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.
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.
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.