8 Best Performance and Load Testing Tools

When you need to test the performance of a network, you need to use the right tools. In fact, this is true of most activities. If like me, you’ve ever tried to drive a nail with a screwdriver, you’ll certainly agree with that.

Performance and Load Testing Tools

So today, we’re going to have a look at performance and load testing tools. More specifically, we’ll review some of the very best network performance and load testing tools. And since the concept of performance and load testing is somewhat vague, you’ll soon find out that the tools are varied.

We’ll start off today by discussing performance and load testing. After all, it can only help better understand what’s coming afterward. We will first explain what performance is and what factors are affecting it. We’ll also do our best to explain what load testing is in the context of performance testing. And we’ll finally get to the interesting part, a review of some of the best tools that can be used for performance and load testing.

Performance and Load Testing Explained

Let’s start with a disclaimer. In the context of this post which is about network administration, we’ll be referring to performance and load testing of networks and although some of the tools reviewed below can run other types of performance tests, they will not be our primary focus.

More than anything, network performance is a matter of user perception and, as such, it can’t easily be tested. However, perceived network performance is directly affected by several factors that can be tested. The first two are bandwidth and throughput. The first refers to the carrying capacity of a network. As an analogy, think of it as the number of lanes on 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 could have a “bandwidth” of 4 000 vehicles per hour but its current “throughput” could be only 400 vehicles per hour or 10% of its capacity.

Latency, delay, and jitter are other factors 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.

RELATED READING: Best Network Troubleshooting Tools (Reviewed)

OK, now that we have performance nailed down, how about load testing. Wen talking about load testing, what we typically have in mind is generating actual network traffic in order to be able to measure how the load impacts performance. Keeping our highway analogy, we all know how highway speeds are inversely proportional to the amount of traffic. This is why rush hour traffic is a common cause of traffic jams. Well, the same goes for network traffic and performance is generally inversely proportional to the amount of traffic. This is why load-testing is interesting.

No matter what, the best way to perform performance and load testing on networks is to simulate actual user traffic and measure the time it takes to complete a given set of tests. This will give you the best approximation of actual user perception.

The Best Performance And Load Testing Tools

We’ve scoured the market for some of the best performance and load testing tools. Here’s the result of our efforts. We’ve tried to include various types of tools for several reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to give you an idea of the variety of tools that are available. And since everyone’s needs are different, reviewing multiple types of tools increases the odds that one of them will be a match for your needs.

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

SolarWinds is kind of a famous name in the field of network administration. The company is known 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 to make things even better, SolarWinds is also the company behind several free tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrators such as the famous SolarWinds TFTP Server or the Advanced Subnet Calculator.

The WAN Killer Network Traffic Generator, which is part of the SolarWinds Network Engineer’s Toolset, has the sole purpose of generating network traffic. The idea is that administrators would use this tool in combination with performance testing tools, thereby testing performance under high traffic situations, something that not many tools do by themselves.

The tool will let you easily set the IP address and hostname you want to send the traffic load to. It will also let you specify parameters such as port number, packet size, and percentage of available bandwidth to use. It can even let you modify the Differentiated Services Code Point (DSCP) and Explicit Congest Notification (ECN) settings. This flexibility lets the tool mimic virtually any type of traffic.

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 effects on critical traffic. The level of fine-tuning the tool allows will let you simulate almost any type of situation.

As we indicated before, 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.

What Else Is There In 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 Engineers Toolset Desktop Console

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

FAQ: Does the WAN KILLER include a 14-day FREE trial version? Yes, it does.

With so many tools included in the SolarWinds Engineer’s Toolset, you should definitely give it a try and see for yourself what it can do for you. This product, 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 is available.

Official download link: https://www.solarwinds.com/engineers-toolset/registration

2. LAN Speed Test

LAN Speed Test from TotuSoft is a simple but powerful tool for measuring the performance of file transfers, hard drives, USB Drives, and also 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 the 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 website is no longer up, LAN Bench from Zack Saw is still available for download from several software download websites and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it. 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 which is a good thing. 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-GUI (NetIO’s Big Brother)

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 is now offered to the public. It is yet another free and simple network benchmarking tool and as you’d figure from its name, it is all about load testing. 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 on our list is because it includes an excellent Network Benchmark tool which is no longer available in Aida64. Make sure you get the right version. 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 From PassMark

PassMark’s PerformanceTest is a complete PC performance benchmarking software. It made it on our list because it features a very interesting advanced network testing tool that one can use to run network performance tests. The tool can run tests on both IPv4 and IPv6 networks and 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.

8. Wireshark

We weren’t sure if Wireshark should be included on this list. After all, this is not really a load testing tool and it’s not even a true performance testing tool. It is, however, one of the best all-around network troubleshooting tools and it can be used in conjunction with other tools on this list to see the exact impact of various network loading situations on network traffic.

Previously known as Ethereal, Wireshark has been around for 20 years. It is one of the most popular network sniffing tools. The tool has an interesting history. Before Wireshark, the market had essentially one GUI-based packet sniffer which was aptly called Sniffer. It was an excellent product that suffered from one major drawback, its price. Back in the late 90’s the product was about $1500 which was more than many could afford. This prompted the development of Ethereal as a free and open-source packet sniffer by a UMKC graduate named Gerald Combs who is still the primary maintainer of Wireshark twenty years later.

Wireshark Screenshot

Today, Wireshark has become the reference in packet sniffers. It is the de-facto standard and most other tools try to imitate it. This tool mainly does two things. First and foremost, it captures all traffic it sees on its interface. But it doesn’t stop there. The product’s real strength is in its powerful analysis capabilities which are actually so good that it’s not uncommon for users who use other tools for packet capture to run the analysis of the captured data using Wireshark. That’s how good it is. This is such a common way of using the product that, upon startup, you’re prompted to either open an existing capture file—potentially created with another tool—or start capturing traffic. Another strength of the tool is the filters it incorporates which let you zero in on exactly the data you’re interested in.

While Wireshark has a steep learning curve, it is well-worth learning at it will prove time and again to be an invaluable tool for many network troubleshooting tasks. It is definitely something that should be part of every network administrator’s toolset. And given its price—it’s free—there is no reason why not to use it.

Read 8 Best Performance and Load Testing Tools by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

5 Best QoS Testing And Measuring Tools

Quality of Service, or QoS, is an important feature of modern networks. The technology allows for different processing of different types of traffic, thereby ensuring that “important” traffic always has priority over less important one. While this simplistic explanation may make it look simple, it’s actually quite complex and, once you put it in place, you’ll want to find ways to see if it is working.

There is, of course, the obvious. If your important traffic works well even at times of high network usage, chances are that the QoS is doing its job. But to get a clear picture of how things are operating, QoS testing and measuring tools are the way to go. And they are also the topic of today’s post.

Today, we’ll first discuss QoS, explain what it is and, more importantly, how it works. We’ll learn about the classification and marking as well as queuing. Next, we’ll discuss the consequences of not using QoS and talk about the limitations of this powerful technology because, like everything else, it is not perfect. This will lead us to the most important part of this post, our reviews of a few of the best tools for QoS testing and measuring. We’ll explore the most interesting features of a handful of tools that we’ve found to be the most interesting.

So, What Is QoS, Exactly?

As typical network usage grew throughout the years to include more and more traffic of different types and as network congestion became more and more frequent and important, engineers soon realized that they needed a way to organize and prioritize traffic. After all, network congestion is not that bad if you can still ensure that important traffic has a chance to go through. This is what Quality of Service (QoS) is all about. QoS is not just one thing but instead a combination of features and technologies that work together to accomplish the goal of correctly prioritizing and routing network traffic. Through a lot of trial and error, what we have today is a relatively universal QoS system that can be used to reliably ensure that important traffic gets the attention it needs.

An important aspect of QoS is that it has to be implemented from end to end to be of any use. QoS is set up on the devices—such as switches and routers—that handle the traffic. Any such device in the data path must have the correct QoS configuration or else things it won’t have the expected effect. Also, each device must have a QoS configuration that is compatible with the others’. QoS uses priority markings to accomplish its magic. You can easily imagine what would happen if one device considered a higher priority number as more important while another did the opposite.

ALSO READ: 9 Best Network Diagram Mapping and Topology Software

How QoS works

Before we begin, I’d like to state a few things. First, I’m not a networking engineer. Second, the goal of this explanation is not to be absolutely accurate. I’m knowingly oversimplifying things and even perhaps twisting the reality to a certain extent to make this section easier to comprehend. My goal is to give you a general idea of how it works, not to train you on QoS configuration.

QoS works by identifying what traffic is more “important” and by prioritizing that traffic throughout the network. There’s no “golden rule” as to what traffic is more important than others. Obviously, some traffic–such as voice or streaming video–will normally be considered important simply because it won’t work properly when suffering from performance degradation. Some traffic–such as web browsing in many organizations–is considered unimportant and will therefore not be prioritized.

There are two components to QoS. First, the traffic must be classified and marked. Although there are several ways traffic can be marked, Differentiated Services in the most prevalent today. This is the one we will detail in a short while. The second component is the queuing which will ensure that priority data will be transmitted with as little delays as possible. Queueing is done at the network devices according to Differentiated Services markings.

Differentiated Services, or DiffServ, use a six-bit code in the header of each packed to mark is according to several classes of increasing priority. This marking is referred to as the Differentiating Services Code Point, or DSCP. Typical DSCP values range from 0, the least important traffic to 48, the most important one.

Classification And Marking

For network traffic to be correctly handled according to its priority, it must first be classified and marked appropriately. Marking can be done right at the source. For instance, it is not uncommon for IP telephone sets to mark their traffic as DSCP 46, a high-priority value. For traffic that is not marked at the source, things are a tad more complicated.

Unmarked traffic doesn’t actually exist with DiffServ. By default, all traffic is marked DSCP 0, the lowest priority. It is up to the first network device handling the traffic–usually a switch–to mark it. How is it done? Mostly through ACLs.

ACLs, or Access Control Lists, are a feature of most networking equipment that can be used to identify traffic. As their name implies, they were originally used as a mean of controlling access. ACLs identify traffic based on several criteria. Among them, the more common are the source and destination IP address and the source and destination port number. Throughout the years, ACLs have become more and more refined and can now be used to precisely select very specific traffic.

In the case of ACLs used to insert QoS markings, the rules not only specify how to recognize traffic but also what DSCP value to mark it with.

Queueing

Now that traffic is marked, all that left is to prioritize it according to its marking. This is normally accomplished by using multiple queues with increasing priority. Although DSCP values are 6-bit wide and can, therefore, range from 0 to 63, networking equipment rarely uses that many queues. It is typical for most networking equipment to use from three to seven queues with five being the most common number. With five queues and over 60 markings, you’ve certainly figured that more than one DSCP value goes in each queue.

The lowest priority queue, which is often called the best-effort or BE queue will be the one that gets the least attention from the routing engine. Conversely, the highest priority queue, which we often call real-time or RT will get the most attention. This ensures that “important” traffic will be routed or switched in priority. Of course, this also means that best-effort traffic might be seriously delayed and perhaps even never delivered. This is something to keep in mind when classifying and marking best-effort traffic.

RELATED READING: Best intrusion detection tools

Is QoS Mandatory?

The consequences of not using QoS vary widely. For instance, if your network carries no highly sensitive traffic such as Voice over IP (VoIP) or streaming video, not using QoS might make no difference. This is especially true when your current traffic levels are low. In fact, in a situation of low traffic, QoS brings almost no benefit.

But in situations where your network suffers from any—or many—issues such as over-utilization and congestion, then the absence of QoS will lead to all sorts of problems. For traffic that requires real-time or near-real-time transmission–such as Voice over IP, it could, for example, be the cause of garbled, chopped, or unintelligible Audio. Video streaming would also be affected, resulting in excessive buffering or pixelation during playback.

But even other services could suffer from the absence of QoS. Imagine that a corporate network user is trying to access an important web-based accounting system while at the same time, hundreds of users are on their lunch break, heavily browsing the Internet. This could render the accounting application unusable unless its traffic is correctly prioritized using QoS.

QoS Has Limitations

But as good as it is, implementing QoS is not the solution to every problem. Network administrators tend to think that implementing QoS will relieve them of the need to add bandwidth. While it is true that implementing QoS will cause an immediate and very apparent improvement in the operation of high-priority traffic. It will also degrade lower priority traffic.

QoS will take care of temporary network congestion and it will ensure that business-critical services continue to operate correctly while there is congestion but it won’t stop it. You still need to monitor network usage and have a capacity planning program in place.

The Best QoS Testing And Measuring Tools

We’ve seen how QoS is particularly beneficial to real-time traffic such as VoIP traffic or streaming view. It will not come as a surprise, then, that many QoS testing and measuring tools are actually VoIP testing tools. The tools we’ve included on our list share one thing in common, they will thoroughly measure the performance of networks when QoS is in use and they can, therefore, be used to validate that your QoS configuration is performing as expected.

1. SolarWinds VoIP And Network Quality Manager (FREE TRIAL)

Many network administrators are familiar with SolarWinds, the company that has been making some of the best network administration tools for the past 20 years. Its Network Performance Monitor, for instance, is an SNMP monitoring platform that consistently scores among the best ones available. The company is also famous for its free tools that were each designed to address a specific need of network administrators. They include a Free TFTP Server or an Advanced Subnet Calculator, for example.

For QoS testing and measuring, the SolarWinds VoIP and Network Quality Manager is what you need. It is a dedicated VoIP monitoring tool that is packed with great features. This tool can be used to monitor VoIP call quality metrics, including jitter, latency, packet loss, and MOS. It can also be used to troubleshoot VoIP call performance by correlating call issues with WAN performance. The system also offers real-time WAN monitoring is using Cisco IP SLA technology. Its visual VoIP call path trace feature lets you see and pinpoint call problems along the entire network path.

SolarWinds VoIP Network Quality Manager - Dashboard Summary

Setting up the SolarWinds VoIP and Network Quality Manager is easy and can be accomplished with just a few mouse clicks. The system automatically discovers Cisco IP SLA-enabled network devices, and typically deploys in less than an hour. And once it’s up and running, it provides a very deep insight into your VoIP networking environment.

This tool provides real-time monitoring of site-to-site WAN performance and it also has alerting features to notify you of any abnormal situation. It can help ensure that WAN circuits are performing as expected by utilizing Cisco IP SLA metrics, synthetic traffic testing, and custom performance thresholds and alerts. It also has visual VoIP call patch trace, an invaluable troubleshooting tool.

The SolarWinds VoIP and Network Quality Manager won’t only monitor your WAN circuits, it can also display the utilization and performance metrics of your VoIP gateways and PRI trunks. It can help with capacity planning by allowing you to measure voice quality in advance of new VoIP deployments.

Price for the SolarWinds VoIP and Network Quality Manager start $1,615 for up to 5 IP SLA source devices and 300 IP phones. Other licensing levels–including a device-unlimited license–are also available. And like with most SolarWinds tools, a free 30-day trial is available should you want to test the product before committing to purchasing it.

2. PRTG Network Monitor

The PRTG Network Monitor from Paessler AG is a well-known network monitoring system that does much more than just monitor network bandwidth usage. Through the use of sensors, which are like program add-ons, PRTG can be used to monitor various parameters of networks and systems. The tool can monitor any system, device, traffic, and application in your IT infrastructure. Two specific sensors are particularly interesting in the context of today’s post. The QoS sensor measures parameters such as UDP packet loss, jitter, Ethernet latency, etc. And for IP-SLA enabled Cisco devices, there is an IP-SLA sensor, which can be used to read similar metrics from Cisco devices. Both methods show you the quality of your VoIP connection and enable you to define what level of latency, jitter, etc. are acceptable. Whenever the threshold is exceeded, you can be notified and take appropriate measures to address the situation. Notifications can be sent via email or SMS or pushed to a mobile device using the free client app available for Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

PRTG - QoS Round Trip Sensor

Paessler claims that you could start monitoring with PRTG within a couple of minutes of starting the installation. The tool’s auto-discovery system will scan network segments and automatically recognize a wide range of devices and systems. It will then create sensors from predefined device templates. Specific QoS-related sensors will then need to be set up, making the installation a bit longer but this is still one of the fastest tools to set up.

The PRTG Network Monitor is available in a free, full-featured version which is limited to 100 sensors, where any monitored parameter counts as one sensor. For example, monitoring the bandwidth on each port of a 48-port switch will count as 48 sensors. To monitor more than 100 sensors, you’ll need to purchase a license. You’ll also use up a sensor for each instance of QoS that you want to monitor. Price increases with the number of sensors and starts at $1 600 for 500 sensors up to $14 500 for unlimited sensors. A free device-unlimited 30-day trial version is available.

3. ManageEngine OpManager

The ManageEngine OpManager is another one of the best-known network monitoring tools. It will monitor the vital signs of your servers (physical and virtual) as well as your network equipment and alert you as soon as something is out of specs. The tool features an intuitive user interface that will let you easily find the information you need. The product also features an excellent reporting engine along with some pre-built as well as custom reports. To complete the package, this system’s alerting features are also very complete.

ManageEngine OpManager - VoIP Monitoring

And when it comes to QoS monitoring, the ManageEngine OpManager‘s VoIP monitor option seamlessly integrates with OpManager to proactively monitor and report on your infrastructure’s capacity to handle VoIP calls. The tool uses Cisco IP SLA to continuously monitor critical Quality of Service parameters of VoIP networks. The monitored VoIP parameters include packet loss, delay, jitter, the Mean Opinion Score (MOS) and Round Trip Time (RTT).

The ManageEngine OpManager is priced based on the number of monitored devices. Prices range from $715 for 25 devices to $14 995 for 1000 devices. The VoIP monitoring option adds $125 per device that requires it. Like with most full-featured commercial monitoring tools, a free 30-day trial is available.

4. VoIPmonitor

VoIPmonitor is an open-source network packet sniffer with a commercial front end for monitoring most VoIP protocols. The tool, which runs on Linux, is designed to analyze the quality of VoIP calls based on network parameters such as delay variation (jitter) and packet loss according to the ITU-T G.107 E-model which predicts quality using the MOS scale. Call information, together with relevant statistics, are saved to a MySQL database. Optionally each call can be saved to a pcap file (a file capture format that can be opened with other analysis tools such as Wireshark) with either only SIP protocol or SIP, RTP, RTCP, T.38, and udptl protocols. VoIPmonitor can also decode speech and play it over its WEB GUI as well as save it to disk as a .WAV file. It natively supports the G.711 alaw and ulaw codecs and commercial plugins add support for G.722, G.729a, G.723, iLBC, Speex, GSM, Silk, iSAC, and OPUS. VoIPmonitor is also able to convert T.38 FAX to PDF.

VoIPmonitor Screenshot

The VoIPmonitor GUI front end is available either as a locally hosted server at prices ranging from $42/month for 10 channels to $917/month for 6000 channels or as a cloud-based service with prices varying from $20/month for 3 channels to $200/month for 200 channels. Both versions are available in a free and unlimited 30-day trial.

5. VQmon/EP

VQmon/EP is different from other QoS monitoring tools in that it is integrated into your devices. It claims to be the most widely used technology for monitoring the quality and performance of live VoIP calls. The system is integrated into a range of IP phones sold by Avaya, Mitel, Polycom, Cisco, and several other manufacturers. It provides built-in support for the industry-standard SIP QoE (RFC 6035) and RTCP XR (RFC 3611) reporting protocols, allowing network administrators to monitor call quality everywhere within their network without the use of probes.

VQmonEP Home Page

VQmon/EP can detect packet loss and jitter buffer discard events. It can also extract key information from DSP software and produce real-time call quality scores and diagnostic data. This tool generates listening and conversational quality MOS scores and R factors as well as a wide range of diagnostic data. Furthermore, VQmon/EP features real-time call quality thresholds, supporting either alert generation or automatic configuration.

Read 5 Best QoS Testing And Measuring Tools by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

The 5 Best Helpdesk Ticketing Systems (Reviewed)

Helpdesk ticketing systems are often big, complex pieces of software. This makes picking the best one for you need a somewhat daunting task. And if you consider that most of these systems are actually just components of even larger helpdesk management systems, you’re in for a challenge. In this post, we’ll try to explain these systems and their various components and review some of the best helpdesk ticketing systems we could find.

Best Helpdesk Ticketing Systems

We’ll start off by discussing helpdesk ticketing as it is, after all, the main topic of this post. We’ll also have a rather detailed look at other major components of helpdesk software such as asset management and knowledge base and a less detailed look as some less important features. We will then briefly explore the different deployment options that are local installation and cloud-based before we finally get to review the five best helpdesk ticketing systems.

About Helpdesk Ticketing

Ticketing is one of the most basic functions of an IT helpdesk and the primary element of most IT helpdesk software. When a user contacts the helpdesk to report an issue, a ticket is open. This is seemingly universal. The ticket will typically contain relevant information about the user, his equipment, the issue he or she is experiencing and the specific conditions where and when the issue arises. The ticket is also where each resolution step will be documented. It typically shows what’s been done, when and by who.

In addition to providing a storage facility for all relevant information about an issue, a helpdesk ticketing system will often also include some form of workflow management. For instance, tickets can be assigned to different team members depending on various factors such as availability or skills. A help desk team, for example, may have someone who specializes in printing problems and all tickets related to printing would be assigned to that person.

A helpdesk ticketing system typically also has Service Level Agreement (SLA) functionalities and priority management. Some types of business-critical issues might require resolution within the hour while other, less-important ones, might tolerate being resolved the next day. A good ticketing system will track this. Escalation is also a common functionality of a helpdesk ticketing system. After a certain amount of time has elapsed, unresolved tickets can be automatically escalated to the next level. This can dramatically improve the resolution time and reduce the number of SLA breaches.

INTERESTING READ: 7 Best IT Asset Management Software Tools Reviewed

Other Components Of Typical Helpdesk Software

There was a time when helpdesk software packages were not much more than ticket management systems. It is not so much the case today, and they typically include several functionalities that were then available as separate packages. Having as much functionality as possible included in one package has some obvious advantages.

First and foremost, the learning curve is much smoother. Although different components serve different purposes and, therefore, operate differently, integrated software will have a common user interface that operates the same way throughout all modules.

Another major advantage of integrating several tools into one is cost saving. An integrated helpdesk package will often cost more than just a ticket management system but it will still cost less—sometimes much less—than acquiring each component from a different vendor. And while we’re on the subject of the components of helpdesk software, let’s have a look at what the main components are in addition to ticketing.

Asset Management

Asset management is a feature that is more common than ever in a helpdesk software. There’s a simple reason for that. Since a trouble ticket should normally include, among other things, detailed information about the equipment where the issue is happening. Wouldn’t it then be easier if that information could automatically be added to any newly opened ticket?

Asset management systems are inventory databases that contain detailed information about each piece of equipment an organization owns. They typically also contain information about users and the equipment assigned to them and will easily list all equipment assigned to a given user. By integrating asset management and ticket management, tickets can be automatically be populated with equipment details based on the caller’s identity. This can either be fully automatic or it can allow the help desk first level attendants to pick from a list of equipment associated with the caller.

To be truly useful, asset management requires that all equipment inventory be entered into the inventory database. This can be a huge task in some organizations. To alleviate this, some systems will allow adding equipment details on the fly. For example, when a user calls for the first time, the helpdesk attendant could document his equipment and add it to the asset management system.

ALSO READ: Best IT Service Management Tools

Knowledge Base

Another important component of helpdesk systems is a knowledge base. As you may have experienced, issues are sometimes redundant. For instance, many similar issues related to user training could be experienced by different users. A knowledge base will provide a quick and easy solution to recurrent problems by allowing the helpdesk personnel to look up historical data about past issues.

Some of these systems are automated and will search past resolved tickets for similar parameters such as symptoms and equipment and suggest a solution. Others are independent systems that must be populated from ticket data. The usefulness of these systems varies greatly depending on the system itself but also on the type of issues your helpdesk is handling.

What Else?

Several other component or functionalities can be found in a helpdesk software. One of the most interesting ones is telephony integration. Computer-telephony integration is a complicated field but recent phone systems make it easier than ever. An integrated help desk system could, for instance, automatically pull user information from the telephone system when a user calls. That information could include information about that user’s past tickets and resolutions. Combined with asset management capabilities, It could even give the helpdesk agent detailed information about a user and his equipment before he answers the phone.

Remote control is another popular option available in several helpdesk software packages. Remote control systems let helpdesk attendants take control of a user’s computer. They can work on the computer as if they were sitting in front of it. This often makes for much faster resolution as a technician does not have to visit the user to fix the issue. It is particularly useful in larger organizations with multiple locations and a centralized help desk and in organizations that rely heavily on remote workers.

Locally Installed vs Cloud-Based Tools

Cloud computing is more popular than ever. It is no surprise, then, that there are several cloud-based helpdesk ticketing systems available. There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to both locally installed and cloud-based systems. For instance, cloud-based solutions typically require less maintenance as it is usually handled by the supplier. Likewise, backups are often handled by the vendor.

On the other hand, a locally installed solution will often integrate better with your other systems. You might, for instance, already have an asset management system and want your helpdesk ticketing system to interact with it. While that could be done with some cloud-based solutions, it’s usually easier with local software.

The Best Helpdesk Ticketing Systems

Here’s a sample of the best helpdesk ticketing systems we could find. They all include additional capabilities that actually make them more helpdesk management systems than ticketing systems. It is, however, their ticketing capabilities that we examined most closely while preparing this post.

1. SolarWinds Web Help Desk (FREE TRIAL)

SolarWinds is a common name in the field of network and system administration tools. The company’s flagship product, the Network Performance Monitor is considered by many as one of the best SNMP network monitoring tools. The company also has some task-specific tools in most areas of system and network administration and troubleshooting, including several free tools.

For your IT helpdesk, the company offers the SolarWinds Web Help Desk. Despite its somewhat misleading name. this is not a cloud-based system. It is web-based—hence the name—but it is locally installed on your network. Being web-based means that you don’t need any client software and your help desk attendants only need a browser to gain full access to the system. This can greatly facilitate the deployment of the tool.

SolarWinds Web Help Desk

In addition to automated ticket management and a centralized knowledge base, the tool has excellent change management features. Change requests with automated approval workflows can be created with the SolarWinds Web Help Desk. SLA management, another important feature, is just as good and has timed notifications. The SolarWinds Web Help Desk integrates with Active Directory and LDAP as well as many third-party asset management systems. Another feature that is quite useful is the automated conversion of emails to tickets which allows you to set up a help desk mailbox where any received email is automatically converted into a ticket.

Reporting and follow-ups are additional features of the product. For instance, its built-in reports and dashboards let you track ticket status, technician performance, and customer support needs. There are also automated feedback surveys that you can have users complete upon ticket resolution. They allow you to remain on top of customer satisfaction and helpdesk performance.

The SolarWinds Web Help Desk is priced based on the number of help desk technicians you have. Prices start at $700 per technician, regardless of the number of end-users. A free 14-day trial can be downloaded from SolarWinds. For more information, a guided tour and a live demo are also available from SolarWinds’ website.

2. ManageEngine Service Desk Plus

Like SolarWinds, ManageEngine is a well-known name in the field of system and network management software. Its Service Desk Plus package is one of the few that is available either as a cloud-based service or as an on-premise software with both options offering a similar feature set.

Talking about features, the ManageEngine Service Desk Plus in one of the most ITIL-centric help desk software we’ve seen. If you’re familiar with the intricacies of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), you’ll feel right at home with this product. Many of its features are ITIL-based and its various modules correspond to ITIL processes. For instance, the tool has incident management, problem management, and change management modules. It also features a service catalogue and a Configuration Management Database (CMDB). Assets management and project management complete this already well-endowed helpdesk suite.

ManageEngine Service Desk Plus Knowledge Base

Reporting is another strength of this product. The ManageEngine Service Desk Plus comes with over 150 predefined reports. You can get information on completed tickets based on various parameters or keep tabs on technician performance. Reports can be exported in a variety of formats such as HTML, PDF, XLS, or CSV. You can also build our own custom reports in minutes without writing a single line of code.

The ManageEngine Service Desk Plus is available in three licensing tiers with increasing feature sets. The Standard version only includes the helpdesk ticketing system, the Professional version adds the asset management features and the Enterprise version adds project management and all the ITIL features. Prices start at $1 195 annually.

3. Jira Service Desk

Jira Service Desk from Atlassian is a helpdesk ticketing system with an interesting twist. While the tool will suit any kind of IT helpdesk, it was specifically designed for the support of in-house software. It fully integrates with Jira Software, a project and issue tracking package for software development, also from Atlassian.

Jira Service Desk Screenshot

Jira Service Desk is one of the few packages that offer a self-service help desk where users can open tickets by themselves. It also has automation as well as SLAs and CSAT reporting. One of the best assets of this product is how it is simple and quick to set up. Contrary to some competitors, you could be running within just a few days. Another rather unique feature of this product is the Jira marketplace where you’ll find over 800 apps that can interact Jira Service Desk and other Jira products. It is reminiscent of the Google Play Store and other app stores.

Jira Service Desk does not have knowledge management built-in. The software can, however, interact with Jira Confluence a type of knowledge base/artificial intelligence system that can be coupled with the self-service help desk to assist end-users in solving issues with no human intervention.

Considering its capabilities, Jira Service Desk is relatively inexpensive. A flat fee of $10/month will be sufficient for up to three help desk agents. Between 4 and 15 agents, you’ll have to shell out $20/agent each month and volume discounts are available if you have more than 15 agents. A free trial is available but it only lasts 7 days. It’s a good thing that the software installs quickly.

4. ZenDesk Support

ZenDesk Support is a complete helpdesk management solution, not just a ticketing system. It has several unique ticket management features that make it a very interesting option. For instance, ticket forms can be created for different types of request and only include fields relevant to that specific kind of request. They ensure that your helpdesk agents ask all the right questions and that no time is wasted collecting unnecessary information. The forms also support conditional and custom fields, allowing your agent s to gather organization-specific details.

ZenDesk Support Screenshot

ZenDesk Support is a helpdesk-centric package. It uses skill-based routing to assign tickets to the proper agent. The system can also initiate customizable ticket workflows based on certain changes or time-based conditions. This tool also supports macros to respond quickly to standards requests with predefined actions. Macros can be used to change a ticket’s status as well.

Collaboration extensions are available, allowing agents to communicate with other teams and get them involved in ticket resolution as needed from within ZenDesk Support. The tool also has several customer insight features such as CSAT ratings and Net Promoter Score surveys. Plus it has performance dashboards to give visibility into ticket volume, agent performance, and other key support metrics and custom reports to better understand your customers, measure operational efficiency, and improve your team’s workflow.

Prices for Zendesk Support range in five licensing tiers from $5/agent/month to $199/agent/month, depending on the selected feature set. All plans support an unlimited number of end-users and a 30-day trial is available.

5. Freshdesk

Freshdesk from Freshworks is a cloud-based full-featured helpdesk package that claims to offer an intuitive, feature-rich, and affordable customer support solution. It has way too many features to discuss them all but let’s see what a few of the most interesting are. First off, the product has several interesting automatic assignment features. For example, tickets can be automatically assigned to agents or groups based on keyword, requester or properties. Furthermore, intelligent assignment can assign tickets to agents base on their current workload or skill set.

Freshdesk Dashboard

Freshdesk also features some excellent self-service features such as the automatic suggestion of solutions. Managers will most likely love the product’s dashboard and reports which are as good as they get. It’s got both predefined reports—including customer satisfaction—and customizable reports for the best flexibility.

Price-wise, Freshdesk is available in several versions with increasing feature sets. Sprout, the lowest tier is free but has a very limited feature set. Prices for the other tiers vary from $19/agent/month to $99/agent/month, depending on the feature set. A free 21-day trial is available on all licensing tiers.

Read The 5 Best Helpdesk Ticketing Systems (Reviewed) by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

The 5 Best Cloud Logging Services in 2019

Log management can turn out to be a complex and intimidating endeavour. Things are made somewhat simpler, thanks to the availability of high-quality log management systems but, to make things even simpler and remove much of the overhead of deploying and maintaining yet another system, many administrators and managers choose to turn to cloud logging service.

But just as there are many log management systems, there are lots of cloud logging services and picking the best one for your needs can be daunting. This is why in this article we’re happy to review some of the best cloud logging services.

What are the best cloud logging services

We’ll start off by introducing log management and discuss some of the various logging technologies that are typically encountered. We’ll then talk about the differences between log servers, log management systems, and security information and event management systems. Next, we’ll discuss the advantages of using cloud logging services as compared to locally installed log management systems before we finally get to the best part, the review of some of the very best cloud logging services.

About Log Management?

Before we start discussing logging services, let’s first try to define what logging is. A log—which is also sometimes referred to as a log entry with the term log referring to where these entries are collected and stored—is the automatically-produced and time-stamped documentation of an event pertaining to a particular system. Whenever an event takes place on a system, a log is generated. Systems and devices will generate logs for different types of events and many of these will give administrators some degree of control over which events will generate a log and which won’t.

As for log management, It is the processes and policies used to administer and facilitate the generation, transmission, analysis, storage, archiving and eventual disposal of significant amounts of log data. Log management usually implies a centralized system where logs from multiple sources are collected. Log management is not just log collection, though. It is the management part which is the most important. Log management systems often have multiple functionalities, collecting logs being just one of them.

And finally, logging services refer to external providers where organizations can outsource their log management needs. They are cloud-based, software as a service (SaaS) type of business that you can use instead of locally installed log management infrastructures. There are several advantages to using logging services as we’ll see shortly. For now, just keep in mind that a logging service is nothing more than a cloud-based offsite log management system.

Once logs are received by the log management system, they must be standardized into a common form as different systems format logs differently and include different data. Some start a log with the date and time, some start it with an event number. Some only include an event ID while others include a full-text description of the event. One of the purposes of log management systems is to ensure that all collected log entries are stored in a uniform format, no matter where they come from. This will make event correlation and searching easier.

Talking about event correlation and searching, these are two very important functions of most log management systems or logging services. Some of them feature a powerful search engine that allows administrators to zero-in on precisely what they need. Correlation functions will automatically group related events, even if they are from different sources. How—but, more importantly, how successfully—different log management system accomplish that is a major differentiating factor.

RELATED: Best log management tools for Linux

Logging Technologies

Log management—both local and cloud-based—would be much more difficult, perhaps not even possible, if it were not for logging protocols. A few of them exist. They define what data is to be included in logs, how it should be formatted and, sometimes, how it is to be transmitted between systems.

Syslog is one of the most-used logging protocols, especially in the Linux/Unix world. The technology was invented in the early eighties and has become the de-facto standard for all Unix-like systems. It is also the technology that is typically favoured by most networking equipment manufacturers. One of its greatest assets is how it facilitates the separation between the system or software that generates logs, the system that stores them, and the software that reports and analyzes them. Using the Syslog technology makes log management much easier.

Other logging technologies are also commonly used. For instance, Windows uses a proprietary logging system. One reason for that is that Microsoft operating systems and applications generate logs that typically contain far more detailed information than the Syslog technology permits. Or course, any decent log management system or logging service will support multiple logging protocols and technologies transparently.

Whether you’re using a locally installed log management tool or a logging service, one of the most important deployment steps is configuring your devices to send their logs to the system. This is different from other types of tools such as network monitoring systems which can fetch data from the systems they monitor. This configuration is usually a relatively simple task which is often accomplished by issuing a simple command. Furthermore, most lo management systems and logging services will provide detailed instructions on how to do it.

Log Management vs Log Servers

Since it has been available on every Unix-like system for a while, Syslog is often used as a log server with one computer receiving Syslog data from several others. While this centralized storage of logs has definite advantages, it is not enough to be called log management.

True Log Management Systems must include at least some of the more advanced functions. According to Wikipedia, “log management is comprised of the following functions: log collection, centralized log aggregation, long-term log storage and retention, log rotation, log analysis, log search, and reporting”. On the other hand, log servers typically only offer the log collection and storage and nothing more.

ALSO READ: Best Log Monitoring tools for Assist You

What About SIEM?

Another popular technology that is associated with logs and often confused with log management is Security Information and Event Management, or SIEM. It is a closely related technology but it is slightly different from log management but the line between the two is so thin that they are often confused and some products advertised as log management systems are actually entry-level SIEM systems while some basic SIEM systems are nothing more than advanced log management systems.

This confusion stems from the fact that log analysis—a basic component of log management—is also a component of SIEM systems which are different in that they perform log analysis with the specific objective of identifying security issues. They will, for instance, look for signs of unsuccessful logins which could be a tell-tale sign of an unauthorized intrusion attempt. While some SIEM systems do include extensive log management features, others use an external log management system and it’s not uncommon to see both running side by side. If you have a SIEM system, you’ll want to pick a logging service which can work with it.

The Advantages Of Cloud-Based Logging

There are several advantages to using cloud-based logging services. They range from security to convenience and evergreening. Let’s dig deeper. One of the main advantages of cloud-based logging is security. Other than system errors and various issues, one of the primary reasons for logging is to keep a trace of all accesses to systems and data. This is particularly true when you are under attack from a hacker and analyzing logs is often one of the primary ways of detecting such attacks. Hackers know that and they will often try to cover their tracks by quickly erasing logs pertaining to their activity. With local logs, they often already have gained access to your environment so it can be relatively easy to make their presence disappear. With cloud logging, things are a bit harder for them. They’d first have to hack your logging provider to be able to delete their traces. And logging providers often have very high security.

The convenience factor is also important in the decision to use cloud logging services. First and foremost, everything is already installed. Once your account is configured, all you need is to configure your devices to send your logs to the provider. The system is always up to date, all necessary patches are always installed, you always have the latest version. We could go on forever with similar advantages.

Cost can also be a factor. Depending on your logging level, storing logs locally could end up taking up a lot of storage space and, as you know, storage space is expensive. Of course, cloud logging costs also increase as you use more storage but it tends to be a more flexible option.

The Best Cloud Logging Services

We’ve searched the market and found a few of the best logging services that are available. Their feature set varies widely and you should most definitely pay close attention to their detailed specifications before picking one over the other. As with most other systems, the best system will be the one which best matches your specific needs. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of the free trial offers as they’ll allow you to see first hand how each tool interacts with your environment.

1. SolarWinds Loggly (FREE TRIAL)

SolarWinds has become a household name among network administrators. It’s making some of the best tools for almost 20 years, bringing us a great bandwidth monitoring tool and one of the best NetFlow analyzers and collectors. The company product and services portfolio has greatly expanded in the last few years through the acquisition of several great products.

Loggly is one of these SolarWinds acquisitions. Primarily a log consolidator, it also offers log analysis functionality. As a virtue of being a cloud-based service, this system requires no installation and is ready to use the minute you subscribe. The only thing you have to do is configure your systems and devices to upload their logs to the online server.

SolarWinds Loggly Screenshot

SolarWinds Loggly converts the received log data into a standard format, thereby allowing its analyzer to process records from various sources and enabling events tracking and correlation across all systems, regardless of their operating system or logging technology. The sources of log data are not limited to your on-premises servers. The service is also capable of processing logs generated by cloud-hosted services such as Amazon’s AWS or Microsoft Azure and it can include messages created by specific applications such as Docker and Logstash, just to name a few.

The SolarWinds Loggly service is available under three different plans, with increasing data processing limits and retention times. You need to pick the right one to give you enough space for your log data. The entry-level plan is called Loggly Lite. It is free to use. Under this plan, you can upload 200 MB of log data per day and the system will retain each record for seven days. Next is the Standard plan which gives you an upload allowance of 1 GB per day and retains records for 30 days. Paid plans also let you use multiple user accounts. With the Standard package, you can have three user accounts. The top tier is called Loggly Enterprise. It has no limit to the number of users accounts you can set up and prices vary depending on the amount of upload capacity and the retention period that you require. Payment for all paid plans can be either monthly or annually and a free 14-day trial is available on the Standard plan.

2. SolarWinds Papertrail (FREE PLAN AVAILABLE)

Another relatively recent SolarWinds acquisition is Papertrail, a popular logging service. It aggregates log files from a wide variety of popular products like Apache or MySQL as well as Ruby on Rails apps, different cloud hosting services and other standard syslog and text-based log files. Papertrail users can then use the web-based search interface or command-line tools to search through these files to help diagnose various issues. The tool also integrates with other SolarWinds products such as Librato and Geckoboard for graphing results.

SolarWinds Papertrail Dashboard

Papertrail is a cloud-based, software as a service (SaaS) offering from SolarWinds. Being cloud-based means that it will work fine with pretty much any environment. Easy to implement, use, and understand, the platform will give you instant visibility across all systems within minutes. Furthermore, the product has a very effective search engine that can search both stored and streaming logs. And it is lightning fast.

Papertrail is available under several plans including a free plan. It is somewhat limited, though, and only allows 100 MB of logs each month. It will, however, allow 16 GB of logs in the first month which is equivalent to giving you a free 30-day trial. Paid plans start at $7/month for 1GB/month of logs, 1 year of archive and 1 week of index. Noise filtering allows the tool to preserve data by not saving useless logs.

3. LogDNA

LogDNA claims to be “the fastest, most intuitive, and cost-effective log management system”. This is a bold statement but it tends to be true. Right from the start, the product’s installation only takes a couple of minutes before you can start collecting and monitoring logs. No matter how logs are generated and transmitted, hundreds of custom integration schemes are available within the product to help you centralize logs into a single location.

LogDNA Screenshot

LogDNA is different from the previous entries as it is available in either a cloud-based service or a self-hosted software version, depending on your preference. It is a highly scalable product that can handle hundreds of thousands of logs per second and dozens of terabytes per day while offering the utmost security as well as real-time log analysis. Both the company and its products are SOC2, PCI, and HIPAA compliant as well as being Privacy Shield certified.

LogDNA’s simple pay-per-GB pricing model eliminates contracts and fixed data allocations, which makes for one of the lowest total cost of ownership of any paid log monitoring and management solution. Several subscription plans are available with increasing features. The bottom-tier plan is free and prices for the paid plans vary from $1.50/GB/month to $3/GB/month depending on the retention duration and the number of users. A free, full-featured and unlimited 14-day trial is also available.

4. Sumo Logic

Sumo Logic is our next contender in the cloud logging services arena. The product was created to aggregate large volumes of log data from pretty much any source. But gathering log data is only the beginning. The service can also help you use the collected data to monitor performance, improve applications, and potentially even address security issues and compliance.

Sumo Logic Dashboard Screenshot

Sumo Logic‘s next-generation log management and machine data analytics service delivers actionable insights into application and infrastructure operations while dramatically reducing complexity and cost. Sumo Logic claims to deliver the only cloud-native, real-time machine data analytics platform that provides continuous intelligence.

Sumo Logic is available under three different plans. There’s the free plan which is targeting individuals and teams looking to try out Sumo Logic for smaller projects, for an unlimited period of time. Next is the Professional plan at $90/month per 1GB average daily log data. And at the top, you have the full-featured Enterprise plan at $150/month per 1GB average daily log data. Note that a 30-day trial is available on both paid plans.

5. Datadog

Last on our list is Datadog, a hybrid cloud logging tool which can help you pull together the metrics you need and give you enhanced visibility over your environment. One of the tool’s best features is its dynamic indexing policies. They make it a lot easier and quicker to inspect and manage high volumes of logs.

Datadog Dashboad Screenshot

Although Datadog is primarily intended for development and operations teams that are getting applications ready for market, it is also an excellent service to use for log monitoring of typical business environments. One of the product’s drawbacks, according to some of its users is how initial setup can get complicated. But as long as you set your expectations right and don’t plan on starting to use the service minutes after starting, you should be okay. No matter what and despite its minor quirks, this is a great, dependable solution.

Datalog offers infrastructure monitoring as well as application performance monitoring in addition to log management services. The log management component is competitively priced and comes in three flavours. $1.91/month per million log event will give you 7 days data retention, $2.55/month per million log events brings retention up to 15 days while the top tier, at $375/month per million log event has a retention time of 30 days. These prices are considerably cheaper when you choose yearly billing and a 30-day free trial is also available.

Read The 5 Best Cloud Logging Services in 2019 by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

6 Best NTFS Permissions Management Tools + Best Practices

Security is one of the highest priorities of network administrators and one of the components of security is ensuring that users have access to the all the data they need and no access to what they shouldn’t see. As seen from a data standpoint, data should only be accessible by those users who need to access it. But with the access rights inheritance that is built into NTFS and the interaction between file system rights and share rights, it can get complicated to have a clear picture of exactly who can access a given file. This is precisely what permission reporting tools can help you with and today, we’ll be reviewing the best NTFS permission reporting tools.

Best NTFS Permission Reporting Tools

Our discussion will start with a short introduction to NTFS permissions. We’ll then move on to explain inherited permissions and elaborate on the differences between file permissions, share permissions, and their consequence: effective permissions. It is important to understand how these different concepts interact and it will make any administrator’s life much easier. This will finally bring us to the core of our post: reviewing some of the best NTFS permission reporting tools and introducing their main features and characteristics.

NTFS Permissions In A Nutshell

The New Technology File System, of NTFS, is a proprietary file system developed by Microsoft for the Windows NT operating system. It superseded the FAT file system used by previous Microsoft operating systems. Its main goals were to address the eight-character file name limit and to include some built-in security. Therefore, one of the primary features of NTFS is its elaborate security system based on access control lists (ACLs).

Permissions refer to what a given user is allowed to do with a specific file or directory. There are several basic permissions such as read, write, modify, execute, and list folder content. Full control is another basic permission that grants a user the right to do anything with a file. In addition to those, there are also advanced permissions such as read attributes, read permissions, change permissions, or take ownership, just to name a few.

Access Controls Lists (ACLs) are used to assign permission to objects in the NTFS file system with each object having an ACL which defines what permission any user or group of users has on it.

RELATED READING: 4 Best Varonis Alternatives For Permission Analysis

Inherited permissions

Under the NTFS, permissions can either be explicitly assigned or they can be inherited. By default, when an NTFS object—such as a file or a folder—is created, it inherits the exact same permissions as his parent. For instance, a user who has read access to a folder will have read access to its content, unless explicitly specified otherwise.

Explicit permissions are either set by default when the object is created or they are set by user action. An example of a default explicit permission is that the user who created a file has full control over it. As for inherited permissions, they are given to an object because it is a child of a parent object. They don’t have to be specified. Permissions are usually best managed for containers of objects. Objects within the container inherit all the access permissions in that container. This approach tends to be much simpler than assigning or modifying permissions on a multitude of objects.

Of course, inherited permissions can be overridden. For example, you can remove the write permission to a specific file for a user or group with write permission to the folder containing that file. In fact, you’re free to grant or remove permissions to files as you see fit. Just remember that to modify the permissions to a file, its ACL must grant you that right. Typically, the owner of a file can modify its rights and so can a user who is a member of the Domain Administrators group.

INTERESTING READ: 10 Best Intrusion Detection Tools

About File, Share, And Effective Permissions

There are two places where permissions are granted. First, there are file permissions. Those are the permissions we’ve been discussing so far. They are the permissions assigned to each and every object in an NTFS file system.

Another place where permissions are assigned is at the share level. Whenever a resource is shared to make it usable by remote users on the network—such as what would normally be done on a file server, for example—the same types of permissions can be assigned to the share.

The combination of share vs file permissions and of explicit vs inherited permissions is what we usually refer to as effective permissions. They are the actual rights that a user has to a file or folder. Which element has precedence when determining the effective permissions is a rather complex and error-prone subject. This is, as a matter of fact, one of the many reasons why NTFS permission reporting tools were created in the first place.

The Best NTFS Permission Reporting Tools

Now that we’re all on the same page about NTFS permission, the time has finally come to review the different tools we could find. As you’re about to see, we have a broad range of tools from small tools that will only display effective permissions for one user at a time to full-features access rights management software. The best tool for you largely depends on what your actual needs are.

1. SolarWinds Permission Analyzer For Active Directory (FREE DOWNLOAD)

SolarWinds is one of the best-known makers of network and system administration tools. Its flagship product called the Network Performance Monitor consistently scores among the top network bandwidth monitoring systems. Like it’s not enough, the company is also famous for its free software. They are smaller tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrators. Two great examples of these tools are the Advanced Subnet Calculator and the Kiwi Syslog Server.

Another great free tool from SolarWinds, especially in the context of this post is the SolarWinds Permission Analyzer For Active Directory. Although this is a very basic free tool, it can give you instant visibility into user and group permissions. You can use this tool to uncover users and groups permissions to Active Directory objects, network shares, and NTFS folders and files.

SolarWinds Permissions Analyzer Screenshot

Among the tool’s key features, it can quickly identify how a user’s permissions are inherited, it will let you browse permissions by group or by individual user, and it will let you analyze user permissions based on group membership and permissions. The most important drawback of this tool is that one cannot export information from it. If all you need is detailed information about user permissions, it can be rather useful.

2. SolarWinds Access Rights Manager (FREE TRIAL)

If you need more than the bare minimum offered by the Permissions Analyzer, SolarWinds has another product you might be interested in. It is called the SolarWinds Access Rights Manager. This tool is much more than a permission reporting tool, though. It is primarily aimed at making user provisioning and unprovisioning, tracking, and monitoring easy. It offers a powerful and easy way of managing and monitoring user permission to ensure that no unnecessary permissions are granted.

One of the greatest strength of the SolarWinds Access Rights Manager is its intuitive user management dashboard that you can use to create, modify, delete, activate and deactivate user accesses to different files and folders. It features role-specific templates that can easily give users access to specific resources on your network.

SolarWinds Access Rights Manager Screenshot

Even more interesting for us today are the SolarWinds Access Rights Manager’s reporting features. The software can create reports that can be used as evidence in case of future disputes or eventual litigation. Detailed reports for auditing purposes and for compliance with specifications set by regulatory standards that apply to your business are also available. Reports can be quickly and easily created with just a few clicks. They can include any information you may find useful. For example, log activities in Active Directory and file server accesses could be included in a report. It is up to the user to make them as summarized or as detailed as they need.

Attacks and/or data leaks often happen when folders and/or their contents are accessed by users who are not—or should not be—authorized to access them, a common situation when users are granted wide-reaching access to folders or files. The SolarWinds Access Rights Manager can help you prevent these types of leaks and unauthorized changes to confidential data and files. It offers administrators a visual representation of permissions for multiple files servers. It easily and visually lets one see who has what permission on what file.

The SolarWinds Access Rights Manager is licensed based on the number of activated users within Active Directory. An activated user is either an active user account or a service account. Prices for the product start at $2 995 for up to 100 active users. For more users (up to 10 000), detailed pricing can be obtained by contacting SolarWinds sales. If you want to give the tool a test run before purchasing it, a free, unlimited 30-day trial version can be obtained.

Read our full review on Access Rights Manger a.

30-day FREE trial: https://www.solarwinds.com/access-rights-manager/registration

3. ManageEngine ADManager Plus

ManageEngine is another well-known name among network and system administrators. Its ADManager Plus toolset includes an NTFS permissions reporter that lets you manage permissions on the fly right from the ADManager Plus’ reporting utility.

ADManager Plus generates and also exports reports on access permissions of all NTFS folders as well as files and their properties for Windows file servers in an easily understandable format. This can help administrators quickly view and analyze file-level security settings in their environments. The generated reports can be exported to Excel, CSV, HTML, PDF, and CSVDE formats for further processing by external tools.

ManageEngine ADManager Plus Screenshot

Some of the reports generated by this tool include the Shares in Servers report which displays all the Shares available in the specified servers, along with important details such as their location, the list of accounts with permissions on the shares as well as their associated permissions, and the scope of the permissions. The Folders accessible by accounts report lists the folders and files over which the specified accounts have permissions. You can check for folders in a specified path and further define the level of access to generate the results. These are just a few of the available reports to give you an idea of what the tool can do for you.

The ManageEngine ADManager Plus is available in a Free Edition and a Professional Edition. The Free Edition allows you to manage and report on up to 100 objects in a single Domain. The Professional Edition is installed for free and can be evaluated for 30 days, after which it automatically reverts to the Free Edition’s limitations unless a Professional Edition license is purchased. For details on the various editions available and their prices, you should contact ManageEngine.

4. CJWDEV’s NTFS Permissions Reporter

The NTFS Permissions Reporter from CJWDEV (often simply referred to as CJWDEV) is a powerful tool for viewing NTFS permissions throughout your entire directory tree. Modern user-friendly, this tool can be used for reporting on file and directory permissions of your Windows servers. It will let you quickly see which users and groups have access to which files directories.

Some of the tool’s most notable features include its highly customizable filtering system which makes it easy to search for the user or group you want. You can, for instance, filter results based on a wide range of attributes such as account name, account type, domain, nature of permission, inherited permissions, and account status, just to name a few. The results can be displayed either in a tree or a table-based format. Different permissions are highlighted in different colours, letting you easily identify the information you need. You’ll be able to easily identify rogue permissions that are violating your standards and policies.

CJWDEV Permissions Reporter Screenshot

The NTFS Permissions Reporter is available in two editions: Free and Standard. The Free edition feature-reduced and is meant to be used as an introduction to the Standard edition. It still has quite a few features including:

  • Intelligent caching
  • The option to view group members directly in its reports
  • Integration with the Windows file explorer which provides the ability to right-click a file or directory and get a permissions report
  • Accurate and reliable information
  • Results which can easily be exported to HTML

The Standard edition builds upon the features of the free edition and adds quite a few more such as:

  • Many more export formats such as CSV, HTML, NTPR and XLSX.
  • The flexibility to compare two reports to highlight the differences in permission
  • Automatic emailing of reports
  • The ability to create filters which help find what you want; there is also an option in the filters to exclude certain permissions
  • Full command line support making it easy to schedule reports at your convenience
  • Automatic loading of your favourite settings at application launch
  • Free upgrades throughout the entire lifetime of the product.

The pricing structure for the NTFS Permissions Reporter is pretty straightforward. While the Free edition is, well, free, the Standard edition will set you back $149 for a single user license, $359 for a site license, or $579 for an enterprise license. The enterprise license can be used at multiple locations within a single organization. A consultant license is also available. It allows the software to be used at up to three client’s locations at a time for $199. There’s also a $620 unlimited consultant license which can be used with an unlimited number of clients.

5. Permissions Reporter

The Permissions Reporter is a highly specialized and very professional-looking tool which offers fast and easy file system permissions auditing for Windows. It is a visual, interactive software tool that can help you manage file system permissions. Its vendor claims it is “the ultimate network-enabled NTFS permissions reporter for Windows”. It lets you validate the security status of entire file systems quickly and efficiently with multiple export formats, command-line support, built-in scheduling, advanced filtering, and much more.

Permissions Reporter Main Window

The tool features robust, built-in report scheduling with email delivery support. It also has Directory permissions analysis with tree and table views as well as a file owner report with a hierarchical tree map visualization. And if you prefer a report on network share permissions, they are also available for servers or entire domains. Its fast performance and impressive scalability allow you to quickly analyze entire file systems with confidence and efficiency. Furthermore, the tool also boasts a command-line interface to it can easily be integrated into custom scripts

The Permissions Reporter is available in a free basic edition which is entirely free with no ads, malware, or spyware). To gain access to all of the tool’s advanced features, a professional edition can be purchased. It unlocks features such as report scheduling, advanced filtering, and more. The single-user pro license is only $69.00, even less when purchased in 5-packs or 10-packs. There are also site-wide, country-wide, and enterprise-wide versions available.

6. Netwrix Effective Permissions Reporting Tool

The Netwrix Effective Permissions Reporting Tool is a freeware tool from Netwrix that delivers actionable insight into who has permissions to what in Active Directory and file shares. It can help you ensure that employees’ permissions align with their roles in the organization. The tool’s reports enable you to see users’ AD group membership and file share permissions in a single report, along with whether those file share permissions were assigned explicitly or inherited.

Netwrix Folder Permissions Example

The Effective Permissions Reporting Tool provides actionable information that you can use to rescind unneeded access rights, thereby ensuring users have only the permissions they need to get their jobs done. It can help reduce security risks by making sure your valuable data can be accessed only by eligible personnel. It is a simple to use tool which enables you to quickly track down any user’s permissions across Active Directory and file servers and to get ready-to-use reports in just a few clicks.

This tool can also help you ensure compliance by assisting you with the collection of proof that all permissions are aligned with job descriptions and employee roles in the organization. This is often mandated by regulatory frameworks such as SOX or PCI-DSS, for instance.

There’s only one drawback to the Netwrix Effective Permissions Reporting Tool. It won’t give you the effective permissions on a specific file or directory. It will only show the effective permissions held by a specific user or group.

Read 6 Best NTFS Permissions Management Tools + Best Practices by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter