If you don’t know the state of your network and server health every second of the day, you’re like a blind pilot inevitably headed for disaster. Fortunately, the market now offers many good tools, both commercial and open source, for network and Windows Server monitoring.
We’ve put together a list of best open source, free and paid Windows Server monitoring tools that have proven their value in networks of many sizes. We detail their functionality, such as discovering devices, monitoring network equipment and servers, identifying network trends, graphically presenting monitoring results, and even backing up switch configurations and routers.
Server Monitoring Software Tools
First, let’s review the best paid network and Windows Server monitoring software solutions, most of which offer a free trial. These tools are not ranked – you should choose the one that best suits your needs.
Paessler PRTG is a network monitoring tool suitable both for small and enterprise environments. More than just a server monitoring solution, PRTG it can monitor any IT-related resource that connects to your network. The setup is dynamic; monitoring capabilities can grow or shrink with the business requirements of your organization. Plus, it can send email and SMS alerts based on your custom threshold levels, so you can adjust the sensitivity of specific servers in order to get more frequent warnings from critical servers and almost no noise from non-critical ones.
PRTG can monitor everything that you need to know about your server, such as CPU load, hard disk capacity and performance, RAM utilization, and bandwidth. Administrators can view the entire server environment at a glance, and customizable dashboards and reports enable them to easily generate specific graphs and analytics for specific needs. There are predefined templates to speed the installation and configuration process. Other key features include flexible alert methods, multiple user interfaces to choose from, failover-tolerant monitoring, distributed monitoring, and customizable maps and dashboards. The tool has a 20-day trial license, and there is a free version with limited functionality.
Image source: https://hlassets.paessler.com/common/files/screenshots/prtg-v17-4/basics/map-data-center.png
Observium is a tool for monitoring network equipment and servers that has a huge list of supported devices using the SNMP protocol. Observium has relatively easy installation and configuration. It is installed as its own server with a dedicated URL. You can enter the graphical interface and start adding hosts and networks, and set ranges for automatic detection and SNMP data so that Observium can explore the surrounding networks and collect data for each detected system. Observium can also detect network devices via CDP, LLDP or FDP. Depending on the device, data can be collected and displayed for every detected port.
The easy-to-use user interface provides advanced capabilities for statistical display of data, as well as diagrams and graphs. Observium can display information about the state of the CPU, RAM, data storage, power supply, temperature and so on from the event log. You can also include data collection and graphical performance counters for services such as Apache, MySQL, BIND, Memcached and Postfix. Observium works great as a virtual machine, so it can quickly become the main tool for obtaining information about the status of servers and networks. This is a great way to add auto discovery and graphical representation to a network of any size. A free edition with limited functionality is available.
Image source: https://www.observium.org/images/ss-dev-linux.png
Netwrix Auditor for Windows Server
Even the best infrastructure monitoring tools are not enough. If you detect a Windows Server performance issue, you need to be able to quickly inspect system settings and analyze the latest configuration changes to determine the cause of the issue and fix it before business processes suffer. Therefore, a system monitoring tool is also essential. Netwrix Auditor for Windows Server provides complete visibility into your system settings and changes. For example, you can easily see the current state of your system and review all changes that were made to your Windows servers, such as installation of software and hardware and changes to scheduled tasks, services and registry. You can configure alerts to be notified any time there is a suspicious change or series of changes.
The application is part of the Netwrix Auditor platform, which delivers information in a unified and consistent way across your infrastructure, thanks to a consolidated audit trail across a wide variety of IT systems, including Active Directory, Windows Server, Oracle Database and network devices. Netwrix Auditor is not just a really valuable server administration and monitoring tool; it’s an enterprise-level software platform that gives you complete visibility into changes, configurations and access across your cloud and on-premises IT environments. Product installation is straightforward, and the UI is user friendly and robust. Reports and alerts are very clear and nicely structured, with detailed data for each reported event, which makes Netwrix Auditor a great tool for monitoring setup and changes in Windows Server, network devices and other key systems in your infrastructure. Plus, you get file analysis, user behavior and blind spot analysis, risk assessment, built-in search of audit data, alerts on threat patterns, and user activity video recording. There is a 20-day free trial, as well as a free community edition with limited functionality.
Datadog is a surveillance, safety and analytics tool for developers, IT operation teams, security engineers and cloud-based business users. It combines and automates infrastructure surveillance, application performance tracking and log management to ensure that your whole technology stack is tracked uniformly and in real time. It can be an excellent network and service monitoring service for mid-sized IT shops, thanks to tons of integrations, dashboards and customizable alerts.
Datadog is highly praised by service providers for its simple cloud-hosted model, customizable views, and ability to seamlessly aggregate metrics and events across your full stack: SaaS and cloud providers, automation tools, monitoring and instrumentation, source control and bug tracking, databases and common server components. However, it does not have automatic device detection and requires a lengthy initial setup process. There is a 14-day free trial that allows you to monitor as many servers as you like.
Image source: https://imgix.datadoghq.com/img/blog/data-driven-notebooks/notebooks_postmortem.png?auto=format&fit=max&w=698
Fortinet Panopta is a web-based SaaS monitoring solution that helps service providers and businesses track network and server performance in cloud, on premises and hybrid environments. The built-in incident handler provides a centralized platform for managing incidents and resolved issues.
The cloud monitoring functionality of Panopta can perform automatic checks on application performance, disk space usage, load balancers and many other applications. Utilization of OpenStack lets you manage servers across Linux, Unix, Windows and Mac operating systems. Dashboards provide histograms, topology charts and color-coded heat maps to visualize, filter and segment data. Panopta’s API lets users integrate the system with various third-party applications and native applications to monitor activities remotely. As a result, this system provides highly versatile testing, monitoring and automation platform for all major infrastructure devices including servers, databases, firewalls, routers, and more. The solution lacks SNMP polling and is limited to ICMP monitoring.
Some users do complain that some of Panopta’s dashboards are difficult to change and some features can take some time to get used to. Additionally, there is a time investment to learn and set up the system; however, it is time well spent, since once you understand the system, it will help you achieve process transparency in your organization. You can request a 30-day free trial.
Image source: https://d2t60rd7vcv5ly.cloudfront.net/latest_screenshots/1561525948234_3_b_50.png
Atera is an integrated solution that includes everything you need in one place: full remote monitoring and management, professional services automation, remote access, patch management, billing, reporting, and more. The pricing model helps managed service providers grow their business with no extra costs, as plans include unlimited devices with payments per technician. All of your clients can be accessed through single central location, while patch management and remote management features save technicians lots of time and increase their ability to perform preventative maintenance.
Atera’s alerts are versatile and the ability to customize different locations is impressive. Some users say that the integrations with Splashtop and Teamviewer are major advantages of the product. Remote task automation, software patch management and automated software installation are invaluable aids to IT admins. Atera constantly improving their product and adding new features.
However, some users consider Atera’s reporting very basic, highlighting the lack of customization — you can create custom fields, but there is no way to show them on any report. Also, the agents will sometimes go offline, usually requiring to restart of the services, either manually or via scripting. Altera offers a 30-day free trial.
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Opsview Monitor is a comprehensive monitoring solution that is widely used by both IT departments and external partners like service providers. Key features include customizable dashboards, business service monitoring, alerts, reports and graphs, process maps, and infrastructure auto-discovery.
The solution monitors applications, web servers and other resources. It provides complete monitoring and customization capabilities, and is easy to use. Opsview Monitor integrates with other Opsview products and add-ons, such as Elastic Stack for workflow automation and system monitoring. It helps keep track of a variety of infrastructures, from Windows Server and Active Directory to AWS to container orchestration frameworks and hundreds of standalone applications. This helps international support teams detect issues before their customers are affected and provide customers with an SLA dashboard. Users emphasize OpsView’s ease of management, the simplicity of migration from other solutions, the scalable and intuitive user experience, and the variety of integration options. According to some commercial users, it can be quite expensive, built-in cloud monitoring packages need to be improved, and some features are missing from the SMB version. Opsview offers a free version with limited features for organizations with fewer active users.
Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8d/Opsview_Monitor_6.0_Dashboard.jpg
Free and Open Source Server Monitoring Tools
Now let’s explore the best free and open source tools for monitoring Window Server. Like the commercial solutions, they are not listed in a ranked order; you should choose the one that best suits your needs.
Cacti is an open source network monitoring tool that offers a solid graphical representation of the network. Cacti is free to download 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 device or service returns numeric data, then most likely it can be integrated into Cacti. There are templates for server application monitoring platforms from Linux and Windows servers to Cisco routers and switches — basically anything that communicates with SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol). Although the standard method for collecting Cacti data is the SNMP protocol, scripts in Perl or PHP can also be used.
Cacti divides data collection and graphic display into discrete instances, which makes it easy to re-process and reorganize data for various visual representations. 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. Thus, 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.
Image source: https://www.cacti.net/images/cacti_promo_main.png
Icinga is another great open source network monitoring tool. Icinga began as a branch of the Nagios monitoring system (described below) but was recently rewritten into a stand-alone solution known as Icinga 2. At this point, both versions of the program are in active development and are available for use. While Icinga 1.x is compatible with a large number of Nagios plug-ins and configurations, Icinga 2 was designed to be less cumbersome, have a performance orientation and be more user-friendly. It offers a modular architecture and multi-threaded design, which is not true of either Nagios or Icinga 1. There are several variations of web interface for Icinga.
The Icinga platform is as open and extensible as Nagios. The main difference is the configuration process: Icinga can be configured via the web interface, while Nagios uses configuration files and the command line. For those who prefer to manage their monitoring software without the command line, this functionality will be a real gift. Icinga integrates with many software packages for monitoring, such as PNP4Nagios, inGraph and Graphite, providing reliable visualization of your network.
Image source: https://screenshots.debian.net/screenshots/000/013/842/large.png
Nagios is a powerful network monitoring tool that has been in active development for many years. Nagios allows system and network administrators to accomplish almost anything they might need a monitoring application to do. 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, but it is also an advantage, since the tool can be adapted to almost any monitoring task. Like Cacti, Nagios boasts a very active community that supports the tool, 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 the IP network layer protocol understands. For example, you can monitor the use of disk space on the server, RAM and CPU usage, FLEXlm license usage, server air temperature, WAN and internet connection latencies, and much more.
Obviously, any monitoring system for servers and networks will not 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/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. But the advantages of the early warning system metrics provided by this tool for so many aspects of the network are hard to overstate. Nagios XI is free for up to 7 nodes after the trial.
Image source: https://www.nagios.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/XI_Home_Dashboard.png
Netwrix Auditor Free Community Edition
Every business-critical server and service must be correctly configured, and its availability and protection must be constantly monitored. Netwrix Auditor Free Community Edition is a free monitoring tool that gives IT administrators regular updates about all important changes to their Windows Server. The daily activity summary reports provide the crucial “what,” “when” and “where” details and before and after values for changes on your Windows Server and other monitored assets.
Netwrix Auditor Free Community Edition, like the paid version of Netwrix Auditor, is not just a Windows Server monitoring tool. Rather, it’s a platform that covers many different systems, from Active Directory to network devices and Oracle Database.
The Ntop project, better known as Ntopng, is a first-class network monitoring tool with a fast and easy web interface. This packet analysis tool displays real-time data about network traffic, including information about host data flows and host connections in real time. Ntop provides good graphs and tables showing current and past network traffic, including the protocol, source, purpose and history of specific transactions. In addition, you will find an impressive set of graphs, charts and maps of real-time network usage.
A modular architecture allows for a huge number of add-ons. Ntop includes an API for the Lua scripting language, which can be used to support extensions. Ntop can also store host data in RRD files for permanent data collection. One of the most useful applications of Ntopng is traffic control in a specific location. For example, if some of your network channels on your network map are highlighted in red and you don’t know why, you can use Ntopng to get a per-minute report about the problematic network segment and quickly see which hosts are responsible for the issue. The advantage of such visibility of the network is difficult to overstate, and it is very easy to get.
Image source: https://screenshots.debian.net/screenshots/000/014/494/large.png
If you’ve ever had to search for devices on your network to connect through the Telnet protocol to your switches and perform a MAC address lookup, or determine the physical location of certain devices, then you will be interested in NeDi. NeDi constantly looks at the network infrastructure and catalogs the devices, tracking everything that it detects. Like Cacti, NeDi is a completely free tool related to LAMP. It regularly scans MAC addresses and ARP tables in switches of your network, cataloging each detected device in a local database. This tool is not well known, but it can be very convenient in corporate networks in which devices are constantly changing and moving.
You can use the NeDi web interface to search for a switch, switch port, access point or any other device by MAC address, IP address or DNS name. NeDi collects all the information possible from every network device it encounters, pulling out serial numbers, firmware and software versions, current time parameters, module configurations, and so on. You can even use NeDi to mark the MAC addresses of devices that have been lost or stolen; if they reappear in the network, NeDi will tell you about it.
Configuration management is simple: A single configuration file allows you to significantly increase the number of settings and skip devices based on regular expressions or specified network boundaries. NeDi typically uses the Cisco Discovery Protocol or the Link Layer Discovery Protocol to discover new switches and routers, and then connects to them to collect their information.
Image source: https://www.nedi.ch/wp-content/uploads/monhealth.jpg
Spiceworks Network Monitor
Spiceworks Network Monitor is a simple and free server monitoring software for server and network monitoring. It is extremely flexible and scalable, allowing independent thresholds per system or device. Spiceworks Network Monitor 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, so if it is co-located with another app, the drive can fill quickly if you don’t keep on 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 monitoring off-hours. The monitoring is done on servers, switches, appliances — both physical and virtual.
There are a few disadvantages. 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 even 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.
Image source: https://3upg5n1ajpdonqkkp34tcif1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Monitor-2-ToggleFeature-Zoom-scaled.png
Zabbix is a full-scale tool for network and system monitoring that combines several functions 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 tools, including monitoring virtualization hypervisors and web application stacks.
Zabbix normally works with software agents running on controlled systems. But it can also work without agents, using the SNMP protocol. 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 the Linux, FreeBSD and Windows Server operating systems and the SMTP, HTTP, ICMP and IPMI protocols.
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.
Image source: https://assets.zabbix.com/img/5.2/screenshots/1-monitoring-dasboards.png
Netdata is a free, open source monitoring tool designed to collect real-time metrics like memory and CPU utilization, disk activity, bandwidth usage, website visits, etc., and then display them in real-time charts and dashboards. Its real-time alert functions and highlighting of problems on the live dashboard are great for proactive and active monitoring of resources and systems, without the need to perform complex SSH checks and use various filters to access the data of interest.
The drawback of Netdata is that it is not a specifically Windows performance monitoring tool, so without special forks and derivatives from this open source tool, it is impossible or almost impossible to track all inherent parameters. Therefore, any virtual server systems on Microsoft Hyper V base will not be monitored with this tool, so you need to resort to expensive proprietary tools.
Netdata is a distributed tool for monitoring the performance and health of systems and applications in real time. It has an optimized performance monitoring agent that you can install on all your systems and containers. Netdata provides unparalleled real-time insights into everything that happens on the systems it monitors (including web servers, databases, applications) using interactive web panels. It can work standalone, without any third-party components, or it can be integrated into existing monitoring tools (Prometheus, Graphite, OpenTSDB, Kafka, Grafana, etc.). It provides fully responsive HTML5 graphs, bar and pie charts for system performance issues, latency, speed, load, load average and many other health-related metrics related to services running on a host where it is installed.
Netdata is powerful, lightweight, and easy to install and configure. It fast and efficient; it is designed to work continuously in all systems (physical devices and virtual servers, containers, IoT devices) without disrupting their main function. It runs on a wide variety of operating systems, including Windows Server, Linux, FreeBSD, macOS and more.
Image source: https://i.imgur.com/cC4tkMS.png