The network is the backbone of your business. Your customers, partners and employees rely on a reliable network connection, and when it goes down sales and/or production grind to a halt. Even if you don’t run an eCommerce giant, keeping your network humming along is probably near the top of your priorities. This is where network monitoring tools can lend a hand.
Network monitoring tools keep on eye on your network when you can’t. They will also help escalate issues to the person best suited to fix the problem. They can be simple or incredibly complex in design and implementation. Some tools are free or low cost, but for the best you’ll need a license or a subscription fee.
Let’s look at few of the most popular network monitoring tools available today, and see what are the features that make them indispensable.
Network Monitoring: Do I Really Need It?
Adding yet another tool (and thus another expense) should be carefully considered. I managed a number of temporary networks at hotels and convention centers without running any network monitoring tools. I got by just fine until a user introduced malware to the network during one of the larger trade shows. It knocked the network offline and caused a lot of confusion and frustration with customers who had paid over $1,000 to attend the show. We decided to look into tools that would allow IT to be more proactive in dealing with similar threats at future events, which lead us to Solarwinds.
There are a wide variety of network monitoring tools available, and it’s not easy to summarize their features. But generally, such tools provide the following:
- Notification of Intrusion– Advanced tools can detect and notify IT that a problem has been detected on the network.
- Device Tracking- Software that can track, isolate, and respond to all devices on the network.
- Remote Monitoring – Especially helpful for MSPs who are responsible for multiple networks.
- Trend Tracking – Dig into the data and optimize your network based on how its being used.
- Improve Security – Acting sooner than later minimizes the damage to your network.
Most network monitoring tools on the market today will cover the basics listed above, while some have additional advanced features. Let’s take a look at several specific products used by many IT professionals today.
Solarwinds offers a large number of tools that cover every aspect of enterprise networking. If you need to monitor any part of your network operation, there’s a good chance Solarwinds has a product for you.
Their popular Network Performance Monitor starts at $2,895 and is designed to reduce outages, detect and resolve many issues on both wired and wireless networks. On large, temporary network installations, Solarwinds has the ability to create conditional network alerts. These will notify the technician who was responsible for his or her area. For example, if Solarwinds detected a issue in one of the meeting rooms at the convention center, an alert was sent directly to the technician responsible for that area. That level of granularity comes in handy when working with large and/or segregated networks.
Solarwinds also includes a hardware monitoring module that works really well. We used it to monitor the fan speed and temperature of a number of servers shoved away in a hotel closet. By monitoring the temperature of the servers we were able to ensure they didn’t overheat. Another nifty feature is the THWACK community boards hosted by Solarwinds which provides helpful advice by a community of users and experts.
Solarwinds also offers system management tools, IT security, database management as well as HelpDesk software. The number of products and options can be overwhelming, but most products are downloadable for a 30-day trial so you can try nearly every product before opening up your wallet.
Kaseya doesn’t offer as many products at Solarwinds, but they do offer some of the most targeted products I’ve come across. One of them is the Kaseya VSA, which is a systems management and remote monitoring product. This is geared towards MSPs who manage the networks of multiple clients. VSA includes:
- monitoring neworks;
- reporting and securing your networks;
- patch and mobility management as integrated features of their console.
Kaseya goes to great lengths to help you monitor and secure a network without hiring additional staff. This can be a strong selling point to MSPs. It’s definitely worth checking out if you manage networks for several small to medium sized businesses. VSA is sold as service. You can download a free trial and request a quote from their website.
You’ll also find a number of resources available if you have questions. These include discussion boards, meetups as well as an annual user conference called Kaseya Connect. If you find your current networking tools too confusing or less remote-friendly than they should be, give Kaseya a try. The console is well organized, easy to understand and the tools are built with the MSP in mind.
LabTech is similar to Kaseya in that they offer a number of RMM products aimed at the MSP, but are viewed as having a higher learning curve with more advanced features than competing products. Consider LabTech if you have exhausted a less robust solution and you need a product that scales with the business. It can grow with your business, but I noticed a lot of people were intimated by it at first glance.
LabTech has engineers on staff that not only help you understand their products, but also help configure it to your network. Having access to this level of support doesn’t come free, but getting off on the right foot can save a lot of headaches down the road. These same engineers product weekly webinars as well.
They created ScreenConnect, a remote access product that is now one of the best on the market. LabTech is known around the industry as an extremely powerful if quirky product so do a little research before you take the plunge. They offer a free trial and are known to be aggressive on pricing.
If you work outside of IT, you probably don’t give much thought to the network unless it’s down. It’s similar to water and electricity in that you take it for granted until its not available. But network downtime can cost people their jobs and businesses millions of dollars. Back in March, Amazon went down for 20 minutes and the cost was $3.75 million in lost sales.
If you’re wondering how much downtime would cost your small business or enterprise, checkout the StorageCraft downtime calculator application. You might be surprised to find out how costly downtime can be and how much money you can save with a robust business continuity solution.
Network monitoring tools are a useful tool to keep yourself in business. They are also constantly changing, adding new and advanced modules being each year. I still believe Solarwinds has the most advanced tools that cover a wide range of needs. They are stable and have excellent support. Network monitoring software is not cheap, but it is very valuable to IT professionals. I would start with these three tools, but they are by no means the only option. If you’re an MSP looking for a straight-forward solution, give Kaseya or LabTech a spin.
At some point I plan to take a look at open source network monitoring tools. I normally don’t recommend products that don’t include at least a base level of technical support, but while researching this article I saw a number of products mentioned that sound interesting.