Admin resource: Use the right tools to manage your network

Having the right tools at your disposal can mean the difference between being a hero or a scapegoat when a problem arises. Here's the inside track on some tools you need to effectively monitor, troubleshoot, and manage a corporate network.

To be an effective network administrator, you don't have to be a scientific genius. And you don't have to memorize a bunch of obscure facts about hardware and software. Instead, you need to know two things:
  • Where to find the appropriate solutions to technology problems when they arise
  • How to use the right tools for monitoring, troubleshooting, and managing the activities of the various systems on your network

We hope that TechRepublic is one of the sources you turn to for solutions when problems hit your network. To demonstrate that we're worthy of being a solutions finder, we've compiled a list of articles that discuss tools you can use to improve the management of your network.

Platform issues
Some of these tools are for Windows, some are for Linux/UNIX, and some are for other systems or can be used on multiple systems. We assume that most administrators have access to various types of systems for administrative use.

TechRepublic articles
We'll start by highlighting some of the TechRepublic articles that offer details about a variety of handy tools.
  • "Servers Alive is a valuable and inexpensive uptime monitoring tool"
    To handle a problem, you have to know that it exists. That's where a program such as Servers Alive comes in. It can e-mail, page, or call an administrator with an automated alert when a system goes down, a router fails, or a service goes offline.
  • "Let Big Brother keep tabs on the health of your servers"
    Big Brother is another monitoring tool, but this one runs on Linux/UNIX (although it can monitor systems from other platforms). It's available free under an open source license.
  • "PRTG makes it easy to monitor bandwidth"
    Bandwidth is an expensive and critical commodity for most organizations. PRTG (and its Linux/UNIX cousin, MRTG) allow you to keep a close eye on bandwidth utilization and quickly spot any potential problems.
  • "Get two must-have network tools—for free"
    Here's a peek at two handy troubleshooting tools—HyperTrace and NetStatLive. Since these are small, easy-to-use, and free, there's no excuse not to try them.
  • "Quickly manage systems over KVM with BgInfo"
    Most administrators who manage more than five or 10 servers usually have them loaded into a rack and access them with a KVM switch or remote access software. However, the more servers you have, the harder it can be to tell them apart—and making a configuration change to the wrong server can have disastrous consequences. BgInfo is a little tool that can help you set up desktop screens that allow you to quickly identify your servers.

TechProGuild articles
TechProGuild also offers information on a number of valuable admin tools. (Note that accessing these articles requires a TechProGuild subscription.)
  • "Monitor network latency using a free tool called SmokePing"
    Ever have users tell you that the network seems slow? Sometimes they're right and sometime they're wrong, but it's often difficult to measure. SmokePing is an open source tool that allows you to set up baselines and thresholds so you can see (and be alerted) when network performance is out of whack.
  • "Use Firewalk in Linux/UNIX to verify ACLs and check firewall rule sets"
    Firewalls and router ACLs are important for providing a first line of network defense. However, they are worthless if they aren't filtering correctly. Use Firewalk to verify that they're doing their job.
  • "Make a robust wireless audit of your network with Kismet"
    Rogue wireless equipment can lead to a lot of headaches for admins. Luckily, you can avoid potential problems by auditing for rogue wireless devices with Kismet. This is an open source program that runs on Linux; for a similar Windows application, check out NetStumbler.
  • "Network Probe 0.4 analyzes network traffic for free"
    One tool that every network administrator needs at one time or another is a protocol analyzer. However, not all protocol analyzers are created equal. Some are inexpensive and basic, while others are robust and very costly. Network Probe provides a robust solution that's very easy to use, and there are versions for both Windows and Linux/UNIX.

Final word
Of course, this is not a comprehensive list of every tool you need to manage a network. It's just a sampling of the kinds of great tools that can make you more effective at spotting problems and getting them fixed in a timely fashion. Such tools can make you a hero for mitigating a potential disaster instead of being a scapegoat when something breaks and you have no idea why.

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