Top 10 Best Network Monitoring Tools

If you don’t know the state of your network every second of the day, you’re like a blind pilot inevitably headed for disaster. Fortunately, the market now offers many good software solutions, both commercial and open source, for network monitoring.

With functionality such as discovering network devices, monitoring network equipment and servers, identifying network trends, graphically presenting monitoring results, and even backing up switch configurations and routers, these network monitoring software tools will surely surprise you. So here’s a list of the best network monitoring software:

1. Zabbix

Zabbix is a full-scale tool for network and system monitoring that combines several options in one web console. It can be configured to monitor and collect data from a wide variety of servers and network devices, and it provides service and performance monitoring of each object. Zabbix enables you to monitor servers and networks with a wide range of technologies, including virtualization hypervisors and web application stacks. Zabbix supports VMware, Hyper-V and other virtualization hypervisors, providing detailed information about the performance and availability of the hypervisor and its activity. In particular, it can monitor Java application servers, web services and databases. New monitoring hosts can be added manually or through an automatic discovery process. A wide range of templates are applied by default, such as those for Linux, FreeBSD and Windows Server operating systems and for SMTP,  HTTP, ICMP and IPMI protocols.

Zabbix must be installed and configured manually, component by component, on a Linux system or a virtual machine on a hypervisor. The user interface is not very clear and uses complicated terminology. There is no client program because it is accessed via HTTPS or SSH, but there is a mobile application available. The network device discovery process does not have the ability to browse the network and discover existing devices during product installation; this can be done later using certain protocols.

This solution can work without agents, using the SNMP protocol, but running an agent on each device makes using Zabbix a bit easier. However, it’s difficult and time-consuming to install agents on hundreds or even thousands of devices, and there are certain basic devices, like printers, where installation of agents is impossible.

Zabbix allows you to customize the dashboard and web interface to focus on the most important components of the network. Notifications can be based on custom actions that apply to a host or host groups. You can configure actions that will run remote commands if certain event criteria are met. The program displays network bandwidth usage and CPU utilization graphs. In addition, Zabbix supports custom maps, screens and even slideshows that show the current status of monitored devices. Zabbix can be difficult to implement at the initial stage, but the use of automatic detection and various templates can reduce the challenge. In addition to the installation package, Zabbix is available as a virtual device for several popular hypervisors.

The product is free, but it so complex that you will likely need one of the levels of paid support.

2. PRTG

The Paessler PRTG network monitoring tool is an integrated solution that is suitable both for small and enterprise environments. The setup is dynamic, meaning that your monitoring capabilities can grow or shrink with the business size requirements of your organization. It is a Windows program that can be installed on a server with shared access. PRTG is more than just a server monitoring solution, because it can monitor any IT-related resource that connects to your network, including firewalls, servers, printers, switches, routers, databases, websites and even UPS. PRTG can send out email and SMS alerts based on your custom threshold levels. This means that you can adjust the sensitivity of specific servers so you get more frequent warnings from critical servers and almost no noise from non-critical ones.

The application can monitor everything that you need to know about your server, such as CPU load, hard disk capacity and performance, RAM utilization, and bandwidth monitoring. The user interface is simple and clear, with functional elements conveniently located in intuitive places. Administrators can view the entire server environment at a glance through customizable dashboards and reports, which means that specific graphs and analytics can be generated for specific needs. There are predefined templates to help with the configuration processes and speed the installation process. Other key features include flexible alert methods, multiple user interfaces to choose from, failover-tolerant monitoring, distributed monitoring, and customizable maps and dashboards.

With PRTG, there is no need to install any agents on each device; monitoring can be performed only using the program kernel. Using remote probes allows monitoring of various networks, either in the same place or in remote locations, branches, etc. The remote computer collects location information and combines it on the PRTG central server, providing access to all local and remote devices, sensors, alerts and warnings via the internet, and also uses a protocol with strong SSL encryption. The product is free only for 100 sensors, so download it only if you have small system inventory or you are willing to pay for it.

3. WhatsUp Gold

This is a powerful, easy-to-use software tool for comprehensive monitoring of applications, networks and systems. It allows you to troubleshoot problems before they affect the user experience. You can also get an accurate idea of the performance of your IT environment.

WhatsUp Gold uses new methods of visualization and interaction with the entire IT environment. It has a unique interactive map that helps you quickly assess the performance of the entire network, infrastructure and virtual environment. It provides information about the connection status of network devices and dynamic response to interactions, which ensures minimum response time. Interactive maps can be dynamically filtered to get an instant overview of the physical, virtual and wireless networks. You can zoom in to view detailed information on individual sites or devices, or zoom out to see the subject of study in the overall picture. A map can be configured to display the environment by geography (on a map or on a building map), by category (by connection, application or traffic) or by any other layout.

The tool starts with an advanced discovery process that identifies all devices connected to your network and automatically applies standard or custom device roles; this significantly speed up the monitoring setup. WhatsUp Gold has active monitors that show device status in real time and passive monitors for SNMP traps, Syslog, and Windows event logs. Performance monitors use SNMP, SSH or WMI to track CPU, disk, memory and network usage. WhatsUp Gold has an option to receive early warning when users are experiencing poor response times, so you can fix them before users experience full downtime. These warnings can be sent via email, SMS and web.

It also has a network traffic analysis module that collects network traffic and bandwidth usage data from any flow-enabled device on the network. One of the greatest performance management features is an action policy that detects a state change, such as when a router goes down, and immediately writes a log entry or starts an action script to reboot the system several minutes later and then sends an email notification after completion. WhatsUp Gold has no free version but it has a free trial.

4. Cacti

Cacti is a great network monitoring software tool for graphical representation of the network. Cacti is a free network monitoring solution and is included in the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) suite, which provides a standardized software platform for building graphs based on any statistical data. If a network device returns numeric data, then most likely it can be integrated into Cacti. There are templates for network monitoring platforms like Cisco routers and switches. Basically any network device that communicates with SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) can be monitored by Cacti. In addition, scripts in Perl or PHP can also be used for monitoring. Cacti performs availability and performance monitoring of servers, services and network devices. It also tracks the workload and availability of network channels.

The central link in this system is graphs — all controlled parameters and settings are somehow tied to the graphs. Graphs of statistics are presented in the form of a tree in which graphs are grouped by their criteria. All graphs can be quickly created in Graph Management using supplied templates. Templates are one of the big advantages of Cacti — the user just selects a template and the graph is ready. Each graph is described by two elements: settings that define the properties of the graph, and elements that define the data that should be represented on it. Information displayed on the chart can be refined on the fly; for example, you can quickly view the data for the past few years to see if the current behavior of the network equipment or server is abnormal. And with the help of the Network Weathermap, a PHP plug-in for Cacti, you can create real-time maps of your network that show the load of communication channels between network devices.

In short, Cacti is a toolkit with extensive capabilities for graphical display and analysis of network performance trends that can be used to monitor almost any monitored metric that can be represented in a graph. However, this solution supports almost limitless tuning possibilities, which can make it too difficult for certain apps.

5. Nagios

Nagios is powerful network monitoring tool that has been in active development for many years. It does almost anything that system and network administrators might need from a network monitoring utility. The web interface is fast and intuitive, and the server part is extremely reliable. Nagios’s rather complex configuration can be a problem for beginners to learn, but it is also an advantage, since the tool can be adapted to almost any monitoring task. As with Cacti, a very active community supports Nagios core, so various plug-ins exist for a huge variety of hardware and software. Nagios enable you to continuously monitor the status of servers, services, network channels and everything else that has IP addresses. For example, you can monitor the use of disk space on the server, RAM and CPU usage, FLEXlm license usage (software license manager tool), server air temperature, WAN and internet connection latencies, netflow traffic, and much more.

No monitoring system for servers and networks would be complete without notifications. The Nagios software platform offers a customizable mechanism for notifications via e-mail, SMS and instant messaging via the most popular internet messengers, as well as an escalation scheme that can be used to make reasonable decisions about who should be notified when and in what circumstances. In addition, the display function shows all monitored devices in the logical representation of their placement on the network, with color coding that highlights problems as they arise.

The main disadvantage of Nagios is its configuration process — it is mostly done through the command line, which greatly complicates installation if you’ve never worked with it before. People familiar with standard Linux and Unix configuration files, however, should not experience any particular problems. The possibilities of Nagios are huge, but the effort required to use some of them may not always be worth it. Nevertheless, the advantages of the early warning system metrics provided by this tool for so many aspects of the network are hard to overstate.

6. LogicMonitor

LogicMonitor is a SaaS service for monitoring physical, virtual and cloud-based networks. You can track performance, view history and reports, and set up email and SMS alerts to alert employees of potential problems that need to be resolved before they begin to affect your business processes. LogicMonitor is a lightweight program that can be installed on a Linux or Windows OS. LogicMonitor provides a single web console that is ready to automatically discover most switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers, servers, applications, databases, VoIP systems and storages. LogicMonitor’s dashboard allows users to monitor live performance indicators along with a list of system errors and statuses because it automatically collects performance data from connected servers, networks and workstations via over 20 standard protocols such as JMX, Perfmon, SNMP, WMI, and various APIs. Network administrators can prioritize issues, configure escalation rules for alerts and schedule downtime according to their service standards.

Of course, LogicMonitor has reporting capabilities as well; you can build reports on any time period for any device, group, service or data source. Reports can be in HTML, PDF or CSV, and can be executed on demand or scheduled to be delivered by email at regular intervals. You have to know what you’re looking for before you configure a report. All in all, LogicMonitor is a powerful infrastructure monitoring and alerting service with a nicely customizable web portal that displays in-depth metrics and system information.

7. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor quickly detects, diagnoses and assists in resolving network performance problems before downtime. In addition, with dynamic network topology maps and automatic detection of components, administrators can easily scale the network and align important processes as it grows. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor controls the response time, availability and uptime of routers, switches and other SNMP-enabled devices. Network Performance Monitor has automated network scanning processes that identify new network devices and monitor the state of all critical equipment. It supports heterogeneous networks and devices from leading hardware manufacturers. The monitoring process looks for the availability and performance indicators of network devices and interfaces, such as bandwidth load, delays, responses, packet loss, CPU and memory for each piece of equipment with SNMP and WMI support.

Network Performance Monitor allows you to quickly configure alerts for events, conditions and conditions of network devices. If necessary, you can block notifications based on dependencies and topology so you receive alerts on important network issues only. It also includes tools for generating notifications, reports, manuals and help files in different file formats.  The user interface is simple to understand yet robust enough to provide a comprehensive view of the network. It is easy to see everything at a glance, and the statistical network baselines provide additional information to optimize network devices and respond to issues quickly. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor has a NetPath feature that uses advanced probing to make troubleshooting network performance problems easier. With this feature, sysadmins can detect the network path from a source computer and trace it all the way to the destination service. NetPath works even when traceroute does not.

8. Spiceworks Network Monitor

Spiceworks Network Monitor is extremely flexible and scalable, allowing independent thresholds per system or device, so it is a great solution for more granular monitoring of memory, disk activity and more. The software is quick and easy to implement. It runs on a VM or a physical box. It’s pretty light on resources, though it can eat up a bunch of disk space; if it is co-located with another app, the drive can fill quickly if you don’t keep up with the logs or automate cleanup. The software is agentless, so there is little to no impact on the monitored devices. It can even monitor SNMP traps from switches, printers, copiers and other devices. It does a great job of monitoring during off hours.

Spiceworks Network Monitor tracks infrastructure devices, such as switches and routers, for input/output rate, packets per second and packet loss. It also tracks servers for CPU utilization, disk utilization, network data rate and packet loss, and memory utilization. You can drill down to display those parameters graphically in expanded views. However, Spiceworks Network Monitor does not monitor or manage other devices, most notably, mobile ones.

You can choose to look at specific devices in significantly more detail with the Critical Device Widget. You can click a specific parameter in the Critical Device window, and the graph for that parameter is expanded and additional details show up on the screen, such as exact numbers for the total switch bandwidth usage with the stats at each point where the numbers changed.

There are a few disadvantages. Spiceworks Network Monitor provides excellent basic monitoring, but it doesn’t support SNMP version 3. The software does not reconcile systems that are going down — sometimes when connection links go down, they do not go back up in the software though physically they are up again, so they must be deleted and re-added. And the user interface is rather slow. However, the software is no-cost so there is no risk in giving it a try.

9. Wireshark

Wireshark is a well-known network traffic monitoring tool. It works with the overwhelming majority of known protocols, and it has both a clear and logical graphical interface based on GTK + and a powerful filter system. Moreover, it is cross-platform, working under Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, Mac OS X and, of course, Windows. Basically, Wireshark is a packet sniffing tool that reveals the smallest details of network traffic and network protocols. You can analyze pcap files and TCP connection, see packet contents, and search for specific packets in the netflow. If you have the necessary knowledge, you can effectively troubleshoot and diagnose a variety of problems that arise in the network using Wireshark.

10. Netwrix Auditor for Network Devices

We’ve reviewed a lot of great network monitoring tools. Nevertheless, if system administrators detect network device performance issues, they need to inspect configuration changes to determine the cause of the issue and quickly fix it. Therefore, a network device change monitoring tool is invaluable. Netwrix Auditor for Network Devices delivers reports and alerts detailing what was changed on each network device and when it happened, with the before and after values. It supports Cisco and Fortinet devices.

Product installation is straightforward, and the UI is user friendly and fast. Reports are very clear and responsive, which makes this solution a great addition to other network performance monitoring tools. Reports can tell you about network device configuration changes, details about logon attempts, port scanning information, and details about hardware issues such as a power supply failure or critical CPU temperature. It also tracks remote access such as VPN.

Netwrix Auditor has built-in search of audit data, alerts on threat patterns, and a behavior anomaly detection engine. It also has a RESTFul API engine that enables you to connect the Netwrix Auditor platform with other software solutions, such as Nutanix, Amazon Web Services, ServiceNow, ArchSight, IBM Qradar, Splunk, Alien Vault and LogRythm; you can receive data from or send data to these solutions.

In short, Netwrix Auditor for Network Devices is not just a really valuable monitoring tool; it’s an enterprise-level software platform that gives you complete visibility into changes, configurations and access across your network infrastructure. Netwrix Auditor has free 20-day trial; during that period, you can not only evaluate Netwrix Auditor for Network Devices but also all the other Netwrix Auditor applications for systems such as Active Directory, Group Policy, Azure AD, Exchange, Office 365, file servers, SharePoint,  Microsoft SQL Server and VMware.