Networking

Learn which three tools no Cisco admin should be without

What's better than a cool tool that makes being a network administrator easier? David Davis shares the top three Cisco administration tools he uses on a daily basis. See which tools he can't live without, and then share your own favorite tools in this article's discussion.

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What's better than a cool tool that makes being a network administrator easier? Most IT pros have a collection of favorite tools and utilities they keep in their "toolkits"—I'm sure you have your own list of personal favorites.

But how many of these favorites are Cisco tools? It might surprise you how many Cisco tools are available on the Internet, and they're there to make life easier for Cisco network admins.

In my opinion, too many network admins spend too much time hacking away at the text-based IOS console, never considering what's available to help them sit back and relax. I know this because I've been one of them. While there is certainly great value in learning all you can about the Cisco IOS, once you're comfortable with it, you should consider some automation.

In this spirit, this week I want to share my three favorite Cisco admin tools. You can download all three tools from the Internet, and they're relatively inexpensive. Of course, you can find plenty of tools that cost a few hundred or thousand dollars, but these tools often contain hundreds of features that you pay for but never use.

But before we get started, a few disclaimers: You might be wondering if this is a complete review of all available Cisco administration tools. The answer is no. I have only run across a few tools that have really made my life easier.

After you read about my recommendations, share yours in this article's discussion. Tell me and your peers which Cisco tools have made your life easier. But first, let's take a look at the top three Cisco administration tools I use on a daily basis.

1. WinAgents IOS Config Editor

The WinAgents IOS Config Editor is useful for a number of things. It's a TFTP server, a Syslog server, and a configuration editor. What you don't realize until you use it is how helpful it is in managing and archiving changes to a router's configuration.

An enterprise router's configuration can easily be hundreds of lines long, and modifying a 50-line ACL can be very confusing. Most programmers editing a large program would prefer using a dedicated tool instead of Windows Notepad, even though Notepad would work adequately.

The same example applies to editing large router configurations. You could use Windows Notepad, but the better tool for the job would be the IOS Config Editor.

With the IOS Config Editor, after you've edited the configuration, the movement of configuration files from your PC to the router occurs in seconds. In addition, the IOS Config Editor can automatically back up your Cisco IOS configuration files and archive them. And remember: It's never a bad thing to have a backup.

A single license for the IOS Config Editor costs $99. It's not pocket change, but it's a reasonable price to make editing huge router configurations easier, not to mention automating router backups.

Click the Figure A thumbnail to see a sample screenshot of the IOS Config Editor.

Figure A

2. Kiwi Syslog Daemon

Many of you are probably already familiar with a Syslog server. In case you're not, a Syslog server is a program that runs and gathers event logs from multiple devices. The WinAgents IOS Config Editor comes with a Syslog server, but it's really only effective for a small number of devices.

But if you have more than a few devices, I recommend the Kiwi Syslog Daemon. While you can download the freeware version, it (obviously) has less to offer than the licensed version. For one, the freeware version doesn't separate each different device into a separate file. In my opinion, this ability is the best benefit offered by the full, licensed version.

Other benefits of the licensed version include the ability to send e-mail or SMS alerts when certain types of events occur, when event logs reach certain sizes, or when it reaches a threshold of events in a given time period. You can purchase the licensed version of Kiwi Syslog Daemon for $99 for a single license.

I've set up Kiwi Syslog Daemon to have a separate file, for each day, for every router and switch on my network. This way, I have a history of all types of router and switch events. It runs as a service on a server, and—even if the machine reboots—the service always comes back up.

Click the Figure B thumbnail to see a sample screenshot of Kiwi Syslog Daemon.

Figure B

3. PRTG

The Paessler Router Traffic Grapher (PRTG) is a simple Windows-based traffic graphing program. It uses SNMP to collect stats from routers and then graphs those statistics.

I use this tool daily to graph my Internet and frame-relay networks. Of course, this isn't a Cisco-specific tool per se; however, it's a tool that I would not be without when managing any network.

If you only want to monitor one router (or sensor, as they call it), you can download the Freeware Edition of PRTG. Or, for about $50, you can purchase the Professional Edition, which allows you to monitor up to 25 routers.

I use PRTG to monitor two Internet circuits and one frame-relay circuit, and I also monitor circuits on other routers as needed. It also comes with a built-in Web server if you want to share your traffic stats with others.

And no, it isn't a true network analysis program—if your circuit maxes out, you'll need to use another tool to find out why. However, this tool is great for quickly glancing at your bandwidth utilization on multiple circuits, routers, and interfaces. I look at it daily—and usually smile, knowing that the network is "humming along" just fine. For more information about PRTG, check out "PRTG makes it easy to monitor bandwidth."

Click the Figure C thumbnail to see a sample screenshot of PRTG.

Figure C

David Davis has worked in the IT industry for 12 years and holds several certifications, including CCIE, MCSE+I, CISSP, CCNA, CCDA, and CCNP. He currently manages a group of systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and performs networking/systems consulting on a part-time basis.

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