Best Network Monitoring Software

By Ivan Stevanović January 11, 2021

Monitoring software is essential for overseeing the health and efficiency of a network. Network monitor solutions are typically used by IT administrators to monitor data flow, locate bottlenecks, and detect or prevent server failure. We’ve compiled a list of the best network monitoring software solutions to help you navigate this crowded market.

This software is omnipresent in large enterprises, where it serves to keep networks running smoothly across multiple locations. But you don’t need a big IT department and multiple servers to benefit from monitoring software. If your company’s internet connection has a router that lets multiple people access the web, you have a network. And you are likely to find that network monitoring tools provide benefits far beyond their modest cost.

Best Network Monitoring Software Solutions for 2021

  • User-friendly
  • Solid reports
  • Customizable maps
  • Available only on Windows
Price $2,740upwards
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  • Can be bundled with other monitoring solutions
  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive for a small number of devices
  • Non-transparent pricing
Price $245upwards
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  • No hidden fees
  • Has an agentless version
  • Open-source
  • Complex
Price Free
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  • Good mobile app
  • Great monitoring capabilities
  • Intuitive dashboard
  • Demanding hardware requirements
Price $1,750upwards
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What is Network Monitoring Software?

Before setting out to find the best network monitoring systems, let’s review what this software is and what it does.

Network monitoring tools help IT administrators ensure that users – including customers and others outside the company – enjoy appropriate, secure, speedy, error-free access to servers and other network resources. The software helps you prevent downtime by notifying you of degraded performance that suggests a device is failing. Network monitoring software can help you ensure that your company’s services are available to employees and to customers who connect via the internet.

Network monitoring software tracks statistics like CPU usage, response times, uptime, and availability, giving you an overview of the health of all the devices on your network. The software alerts you to changes and failures.

The best network monitoring software includes automatic device discovery, automation, visual network representation, and other helpful features.

1. WhatsUp Gold

" Best for users on a budget "

  • Type
    On-premise
  • Operating System
    Windows Server
  • Protocols
    SNMP, WMI, SSH
  • Beautiful interface
  • Auto-mapping
  • Inexpensive

Things we liked / disliked:

  • User-friendly
  • Solid reports
  • Customizable maps
  • Available only on Windows

Things we liked / disliked:

  • User-friendly
  • Solid reports
  • Customizable maps
  • Available only on Windows
  • Type
    On-premise
  • Operating System
    Windows Server
  • Protocols
    SNMP, WMI, SSH
  • Beautiful interface
  • Auto-mapping
  • Inexpensive

WhatsUp Gold was introduced in 1996 by Ipswitch Inc., which was purchased in 2019 by Progress Software. While previous iterations were a little rough around the edges, the latest release deserves a spot on our best network monitoring software for Windows. We especially appreciate the UI updates, which contribute to overall user-friendliness.

Features

Most network management software doesn’t provide impressive visuals. That’s not a major criticism. With this type of tool, utility comes first. However, previous versions of WhatsUp Gold were overly complex even for these standards. Progress addressed user complaints by making the new version the best-looking network monitoring software around.

Another aspect of this software that saw improvements is the device detection system.  WhatsUp Gold is now capable of auto-detecting devices in your network as efficiently as any of the best software for monitoring network traffic we have reviewed. This is especially important since WhatsUp Gold is an agentless monitoring system. It’s not available as a cloud service and it has to be installed on a dedicated PC running Windows Server 2008 R2 or later. This may cause issues for some users, as Linux is a fan favorite in IT circles.

WhatsUp Gold is not available as a cloud system; it must be installed on-premise. In addition to automatic device discovery, WhatsUp Gold also performs automatic network mapping, creating a visual representation of how all the devices on your network are interconnected. Of course, like other tools on our best-looking network monitoring software list, WhatsUp Gold lets you create custom maps according to your needs.

The alert system for this network mapping software is robust. When an alert is triggered, WhatsUp Gold can notify you via email or SMS, run scripts or apps, and take other actions. The alerts don’t have to trigger only when a server goes down, as downtime should always be a worst-case scenario that’s best avoided. You can customize alert thresholds, allowing you to keep a close eye on server health.

Price

The pricing for WhatsUp Gold starts at $2,740. This is for the smallest package, which covers a network of up to 25 devices. Compared to other network monitoring software best pricing plans, this is quite affordable. However, the number of devices is not the only determining factor when it comes to pricing. The number of applications, virtual servers, and network flow sources also influences the final cost.

The software can be tried out via a free trial if you want to test it before committing.

Bottom Line

Over time, the WhatsUp Gold network monitoring service has grown to become a very robust tool. With huge UI improvements, automatic device detection, auto-mapping, and other great features, it deserves your consideration. The main disadvantage is that it’s exclusively an on-premise system that requires a Windows Server PC.

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2. OpManager

" Best for Linux "

  • Type
    On-premise
  • Operating System
    Windows, Linux
  • Protocols
    SNMP, WMI, NetFlow
  • Available on Linux and Windows
  • Pre-built alert templates
  • Has a free plan

Things we liked / disliked:

  • Can be bundled with other monitoring solutions
  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive for a small number of devices
  • Non-transparent pricing

Things we liked / disliked:

  • Can be bundled with other monitoring solutions
  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive for a small number of devices
  • Non-transparent pricing
  • Type
    On-premise
  • Operating System
    Windows, Linux
  • Protocols
    SNMP, WMI, NetFlow
  • Available on Linux and Windows
  • Pre-built alert templates
  • Has a free plan

Next up on our best network monitor software list is OpManager. This network monitoring tool is from the ManageEngine division of Zoho, which offers many tools for IT management. In addition to its ManageEngine tools, Zoho sells a customer relationship management system, mailing service, accounting, and more. Like the other monitoring systems on our list, OpManager is based on an agentless architecture and must be installed on-premise. While its features are lacking in some departments, the software is fairly inexpensive and easy to use. The company even offers a free plan.

Features

OpManager offers a wide range of IT monitoring solutions. These include network monitoring, application monitoring, a network flow analyzer, and more. Each of these can be purchased individually or bundled into the OpManager Plus package. Here, we’ll focus on the standalone best network monitoring software solution: OpManager.

This network monitor solution needs to be installed on a dedicated machine located on the premises. The software can be installed on either Linux or Windows. Most other tools can be installed on only one of the two, which puts ManageEngine a step ahead of its competitors. This is because OpManager is based on Java, which makes it easy to support multiple operating systems.

OpManager can collect network data through both SNMP and WMI protocols, as it supports both Linux and Windows systems. When compared to other network monitoring solutions, OpManager has an especially appealing user interface that makes it easy to navigate. OpManager uses a browser-based dashboard where you have access to all options we’re used to seeing with any NMS. However, the first time you access this candidate for best free software for monitoring a network on a PC, you might be taken aback by the sheer number of options and tabs located on the dashboard.

On the main page, you have a clear overview of all the devices on the network along with their response times and CPU usage. The dashboard is customizable so you can choose what information you want to see. Discovering and adding devices is easy and quick. You just need to provide the IP address and credentials for each device you want to monitor. For discovery, you can fine-tune the IP address range in which you want the software to search for devices.

Even the best network monitoring software that’s free needs to have a good alert system, and OpManager delivers here as well. Alerts can be sent via email or SMS, and you can set up actions to occur when an alert is triggered. You can tell the software to run scripts, start up an app, and more. And of course, you can customize alert thresholds. If you don’t feel you know enough to tamper with customizable alerts, you can pick from sample alerts that come with the software.

Price

OpManager’s price is based on the usual factors: the number of users, the number of devices, and so on. Although there are abundant tables showing prices for purchasing the software or paying on a per-month basis, most customers get a custom price based on their needs and the add-on features they choose. Unlike most of the best network monitoring software solutions, OpManager requires you to put in all the details about your network and needs, leave contact information, and wait for a quote to arrive via email.

There are three pricing plans – Standard, Professional, and Enterprise. The least expensive plan starts at $245 for two users and 10 devices. Only the Enterprise plan allows multiple-site distributed network monitoring

Bottom Line

ManageEngine’s OpManager is one of the most affordable options out there. However, the inexpensive prices are reserved for smaller networks. Monitoring a larger number of devices will probably cost you about the same as any other network monitoring solution. OpManager is a great deal for smaller businesses, and its user-friendly design makes it ideal for non-expert IT administrators.

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3. Zabbix

" Best free option "

  • Type
    Agent-based
  • Operating System
    Linux
  • Protocols
    SNMP, IPMI
  • Completely free
  • Works on Linux
  • Highly customizable

Things we liked / disliked:

  • No hidden fees
  • Has an agentless version
  • Open-source
  • Complex

Things we liked / disliked:

  • No hidden fees
  • Has an agentless version
  • Open-source
  • Complex
  • Type
    Agent-based
  • Operating System
    Linux
  • Protocols
    SNMP, IPMI
  • Completely free
  • Works on Linux
  • Highly customizable

Finding the best network monitoring software that’s open-source and free might seem like an impossible task. Zabbix defies expectations, offering robust network performance monitoring completely free of charge. Offering both agent-based and agentless monitoring, this Linux-based network monitor is a great choice for companies of all sizes.

Features

Zabbix is capable of real-time monitoring on virtual machines, servers, and network devices. It comes in two forms – agent-based and agentless. Zabbix is primarily an agent-based service, but you can run it in agentless mode as well – which is handy if you can’t install the agent on some devices. This sort of flexibility is why Zabbix is considered the best free network monitoring software.

Zabbix agentless monitoring has a more limited scope of oversight, allowing you to check port availability and response times, check server performance, and so forth. You get the essentials, but not all the monitoring insight you get with the agent-based architecture.

Zabbix runs only on Linux, but it can monitor Linux and Windows devices without a problem. Zabbix relies on SNMP and the Intelligent Platform Management Interface to collect data from network devices.

Like some other network performance monitors, Zabbix is based on a browser-based interface. IT administrators are greeted by the standard set of features and data found with most network monitoring software. Practically any network component can be monitored from the dashboard, showing you response times, CPU usage, and other relevant factors. What makes Zabbix the market’s best free network traffic monitoring software is the level of customizability it provides. You can freely alter the dashboard to suit your needs, giving you precisely the info you find valuable at the moment.

Another standout feature: templates for monitoring devices from popular vendors like Cisco, D-Link, Huawei, and other companies. Because it is an open-source tool, Zabbix has a lively user community that creates custom templates that can be downloaded freely.

Zabbix also delivers automatic device discovery. If you need to add or remove devices manually, you can do it in seconds. In addition to regular monitoring capabilities, this network monitoring solution offers predictive analytics to forecast future downtime, anomalies, and increased bandwidth usage.

The best free network monitoring tools and software like Zabbix can help you resolve issues before they become serious or cause damage. Zabbix is also extremely user-friendly thanks to its intuitive GUI, which makes the software approachable even to the most inexperienced users.

Price

The best thing about this network bandwidth monitor? It’s completely free. There’s no credit card needed, no hidden fees or limitations. You can download the software right away, without leaving any information on the site. Because it is an open-source project, you can also download Zabbix code if you want to add functions or integrate with other software.

Bottom Line

For users looking for the best free network monitoring software, there’s no better option than Zabbix. This feature-rich system can go toe-to-toe with many of the premium solutions out there. However, despite its user-friendly interface, Zabbix can be very complex to use. The lackluster tutorials that come with the product drive many users to rely on community-written guides. We therefore cannot recommend the software fully for those who are not well-versed in network monitoring.

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4. PRTG Network Monitor

" Best all-round "

  • Type
    On-premise
  • Operating System
    Windows
  • Protocols
    SNMP, WMI, NetFlow
  • Map designer
  • Alert push-notifications

Things we liked / disliked:

  • Good mobile app
  • Great monitoring capabilities
  • Intuitive dashboard
  • Demanding hardware requirements

Things we liked / disliked:

  • Good mobile app
  • Great monitoring capabilities
  • Intuitive dashboard
  • Demanding hardware requirements
  • Type
    On-premise
  • Operating System
    Windows
  • Protocols
    SNMP, WMI, NetFlow
  • Map designer
  • Alert push-notifications

Paessler’s network monitoring solution delivers powerful monitoring capabilities that are sure to meet the needs of even the most demanding IT administrators. PRTG Network Monitor offers an uncommonly wide range of monitoring capabilities thanks to its use of three different protocols, making it one of the best network monitoring software for Mac sites. The most serious drawback is its unique sensor-based pricing.

Features

PRTG’s network traffic monitor is not available as a cloud solution. Like most of the software we reviewed, it requires on-premise installation on a dedicated server. Due to its powerful capabilities, the software requires a muscled machine to run smoothly, requiring at least 2 CPU cores and 2 GB of RAM. It must be installed on a Windows server, but the software can monitor devices that run other operating systems. If you lack the resources for a dedicated machine on each of your premises, you can install the less-demanding Remote Probes option.

PRTG is one of the best SNMP network monitoring software options around. Besides SNMP protocols, the software utilizes NetFlow and WMI to provide full-spectrum monitoring of your network. The PRTG Network Monitor dashboard is accessed via the browser. Here, you have a clear overview of all the devices in the network, coupled with performance parameters such as CPU usage and response times. Network devices are also color-coded, allowing you to more easily see the health of each device at a glance.

PRTG Network Monitor comes with a device auto-discovery feature. You just need to set the IP range for the scanner and it will automatically populate the network. Of course, you have to provide the software with credentials for each device.

Like any best home network monitoring software contender, Paessler’s PRTG Network Monitor comes with network visualization tools. You can create your own dashboard with the PRTG map designer or customize maps using HTML.

The alert system does not disappoint either. In addition to the usual method of notifying you via email or SMS, you can also receive alert push notifications if you install the PRTG app on your phone. Like every modern network usage monitor, PRTG Network Monitor lets you set up scripts to run when an alert occurs. Also, you can customize alert thresholds, set up dependencies to avoid alert floods, and schedule alerts.

Price

The one thing that might keep users away is the PRTG Network Monitor’s unique pricing scheme. While most of the best network monitoring software cloud or on-premise solutions are charged according to the number of devices you want to monitor, PRTG is sold according to sensor-based pricing.

The sensor represents one aspect of a particular device that you wish to monitor, such as CPU usage or a specific URL. This means that you will probably have – and pay for – multiple sensors for each network device.

A perpetual license for tracking 500 sensors costs $1,750, while the unlimited sensors plan is $15,500. You can try out the software for 30 days at no charge.

Bottom Line

When we look at the sheer number of features and monitoring capabilities, PRTG Network Monitor is one of the best VPN and network monitoring software tools available. However, due to its sensor-based pricing, it can be expensive for medium-sized and large companies.

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How We Rate Network Monitoring Software

Because of the important benefits they provide, network monitoring solutions are abundant. Although certain tools can be ruled out based on price, capacity, or platform compatibility, picking the right one is often a difficult task – even for experienced IT professionals. Most of the tools promise the same benefits, so selecting a good fit often requires delving into the jargon in the fine print. It’s no wonder that users without a technical background have a hard time identifying the best software for network monitoring.

We’ve developed a feature-based evaluation methodology that allows us to compare tools objectively, highlighting key differences that make certain tools a better or worse choice for particular companies and networks. We’ve subjected some of the market’s leading software to evaluation under these criteria and we present the results here.

Agent vs. Agentless Monitoring

Network monitoring software is divided into two main categories – agent and agentless function. Which is better for your company? That depends on what resources you have at your disposal and how your infrastructure is set up. Both types of software have advantages and drawbacks.

Let’s consider whether the best network server monitoring software for your company might be the agentless variety. This network monitoring software requires a software agent to be installed on a server on your network. The agent reaches out to every connected device as it assesses the health of the network. (The term “agentless” is a bit misleading, as a software agent is definitely required.)

The benefit is that you don’t have to install software on every workstation and device. You’ll spend less time setting up the system and you’ll face fewer compatibility problems.

Agentless monitoring software quickly and automatically detects all the devices on the network. During setup, you will need to give the software access credentials for each device.

What makes this the best network activity monitoring software for many companies is that it’s less intrusive, easier to set up, and less expensive to maintain. The disadvantage is that you need to set aside an on-premise network monitoring server at each of your company’s locations.

Agent-based monitoring requires software on each server and workstation on your network. It is more intrusive, but it also provides more data and deeper insights into network operations because of its direct access to networked devices. Agent-based network management can also be the more secure architecture, as agents send encrypted data to the central node without giving the server total access.

Agent-based solutions can be the best network monitor tools because they are not dependent on a functioning network connection. Individual systems can cache data in logs and send them to the central node when the connection is restored. There can be valuable diagnostic data in those logs.

You don’t need to set up a dedicated server with agent-based monitoring, but installing the software on each device can take a lot of time. There’s always a chance of compatibility issues too. If the software you choose isn’t available for every user device, those devices won’t be monitored.

Which is the better solution? There’s no single right answer. Now that you know the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, you are empowered to choose which best fits your needs.

Network Mapping

The best network monitoring systems can automatically detect changes like the addition of a new device to the network. This feature is called network mapping because the software is essentially creating a map of your network and all of its components. This feature can save you a lot of time, so you should look for networking performance monitoring software that has auto-detect capabilities so it can map the whole network and add devices by itself. This is easy with agent-based monitoring, as you’ll be installing the agent on each device. Network mapping is almost automatic.

The situation is more complicated with agentless monitoring. Here, you’ll find the need to find software with auto-detect features much greater. If you install one of the best network monitoring software options without auto-detection, then you should see what the procedure is for adding devices manually. In fact, that’s an important consideration for all network monitoring software, because even the best system could fail to detect a device now and then.

Network Management Protocols

Network management protocols facilitate the exchange of data between devices and the networking management tool. The data allows the tool’s dashboard to create a visual representation of the network and empowers you to manage all the devices.

There are several protocols in use. The most widely used is the Simple Network Management Protocol. Most network devices, monitoring tools, and servers support SNMP as an industry standard. Because SNMP is simple, well-designed, and robust, most of the best network monitoring tools support the protocol. Other widely used protocols are the Internet Control Message Protocol, the Command Line Interface protocol, and Microsoft’s Windows Management Instrumentation. Network management software can use multiple protocols for different tasks. For example, ICMP is primarily used for error reporting.

SNMP is all most people need, but there are unique benefits to other protocols, especially if you’d like to use system management tools that are specific to a particular operating system.

Alerts and Reporting

Network failures causing downtime or severely slowing the network can have catastrophic results for your business. It’s crucial that you’re alerted immediately when problems occur. The best network monitoring software for your company should therefore have a good alert system. For years, alerts were generally delivered to the IT team via email. These days, you should look for modern options like cell phone notifications or SMS messages.

Reporting is an important feature of networking management tools. The tools should be able to generate reports detailing performance, uptime, potential and real service disruptions, and other information. This data is crucial for network administrators. In our reviews, we scrutinize reports, looking for the quality of built-in reports and the flexibility to create new reports, alter reporting frequency, and so on.

Price

Finally, there is the matter of price. This type of software does not come cheap. We have looked at some of the best free network monitoring software, and we conclude that most of these packages are quite basic compared to paid options.

Prices are usually based on how many devices you wish to collect data from and how many users have access to the software.

Most providers allow you to subscribe to the service annually or to buy the software outright – often with a year or two of support and updates. This software can easily cost you more than $1,000 per year. When assessing network analysis tools, be sure to compare their prices with the features and capabilities they provide.

FAQ

Which is the best network monitoring software?

It depends on your network infrastructure and OS preferences, but some of the best are ManageEngine OpManager, PRTG Network Monitor, and SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor.

What does network monitoring software do?

It monitors a network’s traffic flow, ensuring everything runs smoothly, helping you prevent downtime.

What are the types of network monitoring?

There’s agentless monitoring, which is installed on-premise, and agent-based monitoring, which requires you to install software on each network device.

What are the benefits of network monitoring?

The best network monitoring software is an essential tool for managing network performance and bandwidth, preventing network failures, and screening for potential security issues.