What is Network Monitoring?

With the advent of technology and a new security threat every day, it is only natural that various utilities, software, and tools are being launched every year to compete in the massive realm of network monitoring systems and software by the vendors.

Network monitoring is the backbone of any organization, and thus choosing the right tool that fits your work environment and budget is very important.

Network management includes numerous tasks due to which there are thousands of tools in the market. Some of the tools are designed for specific tasks such as LAN monitoring, WAN monitoring, etc., that won’t monitor other factors in the networks.

Your organization deserves the best network monitoring tool, and for that, we have compiled a list of the best network monitoring tools.

You can choose the tool that suits your organization based on your size of the operation, budget size, admin team, and network configuration.

What is Network Monitoring?

Network administrators require real-time information related to the network infrastructure and devices to ensure that the network is running optimally.

This information is provided to the network admins by the network monitoring software that tracks various aspects of a network such as traffic, uptime, and bandwidth utilization and provides network status reports.

The tools help the network admins quickly identify network issues, such as device or connection failures, traffic bottlenecks, etc.

Key benefits of network monitoring

Network monitoring systems provide the following key benefits:

Early insight: The monitoring systems offer reports on the performance of each network component over a period that can help the network administrators anticipate the organization’s future network infrastructure needs.

Clear visibility: The administrators can get a clear overview of all the devices connected to the network. It also contains information about the data movement through devices that can help identify and resolve any issues that undermine performance.

Identify threats: By monitoring the network constantly, the tools can quickly identify threats to the performance and generate instant alerts for any unusual or unexplained activity in the traffic.

Resource usage: The tools help the IT teams to utilize the hardware and software resources helpfully and reduce the manual work of IT teams which can now focus on other critical projects of the organizations.

Types of Network Monitoring Protocols

There are mainly three types of network monitoring protocols:

  • Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) – This is an application-layer protocol that uses a request and response model to check device status in a network.
  • Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) – This protocol is used by the network devices such as routers, switches, and servers to send information related to IP operation and generate error messages when any device fails.
  • Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) – This protocol is a software industry initiative to develop a standard for information accessibility in any enterprise. It creates an operating system interface to receive information from WMI agents and monitor network health, availability, and performance on windows servers.

There are other protocols such as Cisco Discovery Protocol, TCP/IP protocol, FTP, POP3, SMTP, IMAP, etc., that are also used in web server monitoring.

How Does a Network Monitoring Tool Monitor the Network?

Most of the network monitoring tools available in the market use Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), Secure Shell (SSH) for Unix and Linux servers, and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI).

These protocols monitor network health and the connected devices and provide admins with real-time information about them.

Any network performance monitor has five functions: Discover the network devices, Map them in a topology, monitor the network, generate alerts when any device malfunctions, and report the problems in real-time.

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The network monitoring systems differ in these functionalities. Some can identify the devices better than others; some might require manual processing to create a network map, some might not generate appropriate alerts or have unclear thresholds, etc.

Most of the tools are highly customizable that allows network admins to create dashboards based on their suitability.

How to Choose a Network Monitoring Software

Depending on the physical aspects of your network and your budget, you can choose any of the available network monitoring software in the market.

Many IT departments tend to combine the functions of storage, application, server, and network management, and thus they require software that includes this combined monitoring package.

Whether the network is wireless (using WiFi) or wired (using LAN or optic fibre) is also an essential factor while choosing the network monitoring software.

It is essential to ensure that the software you choose is compatible with your network environment and enhances security.

The software you choose must contain functionalities to handle potential network failure and send alerts for undetected problems.

The availability of these factors might help you decide which software to use:

  • Automated discovery of network topology and network inventory.
  • Alerting mechanism that displays any problems in the dashboard.
  • Color coding of the status reports.
  • Appropriate performance thresholds to perform proper performance management.
  • Pre-written templates for report generation using network performance statistics for presentation and analysis.
  • Network performance summary views and individual device statistics.

Explain the difference between Network Monitoring and Application Performance Monitoring?

Network Monitoring – To monitor network infrastructure and devices such as switches and routers, we use network monitoring. It examines traffic flow using network traffic analysis and identifies and monitors applications that generate or receive traffic to ensure that they are working correctly.

Application Performance Monitoring – Monitoring applications for resources and functionality to ensure high performance is called application performance monitoring. These resources can be CPU time, disk space, storage, and network.

The Top Best Network Monitoring Tools and Software

1. Paessler PRTG Network Monitoring

Network Monitoring Tool - Paessler PRTG Network Monitoring

Website: PRTG network monitor

The PRTG network monitor offered by Paessler is a well-known software due to its advanced IT infrastructure management capabilities.

PRTG monitor can display all systems, applications, devices, and traffic inbound and outbound from your network in a simple hierarchical view. The view contains a summarized performance and alerts related to network issues.

PRTG allows administrators to monitor devices in the data center using their mobile app. The PRTG network monitor app scans a QR code corresponding to the sensor attached to the physical hardware and then displays the summary on the mobile device.

PRTG uses HTTP requests, SNMP, SQL, Flows/Packet Sniffing, REST APIs, SSH, Pings, WMI, and more to monitor the IT network infrastructure.

The PRTG monitor offers a 30-days free trial and is one of the best choices for low network monitoring experience organizations, which require a powerful user interface and ease of use.

2. Zabbix

Zabbix Network Monitoring Tool

Website: Zabbix

It is an open-source network monitoring system widely used due to its ease of use and fully configurable aesthetic website GUI.

The tool is powerful for SMB networks having nodes below 1,000, above which the software performance might degrade.

Zabbix is a network monitor focused on monitoring and trending functionality and is frequently used to monitor hardware and servers and predicting trends in network traffic.

It can predict trends in network traffic and forecast future behavior by analyzing historical data. However, Zabbix does not provide real-time tests and reports.

Zabbix has an active user community with members worldwide and has good documentation about its releases and versions.

Being open-source software, Zabbix users are free to use the software without vendor lock-ins.

3. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor

SolarWinds Network Monitoring Tool

Website: SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor

SolarWinds Worldwide LLC is the best choice when it comes to network monitoring solutions.  It is easy to set up, highly customizable, easy to manage, and ready in no time.

SolarWinds network monitor allows you to design your network infrastructure topology and create customized intelligent and dependency-aware alerts.

It supports automatic network discovery and scanning for the Wireless and wired devices in the network and can map them in various topological views.

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The easy-to-use performance dashboard can analyze critical data points, pinpoint issues in network performance, and explore paths using the NetPath Critical Path visualization feature.

The real-time network and Netflow monitoring for all critical network components, devices, servers, switches, desktops, routers, laptops, firewalls, etc., can be performed.

SolarWinds offers a 30-day free trial. The tool supports a wide array of OEM vendors and includes forecast and capacity planning, robust alerting system, firewall monitoring, CISCO ASA network monitoring, creating HeatMaps for WiFi Networks, and hop hop analysis of critical network components and paths.

4. Progress WhatsUp Gold

Progress WhatsUp Gold Network Monitoring Tool

Website: Progress WhatsUp Gold

Progress Software Corporation offers a network monitoring software known as WhatsUp Gold that uses Simple Network Management Protocol to track network performance metrics.

SNMP includes SNMP agents that prepare current status reports for each switch and router that is constantly updated. The agents wait for a request from an SNMP manager, which is most often not included in regular operating systems.

While monitoring it, the device agent encounters any problem; then, it sends a trap message to identify the problem and generate alerts. This allows the network administrators to be free from constantly monitoring the console.

WhatsUp gold sends regular broadcasts to the agents and asks them for status reports called MIBs. It then compiles these results keeping track of all the devices and their connected devices.

WhatsUp gold can be installed on a windows server and comes with multiple pricing plans to suit your budget. The tool offers a 14-day free trial.

5. Nagios XI

Nagios XI Network Monitoring Tool

Website: Nagios XI

Aimed for a wider audience such as freelancers, small, medium, and large businesses, Nagios XI is the most flexible tool that offers free versions, subscription, open-source, and one-time license pricing models.

Nagios XI allows extreme flexibility for monitoring and alerts due to its adaptability to plug-ins. However, it is supported only on Linux and other UNIX operating systems.

This easy to install tool focuses on monitoring the entire network, database, and infrastructure and may take some time to adjust to your needs.

The main drawback of this tool is that it does not auto-discover the network devices, and the administrator needs to configure all device types using a configuration file for monitoring.

The standard edition of Nagios starts at $1,995, supporting 100 nodes.

6. Icinga 2

Icinga 2 Network Monitoring Tool

Website: Icinga 2

Developed in 2009 by the same developers as Nagios, Icinga is an open-source infrastructure and service monitoring tool.

This makes the tool completely free and allows you to get support from its robust community forum.

Icinga is primarily focused on intense monitoring of the entire network infrastructure and services. It is flexible and easy to use for SMBs and enterprises.

It is famous for generating alerts and reporting functionalities that pose an issue for the health of your network IT infrastructure using threshold analysis. These alerts can be received via email, SMS, and mobile message applications.

It is a web-based software featuring a website configured using Graphical user Interface (GUI) or Domain Specific Language (DSL).

The Icinga dashboard displays color-coded problems with network performance and availability. The critical issues are marked in red.

The tool is scalable using the Icinga modules or extensions and is available for Windows, Debian, Ubuntu, Raspbian, OpenSUSE, Red Hat, and Fedora.

7. Datadog Network Monitoring

Datadog Network Monitoring Tool

Website: Datadog Network Monitoring

Datadog is a cloud-based system that is an excellent network monitoring tool to supervise the performance of network devices.

The tool can explore networks and detect all connected infrastructure devices and create an asset inventory and topology map to set up system routines.

It provides end-to-end visibility correlated with highlighted performance issues and allows auto-discovery to detect any changes and update the network’s inventory and map.

You can monitor virtual networks and remote sites using the tool to combine on-premises and cloud-based resource monitoring.

It can blend performance data from multiple information sources, gather SNMP device reports, generate alerts for performance issues, perform data flow monitoring, and facilitate troubleshooting by identifying performance dependencies.

Datadog offers a 14-day free version for trial and allows the tool to be used for free for up to 5 hosts. The pricing plans start from $15/host per month for pro and $23/host per month for enterprises.

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8. Spiceworks Connectivity Dashboard

Spiceworks Network Monitoring Tool

Website: Spiceworks Connectivity Dashboard

It is a free network monitoring software that allows users to access its dashboard using a website GUI and perform IT monitoring of the infrastructure availability.

Spiceworks dashboard is ideal for small businesses that require an affordable monitoring solution that is easy to use. Being a free system, Spiceworks has a robust and active user community base.

The tool is integrated with Spiceworks Inventory and a Cloud Help Desk to allow effective monitoring. It can monitor information on OS, IP addresses, MAC addresses, etc.

It generates alerts for any discrepancies and issues in the It infrastructure or fluctuations in device performance and sends them via email. You can configure these alerts or use the default settings that come with the tool.

9. ManageEngine OpManager

ManageEngine OpManager Network Monitoring Tool

Website: ManageEngine OpManager

ManageEngine is an infrastructure management, network monitoring tool, and application’s performance monitoring (APM) that is well-balanced with monitoring and analysis features.

The tool comes with pre-configured device templates for network monitoring that contain predefined parameters and intervals for specific devices.

It can monitor the performance of virtual machines, servers, devices, switches, and routers in real-time using its customizable dashboard with over 200 widgets.

The OpManager uses SNMP monitoring to keep the administrators updated with device performance and allows automatic discovery of networks and mapping features that can be scheduled.

It generates relevant alerts by minimizing false positives and sends them via email and SMS that allows the administrators to respond quickly.

The tool needs to be installed on-premises and offers a 30-days free trial, after which the pricing starts from $595 for 25 devices.

10. Site24x7 Network Monitoring

Site24x7 Network Monitoring Tool

Website: Site24x7 Network Monitoring

The monitoring system offered by Site24x7 is a monitoring service that explores all the connected devices and logs its findings in its network inventory to map the topology.

It uses SNMP to regularly generate status reports of the network devices and detect any inventory and topology changes.

SNMP systems send out warnings for any problem detected in the system, which is then caught by the Site24x7 infrastructure as traps and generates an alert. These alerts are then sent via voice call, email, instant messaging, and SMS.

The monitor can analyze traffic and use the data for capacity planning. It also interprets live information for the dashboard, which can be accessed using any standard web browser and customized.

Site24x7 offers a 30-day free trial, after which the pricing starts from $9/month when paid annually.

Network Monitoring Tools FAQs

What are the types of network monitoring?

There are, in general, two types of network monitors: packet sniffers and network performance monitors. The packet sniffers sample the traffic while the performance monitors collect device reports.

How does network monitoring work?

Network monitoring systems use Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to monitor networks. This is an industry-standard networking protocol that collects data from SNMP agents available in most devices and sends the information to SNMP managers available in the network monitoring system.

What is the purpose of network monitoring?

The network is the lifeline of any IT infrastructure in an organization, and their failure can lead to a halt in business operations that can primarily affect the business. Network monitoring allows the administrators to monitor the organization’s infrastructure using various third-party tools and add-ons to identify the root cause of the hurdles before it reaches the customers.
The network environment is always dynamic as new devices, users, and technologies are constantly added that might change the topology and affect performance. The network monitoring solution helps in handling these dynamic changes more efficiently.

How do I turn on network monitoring?

You can turn on or set up monitoring using the following steps:
Identify critical network devices that are essential to your IT infrastructure.
Define the policies for devices, equipment, data, alerts, etc., to facilitate monitoring.
Configure WMI and SSH protocols on Windows server and Linux servers, respectively.
Configure SNMP on network devices such as routers, switches, hubs, etc.
Set threshold for network’s performance.
Set alerts and customize threshold levels and create a plan on how to respond to the alerts.
Monitor the devices constantly using the dashboard
You can use a monitoring tool to simplify your work and focus on other critical projects. 

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