Networking

Five free network monitoring tools

Among the wide array of network and system monitors, you'll find several that do what the pricier tools do -- for free.

If you're a system or network administrator, you need monitoring tools. You have to know, at all times, the status of your systems so you can optimize performance and head off potential problems. Thankfully, plenty of tools are available to help you stay in the know about your systems. Some of these products are costly and do quite a lot. But others are free and do just as much -- and in some cases, more. That's right. More.

I want to introduce you to five system and/or network monitors that do more than you'd think they could do. From this list of products you will certainly find one or more tools that will serve your needs.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: Observium

Observium (Figure A) is "an autodiscovering PHP/MySQL/SNMP-based network monitoring [tool]." It focuses on Linux, UNIX, Cisco, Juniper, Brocade, Foundry, HP, and more. With Observium, you'll find detailed graphs and an incredibly easy-to-use interface. It can monitor a huge number of processes and systems. The only downside is a lack of auto alerts. But to make up for that, you can set Observium up alongside a tool like Nagios for up/down alerts.

Figure A

Observium

2: Ganglia

Ganglia (Figure B) is a "scalable distributed monitoring system" focused on clusters and grids. It gives you a quick and easy-to-read overview of your entire clustered system. This monitor has been ported to many platforms and is used on thousands of clusters around the world. Anyone who employs server clusters should have Ganglia monitoring that system. Ganglia can scale to handle clusters with up to 2,000 nodes.

Figure B

Ganglia

3: Spiceworks

Spiceworks (Figure C) is becoming one of the industry standard free network/system monitoring tools. Although you have to put up with some ads, the features and Web-based interface can't be beat. Spiceworks monitors (and autodiscovers) your systems, alerts you if something is down, and offers outstanding topographical tools. It also allows you to get social with fellow IT pros via the Spiceworks community, which is built right in.

Figure C

Spiceworks

4: Nagios

Nagios (Figure D) is considered by many to be the king of open source network monitoring systems. Although not the easiest tool to set up and configure (you have to manually edit configuration files), Nagios is incredibly powerful. And even though the idea of manual configuration might turn some off, that setup actually makes Nagios one of the most flexible network monitors around. In the end, the vast number of features Nagios offers is simply unmatched. You can even set up email, SMS, and printed paper alerts!

Figure D

Nagios

5: Zabbix

Zabbix (Figure E) is as powerful as any other network monitoring tool, and it also offers user-defined views, zooming, and mapping on its Web-based console. Zabbix offers agent-less monitoring, collects nearly ANY kind of data you want to monitor, does availability and SLA reporting, and can monitor up to 10,000 devices. You can even get commercial support for this outstanding open source product. One unique Zabbix feature is the option to set audible alerts. Should something go down, have Zabbix play a sound file (say, a Star Trek red alert klaxon?).

Figure E

Zabbix

Your choice

There are many tools available for the monitoring of systems and networks. The tool you choose could determine your ability to handle your job efficiently. Make sure you take a look at one or more of the applications above. With some unique features on offer, these tools stand out above the rest.

Do you use any of these monitoring tools? What other top contenders would you add to the list?

More on monitoring tools

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

36 comments
akis_t
akis_t


I want to be able to monitor a home network. I want to be able to see what devices (PCs, laptops, phones, tablets) are connected to the network, how much bandwidth each connected device is consuming, be able to shut a device off the network or set a throttle so it does not bring down the whole network.


I do not particularly care to see and monitor applications that are running on which machines on the network which seems to be the focus of most tools I have looked at.


Does something like that even exist?

ivo_yordanov
ivo_yordanov

Hello


Network monitoring depends a lot on what you want to monitor.
It depends on what kind of architecture. If you have devices supporting Netflow, this could be very handy to identify bottlenecks or missues. There are just a few good tools for netflow under a low budget, try solarwinds or Pandora FMS.

For SNMP monitoring, probably the most common case, most tools do a good job: cacti, zabbix, pandora fms or nagios. OpenNMS and Pandora FMS have the best management of Traps, and only a few manage v3 properly.

For a mixed scope on monitoring: server, apps and networking, you have less tools, we use Pandora FMS for that reason, can manage netflow, snmp, wmi (for remote server monitoring) and agent based monitoring for unix & windows server.


Some Links:

http://pandorafms.com/Producto/network-monitoring/en

http://opennms.com

hannykam
hannykam

i  want a free network monitoring tools installed in my virtual machine to detect and supervice any smartphone connected to the network smartphones
i don't know what is the tool and how .there is any one who can help me please, thank you

cloudviewnms
cloudviewnms

This is the one we use:

http://www.cloudviewnms.com

Can monitor practically anything , SNMP GUI support for many standard mibs, scalable to thousands of nodes  (unlike others, they do not charge extra when your network grows... ) , remote secure multi-user web access ...

robinjack
robinjack

If looking at commercial Network Monitoring tools, also add MindArray to the list. Provides unified monitoring for end to end components such as devices, server, application database, event log and flow analysis.

http://www.mindarraysystems.com/

CNC-contact
CNC-contact

For website monitoring you can try http://www.controlncloud.com, simple and free. Checks every five minutes, you will be inform of all issue on you're website. In addition, you'll get a complete reporting on demand.

Barryherne
Barryherne

i can add the tool which I use as a database administrator - Anturis (http://www.anturis.com). I am satisfied with the tool because it is not expensive and it works perfectly and real time which is important. And they offer free trial period for many PCs.

MEMATT
MEMATT

You might have missed this wonderful free network monitoring software tool in the above mentioned list. ManageEngine OpManager is a complete end to end network monitor software.

etabush
etabush

Put together a good list but a few other good ones that we use. We use Quest Packettrap for the majority of our monitoring. Then use mxalerts.com for our exchange server monitoring. Mxalerts is a pretty simple and cheap round-trip monitor. Nothing too fancy but it does the job, not much more i can ask for.

dmessenger
dmessenger

I've been using PRTG for several years now. You can try it for free for 10 days and you can keep using it for 10 sensors only for as long as you like. For me the cost was very reasonable considering all that I am able to monitor. If I ever have trouble with a machine, router, switch or even certain services that I monitor, I can look back and see exactly when the problem started. Plus, the alerts have saved my butt several times. As "the" IT guy at our company, it is indispensable. I do have Nagios installed on my VOIP box, but haven't really looked at advanced settings for it. Maybe I need to....

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

There is also FAN, Fully Automated Nagios It comes complete as an appliance OS, with Nagios and centreon Databased configurator where all configurations can be setup via web browser We also use Zenos but find a little harder a clunky to admin, better for servers.

chostetler
chostetler

TheDude from MikroTik is also a great network monitoring app with a small footprint and very fast setup. And it can run on any old windows computer.

etabush
etabush

One more to throw into that list is MXAlerts. They offer a free account that is perfect for companies looking to monitor a single email server. We monitor about 80 email servers and only 350$ a year. Not to shabby...

jott0204
jott0204

I'm looking for a monitoring tool that can monitor Extended MIB. We currently use Spiceworks, but that is a limitation for it. What is the best? Which has the best configurations? I do not like SysUpTime. It seems very cumbersome and clunky. Thanks! --James

saturno
saturno

The Dude is an awesome network discovery and monitoring tool. I use it from several year now and it is completely awesome. Fully featured, easy to install and configure - it is a setup and forget app.

bcasner
bcasner

Try Netscan from SoftPerfect for quick discovery and status.

bearkiter
bearkiter

Highly under rated free app from Mikrotik, even a complete novice can have it up and monitoring in minutes, awesome discovery and solid muli-layer mapping abilities.

IrishMike
IrishMike

ahh im a little gutted Zenoss hasnt made the list. I've just put this in as Spiceworks didn't give me real time monitoring especially on services stopping and starting etc. Plus the Zenpacks, though the volume cannot beat Nagios Exchange, has many handy little packages that have made our life monitoring HP and Dell servers brilliantly easy

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Limited to just network monitoring: Icinga - Tell me about up/down status (ping check), topical diagram with up/down and resulting affects showing, tell me about services (ftp, http, mail.. are they up, are they healthy), tell me about local system details (disk usage, users logged in, processor load). It gives more of a health/unhealthy result and/or alarm rather than metrics displayed over time. (Icinga is a fork of Nagios, if you know one then you know the other and howto/plugins have remained compatible so far.) Munin - detailed machine metrics over time. If Icinga triggers an alert or the Munin overview is showing a warning then I can quickly get current, 24hrs, 7days, 1yr graphs in view. On *nix it's monitoring pretty much everything (over 50 plugins available when I take a quick scan). Igina provides the network overview and some related warning lights as a binary go/no-go indication. Munin gives me machine specific incremental details. vnstat - provides network traffic usage statistics for the local machine. daily/weekly/monthly usage and such. It's a terminal app so you can view it over ssh or have it dump to email for you on a schedual. (darkstat provides similar details by html interface, ntop provides similar and more indepth details (but is crashy)) Extras beyond network monitoring: git - provides version control and tracking for my config and buildscript directories. If something changes, then Git complains and I make a commit entry with comment stating that the change was expected or I investigate it further. For the buildscripts tracking helps since they are always evolving and it keeps them syncronized to a remote location. If something changes then refresh from remote location and rerun the setup scripts to replace anything amiss. Samhain - just to toss in file verification, samhain screams loudly when it detects file changes. If something is not spotted in the network and does not show in the machine stats then hopefully it's caught by git or samhain when it changes a critical file. (Then there is Tiger, systemcheck, john... )

Jensen G
Jensen G

I am pretty new to all of this and am looking for a tool that would allow us to monitor how much bandwidth each of our workstations (WinXP Pro SP3) is using (the server is running Windows Server small business 2003). Any ideas would be appreciated, it would have to be something free/cheap and easy to use. Thanks!

Finalreminder
Finalreminder

@akis_t - You can do all that, and more, with a basic Mikrotik box

donald.farrar
donald.farrar

@akis_t  

I would like to know this very same thing.  Does anyone know how to do this on a nerdy non programmer type person?

merlinpr
merlinpr

Agreed. I have been using Zenoss for years and have yet to find anything that can do so much, scales as well as, and it's so easy to use. It does a lot of things so at first it has a bit of a learning curve but I don't think there is anything else out there that can do all of what Zenoss can for free. BTW, I also use Spiceworks but they are completely different monsters. Spiceworks is a great asset tracking and help desk tool whereas Zenoss is an excellent enterprise monitoring software. IMHO the only competition out there for Zenoss (that I have seen) would be OpenNMS and I'll tell you it has an even higher learning curve. Both are great products used in companies managing thousands of nodes.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Go into the switch [if managed]. Should be able to get statistics on traffic. Make a note of the culprets. Come back later and see if they changed much. Simple quick and dirty.

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

Try NetWorx. It needs to be installed on every machine you want to monitor, but you can set it up so that one of them collects data from all of the other machines.

J_Warren
J_Warren

Spiceworks has a plugin that allows you to view bandwidth usage on a per device basis.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

If your just monitoring bandwidth use, you might put a small network monitor app on each machine. The down side is that you have to go around and collect those figures before you can compare them. A router could give you total bandwidth usage through whatever point in the network you place it but you loose the indavidual machine usage below it. Munin maybe? It gives ongoing system stats measured at about five minute intervals. One of the metrics measured is NIC usage which would give you an idea of traffic in and out of the machine. It installs as a centeral server which reaches out to munin clients on each of the nodes to collect metrics. *nix nodes will give you much more information but there are some easy to setup Windows metrics also. I'm seeing disk usage, network usage, processes, cpu usage without any Windows specific setup beyond the win client. ntop will give you network usage monitoring. Ideally it would be setup at a pinch point like before a router so it can see all traffic past that point. It should then give usage by protocol and by ip address. Like anything, it depents. What is your intended goal? Do you just want to attribute bandwidth usage to machines or do you want something watching close enough to balance budgets against?

tylivia13
tylivia13

Zenoss doesn't appear to be a free app, I can download a free trial. Why do you say it is free? just asking

Editor's Picks