historical data can be used to build reports in both PDF and HTML formats.

Emco Ping Monitor Screenshot

One particularly interesting feature of the EMCO Ping Monitor is its scripting capabilities. You can set up scripts to run once a networking event happens. The scripts can fire some remediation process. Alerting is also available and email notifications can be sent when something changes.

The EMCO Ping Monitor is available as a freeware version limited to five hosts. There are also a Professional Edition and an Enterprise Edition. The former can monitor up to 250 hosts for $99 per instance or $245 for unlimited instances. The Enterprise Edition offers hosts-unlimited monitoring at a cost of $199 for a single instance and $445 for unlimited instances. A free 30-day trial version is also available.

Read The 7 Best Free And Open-Source Ping Monitor Tools by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

The Best Managed Service Provider Software Tools

We want to assist you in picking the right tool for you so we’ve prepared this overview of some of the very best Managed Service Provider Software Tools.

Managed Service Providers (MSP) are often tasked with monitoring large and complex environments. The types of environments with numerous servers and users. Even when they do manage smaller setups, they typically do it for so many different clients that using specialized MSP tools is a must. The one thing that strikes most people as they start looking into software tools for Managed Service Providers is the available variety. Between Remote Monitoring and Management tools, Professional Services Automation tools, Service Desk tools and Remote access tools, picking the right tool for your purpose can turn out to be a rather challenging endeavour.

Let’s begin by exploring in greater details what a Managed Service Provider is. As you shall soon see it can be more than one thing, each with its own specific needs. Different types of MSPs will use different types of tools and this is what we’re going to introduce next. We’ll have a look at the different types of software that can be used by Managed Service Provider to help them deliver their service to their clients. Finally, we’ll get to the core of our discussion and introduce some of the best Managed Service Provider software tools we could find. We’ll briefly review each one and present its most interesting features.

What Is A Managed Service Provider?

Managed services is a practice where an organization outsources on a proactive basis certain IT management processes and functions with the intention of improving operations and cutting expenses. It is an alternative to the break/fix or on-demand outsourcing model where the service provider performs on-demand services and bills the customer only for the work done. It is also different from “plain” outsourcing where the service provider’s team is deployed on location at the client’s on a full-time basis for the duration of the outsourcing contract.

Under the managed services subscription model, the client is the entity that owns or has direct oversight of the organization or system being managed whereas the Managed Services Provider (MSP) is the service provider delivering the managed services. The client and the MSP are bound by a contractual, service-level agreement that states the performance and quality metrics of their relationship.

The degree or type of management performed by the MSP can vary greatly. Some MSPs are highly specialized such as Managed Security Services Providers who will only handle security-oriented tasks such as threat protection or intrusion prevention. Sometimes the scope of a Managed Service Provider is limited under the terms of the subscription the client has. For instance, some clients could only subscribe to backup and restore services while others could only need monitoring and alerting. Managed services don’t necessarily have to be an all-encompassing deal.

The Types Of Tools Used By MSPs

Since Managed Service Providers typically provide various services for their clients, they can use different types of tools. However, since the challenges of managing IT environments for multiple clients pose some special challenges—such as the need to keep each client services separate—many prefer to use tools which are specifically targeting MSPs. These tools typically fall into several categories, as we’re about to see.

Remote Monitoring And Management Tools

The most common type of tools used by Managed Service Providers is the Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tools. While their name seems to be very descriptive of what they do, different RMM tools vary greatly in the functionality they offer. They are big integrated tools that try to cover as many needs of Managed Service Providers as possible.

They do, of course, allow the remote monitoring of client’s environment but the management part is where they vary the most. Most of them at least offer remote desktop control, some will handle patch management. Other common features of RMM tools can include security features such as antivirus, threat protection or intrusion detection and prevention. In fact, any task performed by Managed Service Providers can be included in an RMM tool.

Professional Services Automation Tools

Professional Services Automation (PSA) tools typically refer to the tools that Managed Service Providers will use to deliver services to clients but are not directly related to the provided services. A good example of that is a billing tool that will handle the financial aspect of the service management contract. Project management is another feature commonly found in PSA tools and so is knowledge management. Service desk functions are sometimes included in these tools. In fact, the line between the different types of tools used by managed service providers is a rather blurred one. It is not uncommon to see RMM packages with PSA-like functionality and the opposite.

Security Tools

Security tool is the next major type of MSP tools. It is another category with a lot of variety. The range of features offered by security tools targeting Managed Service Providers range from very simple, single-function tools like virus protection, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), log analysis, intrusion detection and/or prevention, and more.

Again, some tools are individual while others are integrated. In fact, all the features we just listed can also be found in some Remote Monitoring and Management tools.

Service Desk Tools

We’ve mentioned service desk tools as one of the potential features of Professional Services Automation tools but they are in a class of their own to their key importance. But these are not just important tools, they are also quite complex. There are a few basic elements shared by every service desk tool. They include things such as ticket creation and management but their extended feature set goes way beyond that.

The best service desk tools will include user management and asset management and will even be able to correlate them. For instance, when a user calls the service desk, is user account is linked to the assets inventory and the attendant knows immediately what equipment the user has in his possession. Another popular advanced feature of service desk tools is ticket escalation that will ensure proper attention is given to each ticket, thereby helping meet service level agreements.

Backup And Restore Tools

The last important type of tools we’d like to discuss is backup and restore tools. Data is often one of the most important assets of modern organizations. It has to be preserved at all costs. But data storage systems are prone to failure. This is why backing up data is so important. With the increasing complexity of IT environments, this has gotten to be an increasingly complicated thing and several organizations prefer to outsource that part of their IT operations. Some Managed Service Providers even offer other services that backups and restores. And just like most of the other services we just described, this one can also be included as a component of full-features RMM tools.

The Best Software For Managed Service Providers

Enough theory; the time has come to have a look at some of the best software for Managed Service Providers. All of the tools on our list are multi-function Remote Monitoring and Management tools with different levels of complexity. Some have a very broad feature set and could more than likely be used as an MSP’s sole tool while others are more limited and will typically be combined with other tools to offer complete functionality.

1- SolarWinds Remote Monitoring And Management (FREE TRIAL)

SolarWinds is a well-known name in its field. It’s been making great network and system administration tools for years. Its flagship product, called SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor, is recognized as one of the best network bandwidth monitoring tools. The SolarWinds MSP division—created by merging activities from SolarWinds, N-able, and LOGICnow—specializes in building tools for Managed Service Providers. One of its product is a very complete Remote Monitoring and Management tool aptly named SolarWinds Remote Monitoring and Management.

The primary purpose of SolarWinds Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) is to let you manage the assets of clients on remote sites, either via direct contact or through automated procedures. Patch management and antivirus update coordination are two strong features of this tool. Furthermore, the Risk Intelligence module greatly improves the security features of the tool, which include malware protection as well as website protection. The system also protects against the possibility of infected websites being used as an entry point to the network.

SolarWinds RMM - Network Discovery

SolarWinds RMM is also an excellent monitoring tool which covers a wide range of devices, both physical and virtual. The tool enables administrators to keep track of system status on client sites from one centralized console. Several built-in reports help you monitor the condition of your client’s sites but also the performance of your management staff. One of this tool’s greatest assets is the simplicity of its interface which enables support staff to get to the most frequently-used tools quickly.

The breadth of the features of this product is impressive. It covers almost every service typically rendered by a Managed Service Provider. While we don’t have the space to go into details on each feature of the product, here’s a list of what it includes:

  • Remote Monitoring
  • Network Device Monitoring
  • Remote Access
  • Active Network Discovery
  • Automation And Scripting
  • Patch Management
  • Reports
  • Mobile Applications
  • Backup And Recovery
  • Managed Antivirus
  • Web Protection
  • Service Desk
  • Risk Intelligence
  • Mobile Device Management

Pricing for SolarWinds Remote Monitoring and Management is not readily available but can be obtained by requesting a quote from SolarWinds MSP. If you want to give the tool a test run and see for yourself what it can do for you, a free 30-day trial is available.

2- SolarWinds N-Central (FREE TRIAL)

Next on our list is another tool from SolarWinds called SolarWinds N-Central. This product was formerly known as N-Able N-Central until SolarWinds acquired it. This product is designed to assist Managed Service Providers manage remote resources from a central location. It is an integrated tool that offers several remote management and monitoring features.

Some key network monitoring tools are integrated into N-Central. They give you a view of the status of the circuits and services that deliver apps to end users. This includes, among others, web services and Microsoft Office 365 applications as well as on-premises and in-house applications.

SolarWinds N-Central - RM

An important component of SolarWinds N-Central is the Endpoint Security Manager. This module focuses on patch management and lets MSPs keep track of the versions of all applications, services, and operating systems. The tool’s central console polls software providers for updates, letting people decide which patches should be rolled out automatically and which should be managed on demand.

SolarWinds N-Central can integrate with other SolarWinds tools such as the MSP Manager and Help Desk Manager. This integration can enable the automation of tasks such as Help Desk ticket creation and task assignment, for example. If you prefer to use the Help Desk services provided by other vendors, APIs within the product will allow data exchanges with a wide range of commonly-used tools, such as Autotask, Tigerpaw, and ConnectWise, just to name a few.

Just like SolarWinds Remote Monitoring and Management, SolarWinds N-Central is a product from SolarWinds MSP. Pricing for the product is not readily available. You’ll need to Contact SolarWinds MSP for a detailed quote. A free 30-day trial of SolarWinds N-Central can be obtained from SolarWinds MSP, should you want to give the tool a test run.

3- Kaseya VSA

Our next entry is an MSP support platform that excels at task automation called Kaseya VSA. In addition to task automation, the tool also incorporates a remote control module called Live Connect, allowing you to implement bulk updates as well as remotely connect to and administer any end device. Furthermore, the tool provides automated network monitoring and has built-in alerts, patch management, and service auditing, making it a very complete solution for Managed Service Providers.

Kaseya VA - Live Connect Screenshot

Feature-wise, Kaseya VSA has everything you’d expect and then some. It has remote control, patch and vulnerability monitoring, audit and inventory, network monitoring, virus protection, unified backups and compliance management. The tool’s built-in AssetIQ feature is a contextual documentation management system made to ease the task of Managed Service Providers. It can, for example, be structured as a script for Help Desk agents to work through an incident and eventually direct problems to back office staff.

Kaseya VSA will cover most of, if not all, the needs of a typical Managed Service Provider. Pricing for the product can be obtained by directly contacting Kaseya. Both a demo and a 14-day free trial are available so you can see for yourself what this great product has to offer.

4- Pulseway

Pulseway is a cloud-based network management system with a feature set that will most certainly appeal to Managed Service Providers. The tool’s online dashboard lets you perform remote desktop control, patch management, software deployment, update management, and application monitoring. In addition, some of the tools built into the dashboard provide advanced automation, operative monitoring, customer SLA reporting, and custom management information reporting.

Pulseway Screenshot

The system allows for multiple logins and group account, letting you adapt the dashboard to each employee’s role. You can also customize the system’s monitoring alert settings and direct different service alerts to different team members. Automated workflows that get triggered by specific events can also be configured.

Pulseway offers a base subscription package to Managed Service Providers that includes all of the advanced functions that they need to support their clients. In addition to the tool’s base functionality, there is also an extensive array of add-ons available to enhance the system. Additional modules include web server protection, virus protection, cloud data backup service, and even a PSA module.

Pulseway is available in a free version but it is rather useless, only allowing one user account and letting you manage just two endpoints. For the full package, prices are $3.95/month per server and $1.85/month per workstation with a minimum charge of $47/month. Furthermore, a free trial of the product is available.

5- Connectwise Automate

ConnectWise Automate is a network management system with a number of remote administration features that make it suitable for Managed Service Providers. The tools can handle system monitoring and alerting, patch management, remote control, scripting and asset management. Automation, which is a key element of this product, is everywhere and the product can be further enhanced through a scripting module that lets you create your own automated workflows.

ConnectWise Automate

ConnectWise Automate’s remote access module, called Screen Connect, lets service desk attendants remotely access computers to fix problems. The mix of scripting language and manual access offered by Screen Connect covers the whole spectrum of customer support functions. The numerous features of this tool make it suitable for remote services conducted by an individual operator—such as training and one-on-one support—but also suitable for Managed Service Providers with a large number of clients.

This product is available on a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service model, which makes it easy to add technical staff and onboard new clients. The service is highly scalable and therefore suitable in a great variety of situations. Pricing for ConnectWise Automate can be obtained by contacting ConnectWise. A free 14-day trial version of the product is readily available and if you need more time to properly evaluate the product, you can request your trial period to be extended to 30 days.

Read The Best Managed Service Provider Software Tools by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter