When you’re hired to document a client’s network, there’s really only one way to go about it. You’ll have to find a reliable network autodiscovery tool to help you find the needles in the haystack.

Although TechRepublic’s senior network engineer, Lori Hyde, tried two tools for autodiscovery, Microsoft Visio’s Network AutoDiscovery and Layout and Fluke’s LAN MapShot, she was less than pleased with the results. To help her find a tool that’s within her price range and provides credible, usable results, we turned to our members for their experience with network autodiscovery tools. The nine tools here—with features from the vendors’ Web sites—were recommended by our members (we’ve left the links visible so you can print this out).

Nine tools for network autodiscovery

  1. 3Com Network Supervisor
    Trial version: http://www.3com.com/products/en_US/result.jsp?selected=5&sort=effdt&order=desc&sku=3C15100C
    Key features: Discovers and manages up to 1,500 IP devices (up to 2,500 with 3Com Network Supervisor Advanced Package) and 3Com NBX telephones; graphical interface lets you configure discovery boundaries to include specific subnets, enable or disable activity threshold alerts, and generate reports on network topology, device inventory, and port capacity
    Price: Free download requires registration beyond the 60-day evaluation period.
    Member comments: “Even with the heavy-duty apps out there, I still like this one because of its simplicity, its flexibility, and, mainly, because of its price. It works great on small networks and on those with less than 2,500 nodes. The upgrade costs a little bit and has to be ordered from a 3Com rep on CD, but it would be worth the cost, which is still nominal.”
  2. AdRem NetCrunch 2.1
    Trial version: http://www.adremsoftware.com/demo/demo.php
    Key features: Network discovery and mapping; device and service discovery and monitoring; performance monitoring; fault management with alerts sent via e-mail, pager, ICQ, etc.; trend analysis and reporting
    Price: AdRem NetCrunch 2.1 Standard allows you to monitor an unlimited number of IP devices but is recommended for up to 500 devices per instance. The per-workstation price for the standard version is $795 for one workstation, $755 for two to four workstations, and $716 for five workstations. AdRem NetCrunch 2.1 for Servers is licensed per server, the total number of servers to be monitored, and per administrator workstation, the total number of workstations where you install it. The server version is available for $1,445 for up to five servers, with discounts for larger purchases.
    Member comments: “…it’s probably the most friendly and easy to use tool for network discovery and monitoring….”
  3. HP Toptools
    Trial version: http://www.hp.com/toptools/download/download.html
    Key features: HP Toptools is a hardware management tool that provides inventory, fault, asset, performance, and security management of HP devices from anywhere on your network using a Web browser.
    Price: Provided at no charge for HP customers, or you can order a Toptools 5.6 CD set for $14.95 plus shipping and handling.
    Member comments: “Toptools is effective at finding every device on the network. I am able to look at my HP4000 switch and see if any ports have high utilization, then look on a map to see who is connected to that port. The port has an unmanaged hub connected to it, and you can see who is attached to that hub as well.”
  4. Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold
    Trial version: http://www.whatsupgold.com/_download/oneform.asp?product=WG-0000
    Key features:  It provides an intelligent network mapping feature while providing a robust monitoring system for network service levels and applications.
    Price: $2,000 to $5,000 including the service agreement hardware and training costs
    Member comments: “It is written in C++ so it is very easy to write add-ins to it if you know a little bit of programming. It also has the built-in function to monitor services that are running and restart them if they go down. It is simple to use and won’t cost as much as most discovery/monitoring tools.”
  5. LANguard Network Security Scanner from GFI
    Trial version: http://www.gfi.com/downloads/downloads.asp?pid=8&vid=17&lid=1
    Key features: GFI LANguard Network Security Scanner provides information, such as missing security patches, open shares, open ports, key registry entries, and weak passwords. Scan results are outputted to an HTML report, which can be customized and queried.
    Price: It is free for noncommercial use. Commercial users, or those who want extra features of the program like reporting, comparison, patch updater, and security alert updates, pay $249 for up to 50 IPs/devices. The price increases with the number of devices.
    Member comments: “It doesn’t do anything fancy like network drawings, but it will quickly tell you what devices are out there. One feature will tell you what security holes exist on which machines and which Microsoft article number applies. You can even push down fixes/updates to individual machines or [to] your entire network at once.”
  1. NetViz
    Trial version: http://www.netviz.com/download/d_default.asp
    Key features: NetViz uses Microsoft LanManager APIs for network discovery. The resulting diagram allows you to explore every relationship throughout your network and examine all the data associated with every object and link. You can troubleshoot problems by navigating through a network hierarchy, switching between physical and logical views of the system. The recent addition of the HP OpenView Import Module lets you import information gathered by OpenView.
    Price: The price varies by vendor. Single user licenses for the standard or professional versions range between $700 and $1,300.
    Member comments: “…there are some limitations in the autodiscovery functions. But I have found it extremely useful in visualizing the network with its layered documentation model where you can zoom in on details when and where you need it.”
  2. NetworkView
    Trial version: http://www.networkview.com/download.html
    Key features: Billed as “the very compact network discovery and management tool for Windows,” this utility will discover TCP/IP nodes and routes using DNS, SNMP, and ports; get MAC addresses and NIC manufacturer names; monitor nodes and receive alerts; and document with printed maps and reports.
    Price: The price for a single personal license is $59. Twenty or more licenses cost $29.90 each.
    Member comments: “Its information gathering and monitoring capabilities will give you a better heads-up approach than tools with ‘deeper’ features. Add to this the fact that the output can be saved as a text export, [and] you get a tool that can feed more advanced display apps if you really feel you must create another one of those dreadful network illustrations.”
  3. OptiView Inspector Console

    Trial version: http://www.flukenetworks.com/us/LAN

    Key features: OptiView Inspector Console gives you visibility into your networks by showing you the devices and local subnetworks on your network. It also monitors the status of devices and alerts you to errors, warnings, and changes so you can prevent and troubleshoot problems.
    Price: The price varies by vendor. Prices listed on CNET Shopper range from $6,699.04 to $7,199.99.
    Member comments: “This software will allow you to sort and print information regarding network connected devices and is more comprehensive than LAN MapShot.”
  4. Peregrine’s InfraTools Network Discovery
    Trial version: Not available
    Key features: This device discovery tool works along with a reporting tool, Time Warp, that allows administrators to look at trends over time. It will predict when devices should reach capacity, fail, or need updates and maintenance.
    Price: Starts at $50,000 for 1,000 nodes
    Member comments: “I have found that Peregrine’s Network Discovery tool is probably one of the best on the market as whilst it will provide you with pretty much all the hardware inventory, it also has many other features such as details on the size and state of the connections as well as drill-down ability on individual ports on equipment such as switches. The plug and play ability is also extremely efficient, and being browser-based also means I can access it remotely.”

Documenting your network

Do you have tips for keeping network documentation up to date? Have you developed a system or tool to stay on top of day-to-day changes? Send us an e-mail detailing your method or discuss it below.