8 Best Network Monitoring & Management Software & Tools

There are two types of network monitors – those that watch over network devices and head off errors that can cause performance impairment and those that analyze traffic patterns.

Both of these systems will help you to avoid problems that cause the network to seize up. It is rare to find one tool that can provide both options.

Here is our list of the eight best network monitoring and management software and tools.

  1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor – FREE TRIAL This on-premises package installs on Windows Server and monitors the statuses and activities of network devices to get a full picture of network readiness. Start a 30-day free trial.
  2. Datadog Network Monitoring – FREE TRIAL This SaaS platform offers both traffic management and devices status monitoring. Subscribe to either or both. Start a 14-day free trial.
  3. ManageEngine OpManager – FREE TRIAL This package provides monitoring for network devices and servers and is also a good system for monitoring virtualizations. Available for Windows Server, Linux, AWS, and Azure. Start a 30-day free trial.
  4. Atera – FREE TRIAL A package of services that is designed for use by managed service providers and includes remote network monitoring. Delivered from the cloud. Access the 30-day free trial.
  5. OpenNMS Horizon A free, open-source network management system that runs on Linux and implements both network device status tracking and traffic analysis.
  6. Progress WhatsUp Gold A network device monitor that installs on Windows Server and can be expanded by add-ons, among which is a traffic analysis system.
  7. HelpSystems Intermapper A network monitor that is based around a series of network topology views. Available for Windows, macOS, and Linux.
  8. AppNeta Performance Monitor Get live statistics on networks and Web application performance with this package that is delivered from the cloud.

You can read more about these systems in the following sections.

The best Network Management/Monitoring tools

1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor – FREE TRIAL

SolarWinds NPM Summary

SolarWinds NPM Summary

SolarWinds is a heavyweight in the network-monitoring world, and for good reason. For years, SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM) has provided all-around monitoring capability.

With the release of NPM 12, SolarWinds has considerably upped the usability and primary feature of set of their core product, adding a fully refreshed UI, new NetPath services to help you discover and troubleshoot network paths hop-by-hop, F5 BIG-IP load balancer monitoring, Cisco switch stack monitoring and more.

NPM 12 handles all the basics a network management tool must, like performance troubleshooting and problem isolation, fault alerting, capacity forecasting and detailed usage reporting. Support for wifi heatmapping and network topology advancements, including network topology detection across multiple, global sites is also included.

Additionally, dependency detection automatically calculates node-to-node dependencies based on topology connections.

Integration with SolarWinds other AppStack monitoring products helps NPM provide deeper views across the application stack, from storage to virtualization to server infrastructure.

Version 12 also adds support for the ServiceNow incident management system, along the ability to use Active Directory for discovery.

On the other hand, NPM doesn’t include application monitoring, which we’d like to see included soon. Finally, the SolarWinds pricing structure is based on network “elements” being monitored – like interfaces, CPUs, etc.

Depending on the size of your network and monitoring requirements, this can add up quickly.

SolarWinds NPM Screenshots:

SolarWinds NPM Network Topology Map

SolarWinds NPM Network Topology Map

SolarWinds NPM Wireless Heatmap

SolarWinds NPM Wireless Heatmap

SolarWinds NPM Summary

SolarWinds NPM Summary

Download: 30 Day Free Trial – https://www.solarwinds.com/network-performance-monitor/

2. Datadog Network Monitoring – FREE TRIAL

Datadog Network Performance Monitoring

Datadog Network Performance Monitoring

Datadog Network Monitoring is a cloud-based service that is available in two packages. These are the Network Device Monitoring module, which works with SDNMP to track device statuses, and the Network Performance Monitoring service, which measures traffic capacity and throughput. Each service is available on a separate subscription but combining the two packages will give you a complete network monitoring system.

Datadog Network Monitoring features:

  • Network device monitoring
  • Network traffic monitoring
  • Automatic device discovery
  • DNS server management

The Datadog service performs all heavy processing on its own servers. However, you do need a local agent on a device that is connected to your network so that statistics can be gathered. This agent uploads all of the data that it collects so you get live performance information in the dashboard.

The console for the system can be customized. It is accessed through any standards Web browser from anywhere.

The Network Device Monitor will map your entire network and provide a network topology map. As it works with SNMP, the service will also process Trap messages into alerts. You can get those alerts forwarded as notifications by email or SMS.

The Network Performance Monitor lets you see link-by-link live traffic throughput statistics. You will be able to spot overloaded segments immediately and implement re-routing, load balancing, or traffic shaping to alleviate problems.

The Network Performance Monitor and the Network Device Monitor are both offered as subscription services with rates per month or per year. You can try all of the Datadog modules on a 14-day free trial.

3. ManageEngine OpManager – FREE TRIAL

ManageEngine OpManager

ManageEngine OpManager is a network performance monitor. It focuses on querying network devices for statuses and activity information. This tool uses the processes of the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to repeatedly gather reports from device agents.

ManageEngine OpManager features:

  • Network discovery
  • Constantly updated network inventory
  • Network topology mapping
  • Virtualization monitoring

The SNMP processes enable OpManager to identify all devices connected to a network and create an asset inventory. As the SNMP poll repeats, OpManager checks all of the information that it has gathered, so it is able to update its inventory if anything has changed.

The OpManager package includes a network topology mapper, which works off the up-to-date inventory, so its network maps are always reflections of the current state of the network.

OpManager can be installed on Windows Server or Linux on site. It s also possible to get the tool as a service for your account on AWS or Azure. ManageEngine offers OpManager on a 30-day free trial.

Download: https://www.manageengine.com/network-monitoring/download.html

4. Atera – FREE TRIAL

Atera Dashboard

Atera is a cloud-based system that provides all of the tools that managed service providers (MSPs) need. This includes a network monitoring system that is able to track activity on multiple networks simultaneously. The architecture of an Atera account is multi-tenanted, so when setting up this service, you create a separate account for each client, and then all of the services of the Altera package work independently for each subaccount.

The network monitoring system uses SNMP to constantly check on the statuses of network devices. The package includes a series of performance thresholds that trigger alerts when crossed. This means that technicians can get on with other tasks, leaving the Atera package to watch over the network – if there is a problem, they will be called back.

The dashboard for the Atera system is accessed through any standard browser from anywhere, so startup MSPs don’t even need servers or offices to start operating with this package.

Atera features:

  • Tools to manage an MSP business
  • Systems for use by support technicians
  • Automated monitoring for networks and servers
  • Maintenance task automation
  • Patch manager and software installer

The Atera service is a subscription service with no minimum service period or setup fees. The complete package of tools includes a ticketing system, remote access tools, contract and client management services, and technician team management services.

The platform is priced per technician, which makes all of its services available to businesses of all sizes. Taking on the Atera system gives an MSP everything it needs to operate and so cuts out the time those businesses would otherwise waste comparing candidate tools for each element of the Atera platform. The package is available for assessment with a 30-day free trial.

Download: https://www.atera.com/signup/

5. OpenNMS Horizon

OpenNMS Horizon

OpenNMS Horizon

OpenNMS is available in two versions. Horizon is the first of these and it is free to use. The second is a paid version, called Meridian. The Horizon system is open source, which means that it is possible to access the source code and change it. So, the OpenNMS Horizon system is a good option for those who don’t want to pay for a network monitor and also a good place to start for companies that want to develop their own in-house monitoring package.

Both OpenNMS versions are able to monitor network devices and track traffic flows. The Horizon system is an on premises package but it isn’t limited to watching over just one location. It can be used to monitor remote sites as well, providing a centralized monitoring station at one central location. The service includes a network discovery procedure that is repetitive, so it can spot any changes to the asset inventory of the network.

The server software for OpenNMS installs on RHEL, CentOS, Debian, and Ubuntu Linux. The Horizon package is completely free to use and it can be downloaded from a GitHub repository.

OpenNMS Horizon features:

  • Traffic flow data collection with NetFlow, IP-FIX, J-Flow, and sFlow
  • Network device monitoring with SNMP
  • Network topology mapping
  • Elasticsearch for data analysis
  • A plug-in system to integrate with third-party tools

OpenNMS has come a long way over the years and has gone from being clunky and difficult to use to a slick network management tool. Many large businesses would shun the Horizon edition because it doesn’t include a professional support plan. Those organizations can opt for the fully-supported Meridian version. Small businesses with little money to spare would welcome this attractive network monitoring tool.

Download: https://www.opennms.com/

6. Progress WhatsUp Gold

Progress WhatsUp Gold

Progress WhatsUp Gold

Progress WhatsUp Gold runs on Windows Server and offers network performance monitoring. This is an SNMP-based service that includes Trap processing to produce alerts. Alerts can also be set up on performance thresholds measured against any of the metrics that the package is able to extract from your network devices.

WhatsUp Gold features:

  • Network discovery
  • Network topology maps
  • Live device status tracking with SNMP
  • Traffic analysis module available

The SNMP request process is continuous, so the console for the system shows live time-series graphs of overall network performance from which you can drill down to examine each individual device.

The Progress system includes a number of add-ons, which provide extra features and one of these is a Network Traffic Analysis module. This will show the traffic flows on each link on your network, enabling you to monitor for lost packets and excess load.

The WhatsUp Gold base package, called Premium, requires an extra payment to get the Network Traffic Analysis module. A higher edition, called Total Plus, includes that module and all other WhatsUp Gold add-ons.

Progress also offers a Network Admin Bundle, which contains the network performance monitoring capabilities of the base edition plus the Network Traffic Analyzer and a Configuration Manager add-on. Progress offers WhatsUp Gold on a 14-day free trial.

7. HelpSystems Intermapper

Although the HelpSystems Intermapper package started out as a network mapping tool, its capabilities have been greatly expanded over the years. Its dashboard now shows lists of statistics and graphs as well as network maps, just like any other network monitoring system.

intermapper live view

intermapper technical map

The tool still performs its original function of scouring the network, identifying connected devices, and creating a network map. The tool includes a traffic volume tracker that will show links on a network that are experiencing heavy traffic.

Intermapper features:

  • Network discovery
  • Automated topology mapping
  • Network traffic monitoring
  • Alerts for device problems
  • Customizable maps

Traffic indicators need to be set up by specifying an acceptable level of traffic per link. When that level is exceeded, the system will raise an alert, which is shown through animation on the overwhelmed device.

The network discovery process also generates an IT asset inventory, which can be viewed in the system console. Network scans occur periodically, so any changes to the network are immediately reflected in a redrawn map and an updated inventory.

Device statuses also get tracked so if there is any other issue apart from capacity problems, they will trigger alerts.

It is possible to customize an automatically generated map by changing the settings of the mapper. You can also upload a floor plan to get the actual physical location of devices shown in the console.

As well as mapping LANs, the Intermapper system will show VLAN traffic and wireless systems on your premises.

HelpSystems Intermapper runs on premises and is available in versions for Windows, macOS, and Linux. You can examine Intermapper on a 30-day free trial.

8. AppNeta Performance Monitor

AppNeta Performance Monitor

AppNeta Performance Monitor

AppNeta Performance monitor is a cloud-based monitoring service for network and Web applications. Although all of the processing for the service is carried out in the cloud on the AppNeta server, the system does include an element that installs on the monitored network.

The on-site element is a data gathering agent. This tool constantly gathers data on the network and uploads it to the server for processing. A key piece of information that the monitor needs is the layout of the network, which it derives by collecting information from switches and routers about their neighbors.

The network device data collected by the agents is constantly required, keeping the cloud-resident network inventory updated. The system also draws up a network topology map, which is kept up to date.

The monitor will check on internet performance and wireless systems as well as LANs. It can be used to pay particular attention to QoS for interactive services, such as VoIP.

The AppNeta system is particularly useful for checking on device availability and it has a visual TraceRoute service that can be used for performance analysis.

An account with AppNeta includes the server that runs the monitoring software and also storage for gathered statistics, which is retained for a full year. You can get to know the AppData system by requesting a demo.

How We Pick a Winner…

In this year’s Network Management & Monitoring Smack-down there’s a number of new considerations that have gone into picking a winner:

UI is a Big Deal

UI design and ‘understandability’ is becoming a bigger deal as the number of devices and elements being monitored is growing so quickly now.

The old-school UIs of some of these products are generally not scaling well to meet this demand and are starting to look like a ‘dog’s breakfast’ when you’re trying to get a decent, birds-eye view of what’s going on across the network.

Quite frankly, some of these products aren’t keeping up, and they’re showing their age. They could take a lesson from the Web-UIs that SaaS apps have been rolling out for a while now when it comes to reporting and dashboard design.

The Playing Field is Evening Out

he top three leaders in this space, SolarWinds, ManageEngine, and WhatsUpGold are matching each other feature-for-feature in most areas.

All have realized that they need to effectively monitor wireless and virtual infrastructure and do a better job of automatically mapping complex, distributed networks without requiring as much manual mapping on the part of admins trying to implement the solutions.

Scalability is King

In larger Infrastructures and Network Environments with more complex routing and topologies, you need to choose your steps very carefully when it comes to investing in a Management platform.

If you box yourself in too tightly with a poor-scalability solution, you’re going to have to end up deploying multiple standalone instances of the core monitoring applications (in the best case scenario) or (in the worst case scenario) be left without support for upcoming or changing requirements and complexity forcing you into a rip-and-replace situation.

Neither scenario is good, you’re best off considering scalability and upgrade support now rather than later.

Cost Factors for Small Environments

These products and their associated add-ons are getting pricey, fast.

If you’re a small office or non-profit organization, and have technical chops for self-deploying open-source products (and waiting for community-added features and support) then give OpenNMS a test run.

If you’re in a Larger Environment, Integration with other products, patching, compliance reporting and ongoing upgrade paths and support will lead you to a product from one of the top three vendors here like SolarWinds, ManageEngine or WhatsUpGold.

Our Top Choice:

Winner of this year’s Smackdown: SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor.

Here’s what made SolarWinds NPM standout this in this round:

  • User Interface (UI) SolarWinds NPM UI is thoughtfully designed, but most importantly it handles large amounts of at-a-glance alerting and health data extremely well, particularly in large, globally dispersed networks.It should be noted that ManageEngine OpManager has improved greatly in this regard, but it still looks like multiple products squished into one over time vs. a completely integrated design (adding some Google maps here and there isn’t really ‘modernizing’ the UI per se)
  • NetPath Services NetPath allows you to discover and troubleshoot network paths hop-by-hop – not just the part of the network that you manage, but also nodes and links of your providers.

For example, if users are complaining that SalesForce is slow, NetPath can create a detailed (often multi-path) map showing you where that delay is occurring. NetPath keeps a history of your paths, so if a problem occurred hours ago, you can easily see the state of the path at that time.

  • Network Insight for F5™ BIG-IP A healthy load balancing environment is a vital part of ensuring that mission-critical applications are fast, secure, and available. With Network Insight for F5 BIG-IP, SolarWinds has added an easy way to monitor your F5 BIG-IP load balancers.

Traditional monitoring techniques require you to log in to individual components one-by-one and try to build a picture of how your application or service is delivered. Network Insight provides a more comprehensive view of your load balancing environment. From a single console, you can easily see how an application or service is affected by the various components throughout the delivery chain.

  • Additional Notes The addition of Cisco switch stack monitoring is welcome. If you monitor Cisco switch stacks, you can now see details about individual member switches, as well as the health of the stack as a whole.

SolarWinds also has a leg up when it comes to monitoring connected wireless devices vs. just access points, a free integration pack for Microsoft’s System Center Operations Manager (SCOM), access control for NPM via Active Directory to speed up permissions set up, and support VSAN monitoring. One thing NPM still lacks is basic application monitoring in the core product.

They’re clearly pushing you toward their application monitoring add-on, but so are the other vendors now as well given that most have also recently launched standalone or snap-in app monitoring products (for an additional fee of course). Network discovery and automatic mapping via NPM’s ConnectNow tech is also impressive.

Wrap-Up Thoughts

It’s hard to go wrong with most network management products that are currently on the market, and especially those in this comparison test. Each of the products we reviewed is a little different. The challenge is to find the one that works best for your needs.

To help you out, we’ve compiled the comparison guide at the end of this article. Use this guide to help identify which software has the features you need. Then, try out the free demo versions of the software to see which NMS will work best for you.