Optimize Application Performance: Best APM Monitoring Tools

Don’t we all wish our applications performed flawlessly? Unfortunately, applications have become so complex that ensuring they are running smoothly is more complicated than ever. Modern applications have several tiers. There’s the front-end which takes care of user interactions. There’s also a back-end which does most of the heavy processing. And finally, there’s often a database to keep the application’s data. All these components, which could be running on different machines—and often are, must talk to each other. Not only that, but they also need to respond to each other’s requests promptly. But since the back-end often serves multiple front-ends and the database often serves multiple back-ends, things can get complicated. This is when application performance often starts to degrade. And when that happens, you need to use the proper tool to monitor the situation and optimize the performance. This is the subject of our article and we’re about to review the best tools to optimize application performance.

Before we get to actually review some of the best products, we’ll first talk about application performance. We’ll have a look at what it is and why it is so important. Then, we’ll discuss the optimization of application performance, what it is and what it entails. We’ll also talk about establishing a benchmark as this what will let you measure the degradation—or improvement—of application performance. After that, we’ll explore the tools themselves, what they are and what they do before we finally review some of the best tools to optimize application performance.

The Importance Of Application Performance

Before we begin, it’s important that we’re all on the same page as to what we’re referring to when talking about application performance. It’s not only a matter of how well Microsoft Word or the Chrome or Firefox browsers are running. Yes, those are applications and they too can suffer from performance issues but what we have in mind is the performance of in-house or custom applications. So, what is the importance of application performance? While different people would come up with different answers, generally speaking, it has to do with productivity. These in-house or custom applications serve a purpose and, when their performance is not there, productivity suffers. Plain and simple.

It is likely even more important if you’re in the Software as a Service (SaaS) business as those in-house and custom applications are used to provide services to clients. Then, a performance hit could lead clients to consider using competing services.
There are mainly two places where application performance can be degraded. The first one is the communications between the components. With the various tiers typically running on different computers, the communication is often done through a network and networks, as you are most likely aware, can suffer from all sorts of performance degradation.

The other place where application performance can often be degraded is on the servers themselves. If, for instance, a back-end server is overloaded, it could delay the response to requests from the front-ends, causing a performance issue. The same is true of requests from the back-end server to the databases.

Optimizing Application Performance

Optimizing application performance is not unlike troubleshooting problems. The first step is to pinpoint where the performance hit comes from. Once you know where the problem is coming from, solving it is just a matter of correcting its root cause. This makes finding the root cause the second step of optimizing application performance.

Once the root cause of your application’s performance degradation is known, then all that’s left is fixing it. For instance, if the back-end server is overloaded, perhaps it is time to add a second server or to beef up that one by adding processor cores or memory. Similarly, if the cause of the degradation is the fact that the network between two components is congested, causing delays, it might be time to upgrade the network. This typically happens with WAN connections where an upgrade is often just a phone call to the supplier away.

Establishing A Benchmark For Future Comparison

Most applications start off with acceptable performance. However, things often degrade over time as more and more people use the application or as the amount of data it handles gets larger. Sooner or later—often sooner—one of two things is bound to happen. Users are going to start complaining that the application is not as fast as it once was or the application actually is going to slow down.

Users are not liars, they just tend to have a skewed perception and honestly think the application is slower when it’s actually working fine. This is where benchmarking can be useful. You need to measure beforehand the performance of your application. Then, when users complain, you can simply compare the current measurement with the original one—the benchmark—and see if it has indeed slowed down and by how much or demonstrate that it’s still performing well. Having a benchmark and comparing it to the current performance on a regular basis can also help you discover performance degradations before the users notice it.

About The Tools

There are all sorts of tools that one can use to optimize application performance and they all have one thing in common, they need to somehow measure or monitor it. Most application performance optimization tools are actually application performance monitoring or analysis tools since these are what you’ll use to find performance issues and to measure the results of your optimizations efforts.

Unfortunately, most such tools won’t take care of the actual optimization. They will help you see if and where a performance issue exists. Some will even suggest ways to optimize it but they won’t do the job for you. This makes sense, there are way too many variables and applications are too different from one another to create a universal tool that could fix application issues. Would you want an automated tool to modify your code anyways?

The Best Tool To Optimize Application Performance

Our list contains a variety of tools. Some are application performance monitoring tools. Others will monitor database performance. We even have a bundle which combines these two tools. Contrary to other types of tools—such as bandwidth monitoring tools, for example, which all work pretty much the same way—application performance optimization tools vary greatly in what they do and how to operate. We’ve tried to include a good mix of what available out there.

1. SolarWinds Application Performance Optimization Pack (Free Trial)

Our first entry is not a tool but rather a bundle of tools from SolarWinds, a company which has been making some of the best network administration tools for about 20 years. It is highly regarded by many and its flagship product, the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor, consistently receives top reviews as one of the best network bandwidth monitoring tool. As if this wasn’t enough, SolarWinds is also famous for its free tools, smaller products each addressing a specific need of network administrators. The SolarWinds Advanced Subnet Calculator and the Kiwi Syslog Server are two good examples of these free tools.

Back to application performance optimization, SolarWinds’ offering is called the Application Performance Optimization Pack. This is a bundle that is comprised of two excellent tools, the Server and Application Monitor and the Database Performance Analyzer. In one sentence, the bundle provides a full-stack application, database, virtualization, and server performance optimization solution.

SolarWinds Application Performance Optimization Pack - Screenshot

Combined together, the two tools offer an unmatched array of useful features. For instance, response time analysis will let you see into the root cause of application response issues. Furthermore, historic analysis and dynamic baselines help you spot tuning problems. The SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor is based on an agentless architecture to let you keep an eye on hundreds of production instances with minimal load. This is not only for in-house or custom applications. The tool includes over two hundred application templates to help you monitor application performance out-of-the-box. Of course, you also have the ability to create templates for in-house developments. With CPU, memory, and disk capacity planning the bundle lets you troubleshoot efficiently to quickly resolve problems.

You can make use of the fully functional 30-day trial with this link.

Meanwhile, let’s have a deeper look at each of the tools included in the SolarWinds Application Performance Optimization Pack.

1.1 SolarWinds Server And Application Monitor (Free Trial)

The SolarWinds Server And Application Monitor is described by its publisher as “Server monitoring software built to find and resolve application problems”. Concretely, this tool will let you monitor any application, any server, anywhere. You can use it to proactively monitor the performance, capacity, and health of Linux and Windows apps across data centers, remote offices, and in the cloud.

SolarWinds Server and Application Moniitor - Appstack environment

This is a comprehensive server monitoring platform for Microsoft applications, systems, hypervisor, and SaaS products. It is also a great product for monitoring cloud-based infrastructures. You can use it to monitor and alert on Azure and AWS infrastructure metrics. All this is done within the same dashboard as your on-premises applications and systems. Talking about the product’s dashboard, it will let you monitor over 1200 vendor applications, servers, databases, and storage, all from a single, easy-to-use, customizable web interface. The SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor server monitoring tool provides automated discovery and mapping of applications and infrastructure. It also has customizable monitoring templates, and pre-built alerts and reports.

Prices for the SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor are based on the number of components, nodes, and volumes monitored, starting at $2 995 for 150 monitors. Like most other SolarWinds products, a free 30-day trial version is available for download, should you want to try the product before purchasing it.

1.2 SolarWinds Database Performance Analyzer (Free Trial)

The SolarWinds Database Performance Analyzer monitors and analyzes your SQL database instances to help resolve issues and optimize performance. Using a Response Time Analysis method it focuses on the time between a query request and the corresponding response from the database and it analyzes wait types and events, helping to pinpoint bottlenecks in databases.

SolarWinds Database Performance Analyzer

This product features an easy to use interface which can assist administrators in finding issues quickly and easily. Its main screen will let you view database instances, wait times, query advice, processor load, memory, disk and sessions. You can display the trend dashboard of a specific database instance which will show you the total wait times for the users over the course of a month in a graphical format. It can also plot your choice of either average or typical day wait times. In this view, each graph colour represents an individual SQL statement. What you get is a visual depiction of which statement takes the longest to run.

Prices for the SolarWinds Database Performance Analyzer start at $1 995 and vary according to the number and type of database instances to monitor. Again, a fully functional trial version is available although this one only lasts 14 days. However, when downloading the trial as part of the SolarWinds Application Performance Optimization Pack, you’ll get a full 30-day trial.

2. ManageEngine Applications Manager

While it may not be as well-known as SolarWinds, ManageEngine is still another name that enjoys an excellent reputation among network administrators. As you’d guess from its name, the ManageEngine Application Manager deals with application management. However, this is a somewhat misleading name as it is as much a monitoring platform as it is a management tool.

This tool offers integrated application performance monitoring for all your server and application monitoring needs. It can also do that for the underlying infrastructure components such as application servers, databases, middleware and messaging components, web servers, web services, ERP packages, virtual systems and cloud resources. In a few words, this is an all-encompassing platform.

ManageEngine Application Manager Screenshot

There’s a lot that can be done with this tool. For instance, you can track application response times with code-level information about your application performance monitoring environment. Its transaction tracing feature will let you detect slow transactions. It will monitor database query executions and track background transactions.

The ManageEngine Application Manager is available in several editions. There’s a feature-limited Free edition as well as a Professional and an Enterprise paid versions. Pricing starts at $945 and details can be obtained by contacting ManageEngine. A free 30-day trial version is also available.

3. AppDynamics APM

Appdynamics, which is now a part of Cisco has a great Application Performance Management tool available which is simply called Appdnamics APM. This excellent tool will automatically discover, map, and visualize your critical customer journeys through each application service and infrastructure component. It provides management teams with a single source of information to focus on end-to-end performance in the context of the customer experience, instead of monitoring individual services.

AppDynamics APM Screenshot

This tool uses machine learning to learn what normal performance is, effectively building its own baseline of application performance. It allows the tool to alert you whenever performance is not normal. There is direct integration with ServiceNow, PagerDuty, and Jira so that you can be immediately alerted and fix problems before customers notice them.

Another great feature is the tool’s immediate, automated, code-level diagnostics. Its deep diagnostic capabilities enable you to identify root-cause down to the individual line of code. Your team won’t have to go sifting through log files, saving valuable developer time.

Appdynamics APM is available in several versions. The most basic is called APM Pro. APM Advanced adds server visibility and network visibility features. The top level is called APM Peak and it includes all the features from APM Advanced plus business performance monitoring, transaction analytics, and business journeys. Pricing can be obtained by contacting Appdynamics and a 30-day trial version is available.

4. Dynatrace

Dynatrace is a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) which can detect, solve and optimize applications automatically. Discovering and mapping a complex application ecosystem is simply a matter of installing the Dynatrace OneAgent. The tool will give you a high-fidelity view of your entire application stack, from the performance of applications, cloud infrastructure, and user experience. It will help you effortlessly detect problems along with their business impacts and root cause.

Dynatrace Screenshot

Dynatrace claims to have the broadest coverage of any monitoring solution in terms of languages supported, application architectures, cloud, on-premise or hybrid, enterprise apps, SaaS monitoring, and more. The tool automatically discovers and monitors dynamic microservices running inside containers. It shows you how they’re performing, how they communicate with each other and it helps you quickly detect poorly performing microservices.

Pricing for Dynatrace is not readily available and can apparently only be obtained by first signing up for the free 15-day trial. Then, its only a matter of installing the agent on your servers and you could be monitoring within 5 minutes.

5. New Relic APM

Last on our list, New Relic APM is a cloud-based SaaS Software Analytics Platform which offers application performance management and real user monitoring. It works with both cloud and data center-deployed web applications implemented in Ruby, Java, .NET, Python, PHP, and Node.js. The product also offers mobile monitoring solutions for iOS and Android applications.

New Relic APM Screenshot

New Relic APM monitors from the front-end to the infrastructure layer. It supports on-premises, cloud, and hybrid setups. The tool will track every change across all your apps and services with pinpoint clarity and full context. Featuring a curated user interface which gives you a single, comprehensive view of your entire application stack, you won’t have to jump between tools and custom views. Everything is easily found in a single pane.

New Relic APM is available in two versions, Essentials starting at $75/month and Pro starting at $149/month with the latter offering extended features such as longer retention times, service maps, deployment tracking, and SLA reports. A free 14-day trial of either version is available.

Read Optimize Application Performance: Best APM Monitoring Tools by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

7 Best Tools for Managing IP Addresses – 2019

IP addressing is probably the most basic building block of modern networks, including the Internet. Without IP addresses, computers can’t talk to each other. Browsers can’t reach websites. Emails are not delivered and Instant messaging grinds to a halt. Many things we’ve come to take for granted rely heavily on IP addresses to do their magic. But IP addresses are not an unlimited resource. And to get the most out of them, it’s important to manage them properly. For instance—and this is just one example—care must be taken to avoid duplicate IP addresses on a network. Managing IP addresses can turn out to be a huge part of the daily work of many administrators. Fortunately, tools called IP Address Management (or IPAM) systems can help. But how do you find your way around the many tools offered? This is where we come in as we’re about to review the best tools for managing IP addresses.

Before we get to reviewing the best IP address management tools, we’ll first explain IP addresses, what they are and how they work. We’ll also discuss DNS as it is a complementary tool to IP addresses and they both work together. Next, we’ll talk about managing IP addresses, what it means and what the challenges are. And finally, we’ll have a word about DHCP, which can be thought of as an extension of IP address management. Only then will we be ready to review to best IP address management tools.

IP Addresses, What They Are And How They Work

IP addresses are used to uniquely identify each and every device connected to an IP network. This IP network could be your home WiFi network, the network at your place of work or the Internet. Although each of these may be interconnected, they are individual networks. An IP address is in many ways similar to a street address. Its primary purpose is to help in transporting data from an origin to a destination.

IP addresses are binary numbers which are 32 bits long. But since it would be awkward and error-prone to write them in binary, they are split into four chunks of 8 bits each which we usually represent as a suite of 4 decimal numbers between 0 and 255 separated by dots. For instance, the IP address 11000000101010000000000000000001 becomes 192.168.0.1, a much easier to read format.

An IP address is comprised of two parts, the host and the network or, more precisely, sub-network. This has to do with IP routing which is used when sending data to an IP address on a different network—typically a different location. Now, which part of an IP address represents the host and which part represents the network is the most complicated aspect of IP addressing. It is complicated because it left to networks designers and administrators to determine it. The boundary between the subnet, as it is often called, and the host can be at any bit within the address’32.

Communicating what part is subnet and what part is host is another complicated matter. At the beginning of IP addressing, we used what was called classful addressing where certain predefined address ranges had predefined boundaries. For instance, any address starting with 192.168 had 24 bits for the subnet and 8 bits for the host. That worked well but it was not flexible enough so classless addressing started to be used where the boundary can be anywhere.

In order to indicate what part of an IP address is the subnet and what part is the host, two different notation schemes have emerged. The first way is to specify a subnet mask along with the IP address. This is another dotted decimal number where each 1 indicates a subnet position and each zero indicate a host position. For example, the 255.255.255.0 subnet mask indicates 24 bits for the network and 8 for the host. Another notation which is often referred to as classless addressing requires adding a forward slash followed by the number of subnet bits to an IP address. For example, one would write 192.168.0.2 /24.

DNS, A Close Friend Of IP Addresses

IP addresses are great for computers to use to locate each other and exchange data but they are not really user-friendly and easy to remember. At the beginning of IP networking, each computer had a “hosts” file where the correspondence between IP addresses and hostnames were listed. That enabled a user who wanted to connect to a remote computer to use its hostname rather than its IP address.

The Domain Name Service was later created to enable a distributed database of hostname to IP address correspondences. Instead of looking up an address in its local “hosts” file, a computer would query a DNS server which, through a rather simple yet elaborate process, would eventually—within a matter of a few tenths of a second—return the corresponding IP address. IP addresses and DNS work together at enabling computers and their users to easily locate remote systems.

Managing IP Addresses, An Essential Task

Managing IP addresses is among the most important tasks of network administrators. It mainly serves two purposes: making sure each device is assigned an IP address and making sure no IP addresses are duplicated within a network. Back when networks used to be small(er) manually managing IP addresses was the way to go. Administrators typically kept a text file or Excel spreadsheet where each assigned IP address was documented. As networks grew bigger, this method started to show serious shortcomings. For starters, how can you assure that each and every change to the network will be reflected in the documentation? Also, how do you assure or verify that the IP addresses that are configured on devices are those that were assigned? Also, how do you make sure that any change in IP address assignment is added to the local DNS server?

Automating IP Address Management

Automation is the key to avoid many of the issues mentioned above. And this is why IP Address Management, or IPAM, tools were first created. These tools vary greatly in their functionality with the most basic simply being glorified versions of the text files or spreadsheets of yesteryear while others are complete automated systems which will connect with other related systems—such as DNS and DHCP—to offer the most robust of solutions.

A Word About DHCP

The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, or DHCP, is also closely related to IP address management. As its name suggests, it is used to automatically configure hosts with the proper IP address and other network interface settings. Computers using the protocol will contact the DHCP server upon startup to get their IP address, subnet mask, default gateway, DNS server(s), and a few more configuration parameters dynamically. Many IP address management tools either include a DHCP server or can communicate with an existing DHCP server, ensuring that the information they contain is what is actually configured on the networked computers.

Our 7 best DDI/IPAM Systems

We’ve searched the Internet for the five best DDI/IPAM systems we could find. Some of the products we found include all three functions in one and can truly be considered DDI systems. Other might not include DNS or DHCP functionalities but they will often integrate with many popular DNS and DCHP server such as those we find on Windows and Linux.

1. SolarWinds IP Address Manager (FREE Trial)

SolarWinds is one of the best-known names in network management. The company makes some of the best tools to assist administrators. Its flagship product, the Network Performance Monitor consistently scores among the top network monitoring tools. SolarWinds is also known for its free tools. The Kiwi Syslog server and the Advanced Subnet Calculator are two such tools.
To manage IP addresses, SolarWinds offer the IP Address Manager. This tool features built-in DHCP and DNS servers but it can also interact with DHCP and DNS server from Microsoft and Cisco so you won’t have to replace your existing infrastructure.

The SolarWinds IP Address Manager lets you allocate IP addresses in different ways. You can, for instance, use reservations for servers and other equipment and use dynamically allocated addresses for workstations. Everything gets seamlessly integrated into the DNS. Furthermore, a setup wizard is included to assist in configuring DHCP scopes.

SolarWinds IP Address Manager Screenshot

The SolarWinds IP Address Manager lets you set up user accounts with different access levels. You could, for instance, give only partial access to some junior admins or let managers view the reports but not change anything. The tool’s logging system which records every change with a time stamp and the username of the operator making the change is more than just a nice-to-have, it can help with compliance issues.

Prices for the SolarWinds IP Address Manager are based on the number of managed IP addresses and start at $1 995 for up to 1024 addresses. If you’d rather try the software before purchasing it, a free fully functional 30-day trial version is available.

2. Blue Cat Address Manager

While BlueCat might not be as famous as SolarWinds, it is still one of the industry leaders in the field. The Blue Cat Address Manager is better suited for larger organizations with a network management team. The company’s IPAM system also includes DHCP and DNS functionality but it can also interoperate with DHCP and DNS servers from Microsoft.

The BlueCat Address Manager can work with both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses at the same time. It’s a great tool to use when migrating from one version to the other. The system has workflows and approval chains as well as user accounts with hierarchical rights for the best possible security.

Blue Cat Address Manager

This tool uses a concept called network templates. They enable the administrator to use information layouts that ensure essential tasks cannot be overlooked and that all important data is present. In summary, the BlueCat address manager automates as many network administration tasks as possible. As a result, the risk of a problem caused by human error is reduced.

The BlueCat Address Manager is a premium package so you can expect to pay premium prices but if you’re managing a large network, it is well worth the investment. Detailed pricing information can be obtained by contacting BlueCat.

3. ManageEngine OpUtils IP Address Manager

Next, we have a tool from ManageEngine, another company famous for its network management tools. The OpUtils IP Address Manager provides centralized management of the IP address space and it can handle both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. Its built-in IP manager software assists network administrators in identifying whether an IP address is available or not. The tool performs periodical scans of subnets and keeps the availability status of IP addresses in each subnet up to date.

ManageEngine IP Address Manager

The IP Address Manager’s tools can be used to quickly and easily verify whether a particular IP is reserved or available. The tool accepts multiple subnet inputs, which helps in scanning the entire network to get the status of all IP addresses.
Although a free version is available, it is limited to managing a single subnet. While this is enough to give the product a test run, you’ll want to acquire a license to use it. Pricing can be obtained by contacting ManageEngine.

4. Infoblox IPAM & DHCP

The Infoblox IPAM & DHCP system is another software that’s better suited for larger networks. Like other similar-sized systems, it has templates to automate routine tasks. It also comes with some excellent standard reports. And if the existing templates or reports don’t seem to offer what you’re looking for, you are free to customize them at will.

Infoblox IPAM

The Infoblox IPAM & DHCP lets managers track the usage of key resources. It also features tracking functions which can help manage DHCP usage more effectively. From a security standpoint, this is a great feature as it also includes the ability to identify out-of-scope addresses and isolate rogue devices. You won’t find that on other systems. It goes to show how Infoblox is as concerned with security as it is with IPAM and has built major safeguards right into its system.

Pricing information for the Infoblox IPAM and DHCP software can be obtained by contacting Infoblox. A free evaluation version of the product is also available from Infoblox.

5. GestióIP

Our next tool might be from a company that is not as famous as the previous four but don’t let that fool you. GestióIP is an excellent piece of software. And it is free and open-source. The website states that “GestióIP is an automated, web-based IPv4/IPv6 address management (IPAM) software. It features powerful network discovery functions and offers search and filter functions for both networks and host, permitting Internet Search Engine equivalent expressions. This lets you find the information that administrators frequently need easily and quickly.”

GestioIP Address Management

What can be added to such an eloquent description? Concretely, this is an excellent system, especially for smaller businesses that might not be able to afford the larger systems such as those from Infoblox or BlueCat. Despite being free, this is a feature-rich tool which has all the functionalities a network administrator might need without the high price. And it does come with a few unique features such as a subnet calculator and an IP address plan builder. This is certainly a package worth looking into.

6. Diamond IP

BT(AKA British Telecom) probably needs no introduction. But not everyone knows that the company makes network administration tools. One of them is the Diamond IP, an IP address management tool. It can facilitate multi-cloud IPAM with virtual appliances for AWS, Azure, Oracle VM, VMware, Hyper-V and others. The tool’s cloud automation feature dynamically automates the assignment and tracking of private and public cloud instance IP addresses and DNS names.

This is a unique tool in that it is available as an appliance, as a software to install on your own hardware or as a cloud-based, fully-staffed managed solution making it ideal for companies with a small IT department or those who don’t have a centralized IT staff. Whichever version you choose, the tool integrates with existing DNS and DHCP services on your network.

Pricing for the BT Diamond IP software can be obtained by contacting the vendor.

7. LightMesh IPAM

Last on our list is a lesser-known product called LightMesh IPAM. This offers the same basic functionality as other IP address management tools. However, a user-friendly and sophisticated GUI allows the tool to stand out among the crowd. This tool not only does a very good job at presenting the data and information in a way that is intuitive and efficient but its functionality is also excellent.

Lightmesh IPAM - Screenshot

The tool includes IP planning and visualization features, Network discovery, audit history, permissions management with multi-group security permissions. LightMesh IPAM can easily integrate with your existing DNS and DHCP servers to provide you with an integrated IP address management solution with a view of all your IP, DNS, and DHCP information, no matter where it resides.

LightMesh IPAM is subscription-based and prices start at just $200 per month for up to fifty subnets and ten thousand IP addresses and $500 per month for five hundred subnets and a million IP addresses. Furthermore, a free 30-day trial version is available.

Read 7 Best Tools for Managing IP Addresses – 2019 by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Best DNS Tools to Assist Network Admins – 2019

The Domain Name Service, or DNS, is one of the cornerstones of modern IP networks, including the Internet, the best-known network of all. The DNS’ sole purpose is to find the IP address of a computer when all you have is its hostname. As simple as that may seem, it’s actually quite elaborate. On the Internet scale, any user must be able to find the IP address of any resource, wherever that resource may be. On the local scale, DNS must resolve any hostname to its local IP address and forward Internet address requests to public DNS servers. To assist network administrators in managing DNS efficiently, several different tools are available. Some will help with setting up DNS while others will assist with troubleshooting or monitoring your DNS environment. Today, we’ll be reviewing some of the best DNS tools available today.

We’ll start off our discussion by trying to explain what DNS is and how it works. We’ll do our best to keep it as non-technical as possible. Next, we’ll discuss DNS management. We’ll have a look at the different aspects of managing DNS. And since this article is all about tools, we’ll then introduce the different types of DNS tools that are available to network administrators. This will naturally lead us to our core subject: the best DNS tools available. We will review some of the most useful tools we could think of.

DNS – What It Is And How It Works

In the early days of the Internet, only a few handfuls of computers were interconnected in order to avoid having to address them using cumbersome IP addresses, each computer has a hostname and each interconnected computer had a text file—aptly named “hosts”—which contained the IP address to hostname correspondence of every other computer on the network.

As long as there were a limited number of interconnected computers, that worked fine but it soon became apparent that some better way of distributing the information had to be devised. DNS was thus specifically created for that very purpose. In a nutshell, DNS is a distributed version of the “hosts” file which can resolve the IP address of any hostname. The beauty of DNS is that it is a distributed system where each local administrator is only responsible for keeping data about the hosts he manages up to date on DNS servers.

Typically each organization has a local DNS server. It is responsible for resolving IP addresses for local resources. That server will transmit any request it can’t resolve to its forwarding server, a public DNS server on the Internet. I’ll spare you the details of exactly how they do it but each public name server can resolve any public hostname to a public IP address. By extension, your local DNS server can do that too as it will forward requests to a public server.

One of the drawbacks of this architecture is that resolving an IP address can take a while as many servers might have to forward the request to another one. This effect is mitigating by local caching. Whenever a DNS server requests some information on behalf or another server, it will still cache that information. The next time it is requested, it won’t have to fetch it from another server. Caching is not eternal, though, and sooner or later it will expire and require the servers to query other servers.

Managing DNS

Managing local DNS is an important task. Every time a new device—be that a computer, a printer or any piece of network-connected equipment—is added to the network, its hostname and corresponding IP address must be added to the local DNS server. Depending on how you manage IP addresses and what tool you use, this could be a totally manual process, a fully automated one or anything in between.

Another important aspect of managing DNS is ensuring that the name resolution of your publicly available resources—such as your website, for example—is correctly configured and available on public DNS servers for any user to be able to reach them.
Monitoring is another important part of DNS administration. When the DNS is down, no hostname to IP address is possible and all interconnected resources become unreachable. This is definitely something one would want to avoid.

Different Types Of DNS Tools

There are several different types of DNS tools available. The first type is DNS audit tools. These types of tools will perform forward and reverse DNS requests to validate that both match. This is very useful as mismatched forward and reverse entries can cause all sorts of problems.

Another type of tool can be used to analyze the structure of your DNS architecture. It can discover the relations between DNS servers and help you have a more deterministic approach to DNS resolution. As we said earlier, DNS request forwarding can end up taking time so you’re better with an efficient architecture which this type of tool will help you confirm. DNS benchmarking software can also be used for that purpose. Just as it can be used to compare the performance of one public DNS server against another, which could help you determine the best public DNS server to forward requests to.

Next are command line tools which are typically used to test name resolution by manually querying servers. Nslookup and Dig are two such commands which we’ll look into later.

The last type of tools is online tools that can be used to run various DNS-oriented tests from multiple locations throughout the globe. These tools can give you a pretty good idea of how your hosts are resolved from distant clients.

The Best DNS Tools

With so many types of tools available, finding the best ones was no easy task. We’ve tried to find at least one of each type of tools to give you an idea of what’s available. We’re therefore including a mix of locally-installable software packages, command-line tools which are already built right into most operating systems and online tools.

1. The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset (FREE Trial)

SolarWinds Engineers Toolset Desktop Console

Our first two tools are part of the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset. Perhaps you already know SolarWinds. Perhaps you’re even using some of its products. The company has carved itself a solid reputation for making some of the best network administration tools. Its flagship product, the Network Performance Monitor, is recognized by many as one of the best network monitoring tools. SolarWinds is also famous for its many free tools. They are smaller tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrators. Two examples of these free tools are the Advanced Subnet Calculator and the Kiwi Syslog Server.

Back to the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset, this is a bundle of over 60 different tools. Some of the included tools are free tools from SolarWinds whereas others are tools that are exclusively found as part of this package. When it comes to DNS tools, two of them are included in the Engineer’s Toolset, the SolarWinds DNS Audit and the SolarWinds DNS Structure Analyzer. As for the other tools the bundle contains, we’ll get back to them shortly.

1.1 SolarWinds DNS Audit (FREE Trial With The Engineer’s Toolset)

The SolarWinds DNS Audit tool is mostly useful to administrators who manage and configure their DNS manually. What it does is pretty simple but its benefits are incredible. This tool will scan a range of IP address and issue reverse-DNS queries for each address. Reverse DNS is the process of interrogating a DNS server to get the hostname corresponding to an IP address instead of the contrary. A properly configured DNS server should have a reverse DNS record for each forward record it contains.

SolarWinds ETS - DNS Audit

So, once the tool has finished resolving each IP address into a hostname, t will try to resolve each hostname to its IP address and it will report on any record where a mismatch is found. The result of the audit is shown in tabular form with one line for each IP address scanned.

1.2 SolarWinds DNS Structure Analyzer (FREE Trial With The Engineer’s Toolset)

This next tool from the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset, the SolarWinds DNS Structure Analyzer tool is very different in what it does and how it operates. This tool will discover and create visual diagrams the of hierarchical DNS structure of your organization’s DNS resource records, including root servers, name servers, global top-level domain servers, cName pointers, and authoritative address servers. The tool also makes it easy to distinguish the relationships between multiple name servers and target IP addresses using the DNS structure diagram. Furthermore, redirections from one DNS server to another are graphically displayed.

The SolarWinds DNS Structure Analyzer tool might not be for everyone but for those who have a need for this type of tool, it can’t really be beaten. And since it is part of the Engineer’s Toolset free trial, we can only suggest you give it a try and see for yourself if you have a need for it.

Other Tools Included In The Engineer’s Toolset

The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset includes many great troubleshooting tools. You’ll find tools such as Ping Sweep, DNS Analyzer and TraceRoute which can be used to perform network diagnostics and help resolve complex network issues quickly. And for the security-conscious network administrators, some of the tools can be used to simulate attacks on your network and help identify vulnerabilities.

The SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset also has some excellent monitoring and alerting tools. Some will monitor your devices and raise alerts when they detect availability or health issues. This can often give you enough time to react before users even notice there is a problem. And to make thing even better, you can use some of the included tools for configuration management and log consolidation.

Here are some of the tools you’ll find in the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset besides the DNS audit and DNS Structure Analyzer 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
  • DNS Structure Analyzer
  • DNS Audit
  • IP Address Management
  • WAN Killer

There are many tools included in the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset. Too many to mention them all, actually. With a free 14-day trial available, Perhaps your best bet is to download the bundle and see for yourself all that the toolset can do for you.

2. GRC’s DNS Benchmark

The name of this tool says a lot about what it is. If you’ve been wondering if your choice of DNS servers is impeding your Internet experience, the GRC’s DNS Benchmark will provide a unique, comprehensive, accurate and free Windows—and Linux when using Wine—utility to determine the exact performance of local and remote DNS servers.

GRC's DNS Benchmark - Screenshot

Although GRC’s DNS Benchmark is packed with features to satisfy the needs of even the most demanding and seasoned network administrators—and it offers features designed to enable serious DNS performance investigation, the tool is also extremely easy to use, even for casual and first-time users. One of the best features of this tool is its price. Although the product is no open-source, it is free and anyone can download it.

3. Nslookup

Next on our list is a pretty useful troubleshooting tool that’s included with most operating systems—including all modern versions of Windows—called nslookup. It is often overlooked as a troubleshooting tool yet it brings real value. Nslookup is one of the most basic tools you can use to verify the proper configuration of DNS servers. Its name is short for “name server lookup”.
Seeing nslookup at work is the best way to understand what it does and how you can benefit from it so we’ll start with a small demonstration. Using the command is rather simple, you just type it in followed by whatever you’re querying. For our example, we’ll use www.google.com.

The command would look like this:

C:\>nslookup www.google.com

And this is what the response from nslookup would look like:

Server: my.local.dns.server 

Address: 10.10.10.10
Non-authoritative answer:

Name: www.google.com

Addresses: 2607:f8b0:4002:80f::2004
172.217.4.4

The first two lines of the response tell you what server it is using to obtain the information and that server’s IP address. By default, it will use the first DNS server that is configured on the computer where you use the command. In the second nslookup tells you it is providing a non-authoritative answer. This is not something to be concerned about. It just means that the server giving the answer has obtained the information from another server. In fact, it would be rather surprising to obtain an authoritative answer from your local computer’s DNS server. You’d typically see that when querying about another local machine. Next, of course, is the information about your actual query. Nslookup first lists the name that you queried, followed by the actual answer or, in the specific case, answers. In our example, the query returned both an IPV6 and an IPV4 address.

Nslookup also has an interactive mode which you activate by typing the command by itself. Once the tool is started—you’ll notice that the command prompt changes to a “>”—you’re ready to answer commands directly.

There are many different ways that you can query DNS servers with nslookup. You can fetch only information about mail server settings by typing “set type=mx” in interactive mode. You can also connect to a specific DNS server. For example, to connect to Google’s DNS server, you would type “server 8.8.8.8”.

Nslookup has many more options than that and it helps to be knowledgeable about the Domain Name Service to get the most out of it. Although this is a dated tool and many would like to see it replaced by something more modern—such as dig, our next tool—it remains one of the most-used DNS tools.

4. Dig

Dig is another command-line tool that has been gaining in popularity. Its purpose is almost identical to nslookup’s but its syntax is a bit different. Also, answers from dig are a bit more elaborate than those from nslookup. This is one of the reasons why dig has not managed to supersede its older cousin. Another reason is that, while nslookup is on almost every system, dig is only present on some Linux distributions. It can be installed on any Linux or Windows computer but, to many administrators, why bother when nslookup gets the job done?

This is what a typical dig query looks like:

$ dig -t mx www.google.com

; <<>> DiG 9.10.3-P4-Ubuntu <<>> -t mx www.google.com
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 40683
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 0, AUTHORITY: 1, ADDITIONAL: 1

;; OPT PSEUDOSECTION:
; EDNS: version: 0, flags:; udp: 4096
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;www.google.com. IN MX

;; AUTHORITY SECTION:
google.com. 60 IN SOA ns1.google.com. dns-admin.google.com. 164707171 900 900 1800 60

;; Query time: 61 msec
;; SERVER: 127.0.1.1#53(127.0.1.1)
;; WHEN: Wed Aug 09 14:34:03 EDT 2017
;; MSG SIZE rcvd: 113

As you can see, it is much more elaborate than a typical nslookup’s response.

5. Online DNS tools – DNSstuff

The last set of DNS tools we want to talk about are online DNS tools. Those tools can be very handy as they give you a different perspective, that of a remote device somewhere on the Internet. There are countless websites which offer DNS tools. They vary in the exact tools they offer but all of them will at least let you obtain a public IP address from a fully qualified domain name.

DNSstuff - Screenshot

For example, DNSstuff is one such website which offers about a dozen different tools to test various aspects of DNS, including an elaborate and easy-to-use equivalent of nslookup or dig. The main drawback of these types of tools is that you can’t usually pick a specific DNS server. What you get is the perspective from a remote Internet location.

Read Best DNS Tools to Assist Network Admins – 2019 by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Best Nagios Alternatives for Network Monitoring – 2019

Through more than 15 years since it first saw the light, Nagios — which was formerly called NetSaint — has remained one of the best-known network monitoring platform. It used to be best suited to monitor system up or down status and provide alerting whenever something went down but it has grown into a true full-featured monitoring platform. Today, there are two competing versions of Nagios. There’s the free and open-source Nagios core and there’s the Nagios XI, a paid monitoring tool based on Nagios Core with added features. Today, we’re having a look at some of the top Nagios alternatives for network monitoring. This is a very active field of information technology and many alternatives are now available.

Before we have a look at the available Nagios alternatives, we’ll begin by talking about Nagios itself, what its best features are and why it has become the popular tool that it is. We’ll then have a look at the tool’s drawbacks, at the reasons why anyone would want to replace it with an alternative solution. And then, we’ll briefly discuss network monitoring in general. We’ll have a look at how most tools do it using the Simple Network Management Protocol. And finally, we’ll be ready for the big reveal and we’ll review some of the best Nagios alternatives for network monitoring.

About Nagios

Nagios was originally known as NetSaint. This open-source tool is the brainchild of Ethan Galstad and a group of developers. The Nagios name is a recursive acronym of “Nagios Ain’t Gonna Insist On Sainthood”, with “Sainthood” making reference to the original name, NetSaint, Interestingly, Agios is also the Greek word “saint”. The name was changed in response to a legal challenge by owners of a similar trademark.

Nagios is a very good monitoring tool for networks and servers. It will run on CentOS or RedHat Enterprise Linux. It could also run as a virtual machine on a Windows host but it is essentially a Linux piece of software. Unlike most other network tools on this list, Nagios doesn’t rely solely on SNMP to monitor network devices. It has its own proprietary system built right into its core engine, which communicates with devices to gather status reports. The metrics, which are gathered on a regular basis by the monitor, appear as live data in the tool’s dashboard and you can also opt to store data for later analysis. This combination makes for a rather powerful tool.

Nagios XI Home Dashboard

Despite its use of a proprietary data gathering scheme, Nagios will provide all the data you need to perform network monitoring and capacity planning. It has a very comfortable dashboard where you can quickly view the status of your network. This product also has one of the best alerting systems to notify administrators when something odd is detected. After all, that was the tool’s first goal to provide alerting for abnormal situations and it still is one of its strengths.

Nagios benefits from a huge community that supports the open-source Nagios Core version and provides development of many advanced plugins, giving the tool an impressive breadth in terms of monitoring capabilities.

What’s Wrong With Nagios?

This article’s title could lead many readers to wonder what could be wrong with Nagios to warrant replacing it with an alternative tool. Well, there’s actually nothing wrong with Nagios per se. It’s been there for almost 20 years and it’s still going strong. But the fact that nothing’s wrong with Nagios does not necessarily mean that there are no other excellent products out there that you should consider. And if you’re still shopping for a monitoring platform and have heard of Nagios, perhaps you’d like to know what other options there are.

Another reason why you might be looking at replacing Nagios is if you’ve been using the free Nagios Core and want to know, before investing in Nagios XI, what other options are available. No matter why you’re here, we’re about to reveal what our top picks are but first, let’s have a brief look at how network monitoring typically works.

How Does Network Monitoring Work?

When it comes to monitoring networks, there are several ways you can go about it. The method you use largely depends on the level of detail you want, the efforts you’re willing to put and the money you can spend. Details-wise Most 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.

Most network monitoring tools use the Simple Network Management Protocol, or SNMP, to accomplish their feat. SNMP is a feature that is built into most network equipment. SNMP-enabled devices have counters and gauges that can be remotely read by monitoring systems. For instance, there are gauges for processor and memory utilization and bytes in and out counters for each interface.

While avoiding much of the unnecessary technicalities, let’s try to explain how it works. For gauge-type parameters like CPU and memory utilization, it’s a simple matter of reading them using SNMP. For counter-type parameters, things can be a little bit more elaborate. Network devices typically don’t have bandwidth utilization gauges for their interfaces. What they have are bytes in and bytes out counters that keep incrementing as traffic passes. They have one of these pair of counters for each interface. By the way, networking devices also have similar errors in and errors out counters that some monitoring tools can use to monitor 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 a known interval—typically 5 minutes—and reads the bytes in and bytes out counters of each monitored interface. The rest is just maths. The tool subtracts the previous values of the counter from the current value. The result is the number of bytes—or errors—in or out in five minutes. It then multiplies the number by 8 (as there are 8 bits in a byte) and divides them by 300 (as there are 300 seconds in five minutes) to get the average bandwidth usage in bits per second over the past five minutes.

It’s important to realize that, while this method has been used for as long as monitoring tools have existed, it has some limitations. In particular, any short peak in network traffic will be completely invisible to the monitoring tool. Take, for example, a 100 Mbps interface. If it carries no traffic for 75 seconds, then 100 Mbps for 30 seconds and the no traffic again for another 75 seconds, an SNMP monitoring tool would should its utilization as 50% although it was maxed out for half of the 5 minutes interval.

The Best Nagios Alternatives

A quick search using Google or any other search engine will reveal dozens of network monitoring tools. Some are commercial products, others are open-source. Our list of the top Nagios alternatives contains mostly paid tools as they often offer a richer feature set. All the paid tools on our list have a free trial version which is either limited in time or capabilities, enabling you to try any of them. Since some of these tools require considerable efforts to set them up correctly, you might want to avoid trying too many, though.

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, the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor, or NPM, is a complete network monitoring solution which consistently scores among the top in its class. The tool features a user-friendly GUI interface that administrators can use to monitor devices and to configure the tool. SolarWinds is also famous for its free tools, each addressing a specific aspect of network administration.

Back to the Network Performance Monitor, let’s see what it has to offer. Adding a device to the Network Performance Monitor is easy. You simply specify the device’s IP address or hostname and SNMP connection parameters. The system will query the device and list all the monitorable SNMP parameters. All you have to do is pick those you want to include on your dashboard, graphs and reports. And talking about adding devices, there’s virtually no limit to the number of devices you can add. This tool’s scalability is one of its best features. From a handful of devices to thousands of them, it’s got you covered.

SolarWinds NPM - Network Summary

Since alerting is one of Nagios’ strengths and an important feature of monitoring tools, let’s see how that looks in NPM. Its alerting system is actually second to none. It is highly customizable if you have non-standard needs 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.

Prices for the SolarWinds Network Performace Monitor start at $2 955 for up to 100 monitored elements and goes up according to the number of monitored elements. Some optional tools can also be added to NPN, potentially raising its price. If you’d rather 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 excellent alternative to Nagios. This tool 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 for basic monitoring. Some advanced functions are available as extra sensors. Due to its integrated nature, it is quicker and easier to install than many network monitoring tools. Paessler claims you could start monitoring within 2 minutes. PRTG offers a choice of several different user interfaces. There’s a Windows enterprise console, an Ajax-based web interface, and mobile apps for Android and iOS.

PRTG Screenshot

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. This feature is accessory in making the software so fast to install. The tool’s map feature will let you create custom maps with your monitoring data, offering a unique way of displaying data. As for its alerting features, they are 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. A powerful API lets you write your own notification scripts.

PRTG has a relatively simple pricing structure. There’s a free version which is full-featured but will limit your monitoring ability to 100 sensors. Note that unlike most similar tools each monitored parameter counts as one sensor. So, monitoring bandwidth on each port of a 48-port switch will require 48 sensors. There’s also a 30-day trial version which allows unlimited sensors but will revert back to 100 sensors once the trial period is over. If you need to monitor more than 100 sensors, 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.

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 tool but it has evolved into a full management tool with proactive monitoring for network traffic, applications, virtual environments, and device configurations. Today, WhatsUp Gold has everything you can expect from an enterprise-grade monitoring tool, and it’s all available via its 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 even a map view that’s clickable for more information on each device.

WhatsUp Gold Screenshot

WhatsUp Gold also has an excellent alerting system to let you know about problems before users notice them. Through the tool’s Alert Center, you can opt to use predefined thresholds or set them as per your specific needs. The alerting system lets you create action policies which define what happens when a monitored parameter changes state. 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—but it is limited to monitoring a maximum of five devices. For more devices, 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 well-known maker of network management tools. Its OpManager tool is a complete management solution that will address most monitoring needs. The tool runs on either Windows or Linux and is loaded with excellent features. One of them is its auto-discovery feature which can map your network, giving you a uniquely customized dashboard.
The ManageEngine OpManager dashboard is another of the tools strong points. It is super easy to use and navigate and has drill-down functionality. If you’re into mobile apps, they are available for tablets and smartphones allowing you to access the tool from anywhere. Overall, this is a very polished and professional product.

ManageEngine OpManager Dashboard

Alerting in OpManager is just as good as all its other components. There is 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 ManageEngine OpManager before buying, a free version is available. But rather than a time-limited trial, this one is feature-limited. It won’t, for instance, let you monitor more than ten devices. Although this could be enough for testing purposes, it is insufficient for all but the smallest networks. For more devices, you have to 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

Cacti 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. Cati also bears some historical significance. Aside from MRTG–which is the mother of all network monitoring tools and a distant parent, This is possibly the oldest monitoring tool still around. And that wouldn’t be so if it was not an excellent tool.

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 have access to a different set of graphs, a useful feature for large deployments with multiple support teams. Cacti also boasts an easy to use albeit somewhat antiquated web-based interface. It can scale from a small business or home LANs 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. These templates already include most of the elements you might want to monitor. 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 the product is a good alerting feature. But with its open-source PHP code, nothing stops anyone from adding it.

Read Best Nagios Alternatives for Network Monitoring – 2019 by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

10 Best Managed File Transfer (MFT) Tools and Software

Ever since the very first days of the Internet, back when it was only comprised of universities and government research facilities, people have been exchanging documents in electronic form. In fact, several protocols have been created for no other purposes that transferring files. One can easily think of the File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, and its variants and derivatives FTPS, SFTP, and TFTP. But lately, email has been the primary way of exchanging files. It is practical, everybody knows how to use it and it appears to be safe enough. But email has its limitations.

For starters, there’s usually a maximum size to an attachment. This can be problematic as files such as high-definition video or high-resolution images can easily exceed those limitations. And security is another major concern, contrary to popular thinking, email is not very secure. To address some of the shortcomings of other methods of file transfer, Managed File Transfer, or MFT, was invented. Today, we’re trying to shed some light on this subject by reviewing the best software for managed file transfer.

We’ll start off by having a deeper look at managed file transfer in general. Different tools come with different feature sets yet they all share a common goal and some common features. Once we’re more familiar with the general concepts of managed file transfer, we’ll have a look at the different types of tools you can find on the market. Although each tool is unique, they can be grouped in just a few categories. Finally, with all this background information behind us, we’ll be ready to review some of the best software we could find.

About Managed File Transfer

Managed File Transfer (MFT) can refer to a software or a service which manages the secure transfer of data from one computer to another through a network. Although this definition is rigorously exact, it doesn’t tell you much more than the software or service name. Typically, MFT software is marketed to corporate enterprises as an alternative to ad-hoc file transfer solutions such as FTP, HTTP, and others.

MFT generally offers a higher level of security and control than FTP or other similar protocols. Features include reporting—including notification of successful file transfers, non-repudiation, auditability, global visibility, automation of file transfer-related activities and processes, end-to-end security, and performance metrics/monitoring. In a nutshell, you can think of Managed File Transfer as FTP on steroids. Lots of steroids.

Concretely, you may be asking yourself, how is Managed File Transfer Different from other technologies. The answer is simple, it is very different. MFT applications usually have all or most of the following features:

  • They can support multiple file transfer protocols including FTP/S, OFTP, SFTP, SCP, AS2, and HTTP/S.
  • They can securely transfer files over public and private networks using encrypted file transfer protocols.
  • They securely store files using multiple data encryption methods
  • They can automate the file transfer processes between trading partners and exchanges including the detection and handling of failed file transfers.
  • They can authenticate users against existing user directories such as LDAP and Active Directory
  • They do interoperate with existing applications using documented APIs (application programming interfaces)
  • Last but not least, they generate detailed reports on user and file transfer activity

In a way, Managed File Transfer uses existing technologies and protocols. The different available software does not try to reinvent the wheel. The tools simply tie every element of the file transfer process into a coherent package.

Managed File Transfer Software: Multiple Options

As we’ve indicated earlier, Managed File Transfer tools can either take the form of local software that needs to be installed on a server. Some vendors also offer the possibility of purchasing an appliance with the software already installed and, to a certain extent, configured. All that is typically left to do is to add the configuration parameters which are specific to your organization. This can be an interesting option for those looking for an integrated solution with total support from a single vendor. They usually run a hardened version of a basic operating system stripped of any unnecessary components. Nowadays, Linux and BSD are often at the base of these appliances.

Alternatively, Managed File Transfer can also use the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. In this case, the Managed File Transfer is a subscription-based service but all the actual software and the equipment t runs on is located in the cloud. Since most MFT systems allow local AD or LDAP authentication, these cloud services must somehow hook into your directory service. This can either be done completely remotely or through the use of a local agent that runs on a domain controller or another computer on your network.

The Best Managed File Transfer Software

As we were looking for the best Managed File Transfer software, one thing quickly became obvious: many products and services are available. We’ve tried to weed out the market and we’re bringing you what we believe to be the best software for Managed File Transfer.

1. Serv-U Managed File Transfer Server from SolarWinds (FREE Trial)

First on our list is a product from SolarWinds, one of the best-known maker of network administration tools and software. In the past twenty years, the company has produced some of the best tools. Its flagship product, the Network Performance Monitor is regarded as one of the very best network monitoring platforms. SolarWinds is also famous for its many free tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrators.

When it comes to Managed File Transfer, it’s no surprise to a product from SolarWinds on this list. The Serv-U Managed File Transfer Server is an extended version of the well-known Serv-U FTP server which can manage file transfers using several protocols such as FTP, FTPS, SFTP, and HTTP/S over IPv4 and IPv6 networks. The software enables ad-hoc file sharing and allows peer-to-peer file transfers from the web and mobile devices. This tool will let you maintain and demonstrate compliance with PCI DSS, HIPAA, FISMA, SOX, and other standards related to data security and privacy. It can integrate with NAS/SAN and external database servers, allowing for easy storage access.

Serv-U Management Console

The Serv-U Managed File Transfer Server will let you instantly transfer files using simple drag-and-drop Web and mobile interfaces. No matter what device you’re using, it got you covered. Through the tool’s centralized web-based management console, you can easily automate file transfer management and administration tasks. Its strong technical foundation provides true data security and compliance. The optional Serv-U Gateway add-on provides defense-in-depth security to Serv-U deployments. It ensures that no data is stored in the DMZ in order to comply with PCI DSS and other regulatory frameworks.

Security-wise, you can integrate Serv-U with your existing AD/LDAP environment to sync user accounts and simplify authentication. The tool will let you apply limits and custom settings for file transfer operations to users, groups, domains, and servers. The software also has integrated monitoring, letting you track file server startup, configuration, and domain activity for fast and easy troubleshooting. Alerting is also included and will ensure that you’re notified of any suspicious activities. The system can send email, run programs, delete files, and write Windows event log messages based on triggered events.

Prices for the Serv-U Managed File Transfer Server from SolarWinds are based on server installations and start at $2 995 per server. If you’d rather try the product before committing to purchasing it, a free, fully functional 30-day trial is available.

2. Globalscape EFT Cloud Services

As you may have guessed from its name, the Globalscape EFT Cloud Services is a cloud-based secure and scalable file sharing and transfer service. It uses Globalscape’s Enhanced File Transfer (EFT) as its backbone. Organizations of all sizes can use it to safely and easily store data in the Cloud, move files over a protected network without any downtime. The service brings you the peace of mind of knowing that everything is backed up continuously.

GlobalScape EFT Screenshot

The tool’s console lets administrators see everything that’s happening in real time and allows them to instantly generate preconfigured and fully customizable reports. Those reports can be used to track all activity over a specific time period and they can include a user-defined level of detail. Administrators can segment users to prevent stealth information technology and other internal intrusions. In addition, a suite of automation tools is included to help manage folders, simplify workflows, and reduce user errors.

3. GoAnywhere MFT Standard

GoAnywhere MFT Standard from Linoma Software gives you the ability to exchange files and data throughout your organization. It can operate both internally and externally. Whether one of your users is trying to share information with a colleague or someone within your organization is trying to send important files to a customer, these tasks can be accomplished using the intelligent interface offered by this tool.

GoAnywhere MFT Screenshot

The software allows you to automate workflows and collaborate with co-workers. Through the whole file transfer process, all files remain completely secure and encrypted at all times. With GoAnywhere MFT Standard, the process of transferring files from one location to another is effortless. The tool offers definable automated workflows, unlimited file transfer via email, comprehensive encryption and security, extensive server connection support and detailed audit reports.

4. MOVEit Managed File Transfer System

The MOVEit Managed File Transfer System gives network administrators the ability to take control of all managed file transfer activity throughout their organization via a unified console. Users have the ability to send files to one another whenever necessary, and you’ll always be able to keep track of where files are located.

Ipswitch MoveIT Screenshot

The MOVEit Managed File Transfer System features security and encryption measures which work to keep your data protected. Using this software, you’ll be able to guarantee the safety of sensitive corporate data. Furthermore, the MOVEit Managed File Transfer System includes a fail-over function. This ensures constant reliability by preventing downtime and data loss. The system can also be accessed via mobile devices so that file transfer can occur on whichever device your users need.

5. Coviant Diplomat Managed File Transfer (MFT)

The Coviant Diplomat Managed File Transfer (MFT) software can be used to automate, integrate, and control internal as well as external secure file transfers. It uses Intelligent File Transfer with embedded secure file transfer logic. This lets file transfer professionals quickly design and deploy file transfer jobs with fewer errors and failed transfers. Among the product’s key features, it offers a centrally-controlled managed file transfer which can simplify file transfer management. It can also automate PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) and provide secure file transfer. The tool can help you meet your trading partner’s specifications.

Managing file transfers has gotten more critical and challenging to organizations and information technology departments. Data security and privacy have become critical business concerns with frequent media exposure of major data losses and thefts impacting the reputations of many corporations. The Coviant Diplomat Managed File Transfer software can help you mitigate these risks.

6. Accellion Kiteworks

Accellion Kiteworks is a content management service and platform with a strong focus on the mobility needs of the modern work environment. Using Kiteworks, employees can securely access, edit, create, sync, and store content from virtually any corporate or personal location and using any device. The platform lets users collaborate with one another, both inside and outside of the organization through messaging and email and include secure links to shared content. The tool’s collaboration features also include elements such as “virtual data rooms” and “deal rooms” where team members can collaborate on content in real time.

Although the approach used by Accellion Kiteworks might be quite different from that of most of its competitors, it’s unique collaboration features can appeal to many different types of organizations. While this might not be the ideal tool for everyone, it might very well be exactly what you’ve been looking for. If your primary need for Managed File Transfer is teamwork and collaboration, be sure to give the tool a look.

7. Citrix ShareFile

Citrix is better known as a virtualization company than a software publisher yet it does make some interesting tools. For instance, the Citrix ShareFile is a data and file storage and management service for businesses. The service provides secure storage in the cloud, at the client’s location, or both. By choosing a hybrid solution such as this one, you get the best of both worlds. The system also offers sharing files to mobile and other devices safely and securely.

Citrix Sharefile Dashboard

IMAGECitrix Sharefile provides a safe and secure environment where businesses can store and share files company-wide. Those services are available to large as well as small businesses. The tool allows employees and satellite offices to have access to important files wherever they are in the world. All they need is an Internet connection and a compatible device. The service can be used with mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets.

8. Direct FTP

Direct FTP is primarily an FTP client but it offers a variety of capabilities to easily transfer and upload files, as well as editing features that can be used for certain types of files that have been uploaded to an FTP server. Those advanced features justify the product’s presence on this list. The tool boasts an intuitive interface. With it, file management can be handled with ease, requiring only a few simple clicks and drags to start uploading files. Other features such as the Transfer Activity window work towards providing users with more control over their actions within the application.

Unlike most other FTP tools, Direct FTP offers a built-in code editor. It features support for HTML, JavaScript, and other common types of code. It lets you easily make edits to certain types of files. The code editor offers useful features such as code completion and language highlighting. This lets you manage files that have been uploaded to the FTP server without having to transfer them into another code editing program.

9. IBM Managed File Transfer

IBM requires no introduction. The company’s Managed File Transfer program offers a host of products. The IBM Managed File Transfer system was designed to help organizations better utilize file transfers by making them faster and more secure. In order to accomplish that, IBM Managed File Transfer uses a variety of systems which combine to help organizations simplify their file transfer process and increase the security of that process. Files can be transferred between individuals and devices within the organization itself but they can as well be transferred between two organizations, such as in business-to-business (B2B) commercial transactions.

Using IBM Control Center, IBM Sterling Secure Proxy, IBM Sterling Connect:Direct, IBM Sterling File Gateway, and the add-on IBM Aspera High-Speed Add-on for Connect:Direct, IBM Managed File Transfer automates and secures the file transfer process. Even better, it does so faster than most traditional FTP systems.

10. MassTransit

Last on our list is MassTransit by Acronis, a Managed File Transfer system designed to help larger organizations handle large data transfer loads securely and reliably, with little effort, and at speeds substantially faster than many standard File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) file transfer methods.

Mass Transit Screenshot

MassTransit can handle very large file sizes—of over 100 GB—and it provides detailed tracking of files transfers in real time. The tool can scale to meet the file transfer needs of nearly any type of organization. The software includes administrative features which help automate file transfer processes and enforce workflow management. In addition, end users will most likely appreciate the tool’s web client interfaces that are designed for ease of use and require minimal training.

Read 10 Best Managed File Transfer (MFT) Tools and Software by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter