Five Of The Best Free Network Monitoring Software Tools

Image Credit: Yaph
Five Of The Best Free Network Monitoring Software Tools
Image Credit: Yaph

Image Credit: Yaph

Everyone loves free stuff, especially when it’s every bit as functional as the paid alternative. Administrators are certainly no exception to this rule. Especially with IT budgets growing more blurred and complex with each passing year, the prospect of doing more with less is tempting indeed.

Thanks in large part to the open-source market, we have a wealth of powerful, full-featured network monitoring tools at no cost. We’re going to offer up a short list comprising what we feel are a few of the best.

Let’s jump in. Keep in mind, this list is by no means comprehensive. If you feel you have an example that belongs in here, give us a shout out in the comments.

Zabbix

First up, we’ve got Zabbix, an intuitive and granular tool that works well with most operating systems. It features extensive alerting and notification capabilities, a readily-customizable UI, and a wealth of tools that allow it to easily monitor a wide array of hypervisors and application stacks.

It’s also completely open-source – though paid support contracts are available in a number of tiers from bronze to enterprise. Other paid options include development, template building, consulting, turn-key solutions, and integration services.

Pros:

  • Capable of producing customizable maps and logical interconnection diagrams to help you better visualize your network.
  • Simple installation and configuration
  • An all-in-one solution, which helps monitor and manage network performance across the board.
  • Can run with or without an agent

Cons:

  • Although scalable, it doesn’t always function particularly well with large infrastructure
  • Reporting and monitoring functions could stand to be improved with out-of-the-box support for flat file configuration.
  • Can be difficult to properly secure without documentation

Microsoft Network Monitor

This one’s definitely one of the better protocol analyzers out there.. It allows you to quickly and easily capture, view, and examine traffic on your network. Designed primarily for Windows systems, it supports over three hundred different public and proprietary protocols. It allows an administrator to run simultaneous capture settings, monitor wireless connections, and sniff promiscuous traffic.

As noted by Software Informer, it definitely isn’t without its faults. It tends to be more than a little resource-heavy. Conversation tracking has also historically been cumbersome, although it was improved dramatically with version 3.2 and the introduction of the conversation tree.

Pros:

  • Able to identify scamp network applications
  • Can easily locate frames in network conversations
  • Excellent parser set and parser management
  • Extensive documentation of Microsoft’s API
  • Results are displayed in an easy-to-understand format

Cons:

  • Conversation tracking has improved, but can become very resource intensive.
  • Protocols often don’t parse correctly.
  • It’s strictly monitoring software – meaning it’s well-suited for troubleshooting, but doesn’t allow you to directly modify or configure your networks.
  • It’s designed for Windows, and isn’t open-source.

Icinga

This is a spin-off of another tools: Nagios (you can read more about the rather controversial split here). Icinga’s developers have fully embraced open-source in order to make the platform as extensible as its close cousin. What Icinga primarily has going for it over Nagios is its interface. It’s far simpler to use, and the developers have wisely created two separate web UIs that you can choose between based on your needs.

Icinga further offers an impressively thorough framework for network monitoring and alerts; one which supports a wide array of different operating systems and includes . At the same time, it suffers from many of the same problems as Nagios. It carries with it a considerable learning curve, though it’s simple to use once you get over the initial slope.

Pros:

  • Modular design allows you to choose which plugins to install.
  • It’s open-source, allowing for extensive modification and configuration of the source code.
  • Easy migration from Nagios
  • One of the most thorough reporting and monitoring solutions on the list.

Cons:

  • Configuration can be a bit of a headache.
  • Menus are cumbersome to use, and navigation doesn’t register in web browser address bars.
  • Documentation, although extensive, doesn’t include a quickstart guide.
  • The developers don’t offer any first-party consultation or support options.

Cacti

Created to work in conjunction with the powerful RRDtool, Cacti is an open-source application that includes both management and monitoring. Through its intuitive interface, you can configure it to track multiple metrics – literally anything that can be graphed.  It also allows for user management as well, and fast polling ensures that your data is kept as up to date as possible.

Cacti is also fully modular, allowing administrators to use it alongside whatever plugins or other monitoring solutions they desire. Its primary weakness lies in its complexity. If you’re an old hat where Linux is concerned, then you aren’t going to run into much difficulty. If, however, you’re relatively new to the operating system, you’re probably going to run into at least a few headaches where configuration is involved.

Pros:

  • Functional for network management as well as monitoring.
  • Particularly well-suited for monitoring of performance metrics, such as bandwidth usage and server temperature.
  • Modularity and open-source nature allows for a great deal of customization.
  • Fast data collection coupled with easily readable graphs.

Cons:

  • Requires relatively extensive knowledge of Linux to set up effectively
  • Features a number of dependencies – MySQL, PHP, etc. – that can make it somewhat complex to use.
  • Has a tendency to occasionally throw out random – and often undocumented – errors;
  • Documentation and support leave something to be desired.

Observium

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got Observium. Another open-source, Linux-based option; Observium supports an extensive range of operating systems and hardware platforms. Its interface is both powerful and streamlined, and it provides autodiscovery for the majority of devices most networks will use. Like Cacti, it makes use of RRDTool.

Its primary strength is that it allows administrators to track performance trending alongside system and network monitoring, with the ability to display the geographical location of all monitored devices. This, coupled with its powerful UI, makes it an excellent choice – though it too isn’t without its drawbacks. Primarily, support leaves a lot to be desired – and the community edition lacks many of the features which makes the enterprise edition such an excellent option.

Pros:

  • Offers incredibly well-designed visualization functionality for networks.
  • The paid edition is available for a relatively reasonable price compared to many other enterprise-level alternatives.
  • Documentation is well-written and easy to understand.

Cons:

  • Offers very little support for WISPS – and they probably won’t add support anytime soon (Warning: there’s some strong language in the link above).
  • Isn’t designed to be used on its own, but as a complement to another monitoring system such as Icinga.
  • The free version doesn’t send alerts, and doesn’t accept community patches.

Ultimately, you should remember that these overviews are mostly subjective. The best way to decide which monitoring solution works best for you is to give them all a try. They’re free, after all.


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