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free network monitoring tools for IT pros

1. Microsoft Network Monitor 

While Microsoft no longer supports it, Microsoft Network Monitor is a handy packet analyzer that captures network traffic for analysis and troubleshooting. It supports more than "300 public and Microsoft proprietary protocols," while also offering features like "simultaneous capture sessions, a Wireless Monitor Mode and sniffing of promiscuous mode traffic, amongst others." Microsoft has since released Microsoft Message Analyzer, which "supports the latest protocol parsers for capturing, displaying, and analyzing protocol messaging traffic, events, and other system or application messages in troubleshooting and diagnostic scenarios. It is a significantly more powerful tool for capturing and analyzing protocol messages." 

2. Nagios

Nagios is a well-known name in the world of network monitoring software and offers a free version of its software. Full disclaimer: Nagios is free as long as you use a single license; more than that will cost you. That aside, Nagios Core offers a comprehensive monitoring solution that tracks applications, servers, services, network protocols, and system metrics, among other things. It also offers dynamic alerts, which you can configure to receive through email, a custom script, or SMS. Nagios Core also offers integration with third-party applications and hundreds of free add-ons from an active community. 

3. OpenNMS

Featuring automatic discovery, performance monitoring, service assurance, and custom event and notification configurations, OpenNMS is an open source and free network monitoring solution. With two distributions of OpenNMS — Meridian and Horizon — users can choose whether they want a long-term release or a fast-paced release that quickly gains new features and capabilities. Some new versions of OpenNMS have included a service heatmap, geographical map, an elastic search forwarder, and business service monitoring. 

4. Spiceworks Network Monitor

Spiceworks Network Monitor is a free monitoring solution that features process and service monitoring, a dynamic dashboard, ping check, agentless monitoring, network performance monitoring, and virtual monitoring. Spiceworks Network Monitor also allows you to set up customizable alerts and view historical data to conduct forensics work and prevent future issues. You can monitor up to 25 devices with Spiceworks Network Monitor.

5. Spiceworks Connectivity Dashboard

A little different from other options on this list, Spiceworks Connectivity Dashbaord offers connectivity monitoring that's specifically geared towards applications and cloud-based services. By deploying agents to specific devices, such as servers and PCs, you can configure what applications you'd like to monitor. Once configured, you'll see a matrix grid of the applications and devices you're keeping an eye on — red means the applications is offline, yellow means it's slower than normal, and green means it's good to go. If all the applications at one location on different devices are down, you know there's a connectivity problem there. If only one cloud-based service is down across different locations, you can conclude it's a problem with the service provider. 

6. PRTG Network Monitor Freeware

A well known name among monitoring software, PRTG Network Monitor works with up to 100 sensors and offers application monitoring, virtual server monitoring, QoS monitoring, and SLA monitoring. PRTG Network Monitor also features nine different types of notifications, including status alerts, conditional alerts, and limit alerts. If you want to create a report, PRTG Network Monitor supports HTML and PDF formats as well as report templates, pre-defined reports, and scheduled reports. 

7. The Dude

A simple and effective monitoring solution, The Dude supports SNMP, ICMP, DNS, and TCP monitoring and dynamic alerts. It also features auto discovery, allowing you to automatically "scan all devices on a given subnet and then draw and layout a map of your network," according to GFI. Other features include the ability to draw your own maps and add custom devices, gain direct access to device management tools, and discover a large number of brands and devices on your network. The Dude runs on Windows, a Linux Wine environment, and MacOS Darwin. 

8. Zabbix

Offering VMware, database, server, and network monitoring, Zabbix is a free, open-source monitoring application. Although it only works on select platforms (Linux, IBM AIX, IBM Power8, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, HP-UX, MAC OS X, and Solaris) and only operates on Windows with an agent, Zabbix is capable of monitoring thousands of devices at a time. It also features built-in Java Application Server Monitoring and support for encryption, SSL, and IPv4 as well as IPv6. The latest version of Zabbix gives users a new event tag, which helps organize work flows. There's one drawback, however, for small-to-medium-sized businesses: Since Zabbix is built for enterprises, it doesn't necessarily scale well to smaller environments. 

9. Zenoss Core

Zenoss Core is an agentless monitoring solution that uses a web-based console to help you "monitor and manage the performance and availability of all devices in your IT infrastructure (network, server, storage, applications, converged infrastructure, virtualization/cloud)." According to Zenoss Core, "The power of Zenoss Core begins with its in-depth IT inventory and configuration database. Zenoss creates this database by discovering managed resources — networks, servers, storage, and other devices — in your IT environment." Zenoss Core supports up to 1,000 devices and is free to download and use

10. Icinga 2

Icinga is a completely free network monitoring application that is Linux based and offers a real-time dashboard of network performance and resource availability. With dynamic notifications that let you know when something goes down, Icinga offers object-based configuration, custom commands and runtime macros, and logical dependencies to simplify how you define relationships. Icinga also offers customization options, allowing you to pick from three different interfaces. 

11. Pandora FMS

A free network monitoring solution, Pandora FMS lets you watch applications, communications, and servers and set up alerts to find out when issues arise in real time. As a Community Edition, Pandora FMS lacks some of the features that the professional version has — that said, the professional version is designed for enterprises, while the community version is geared toward "small companies and do-it-yourself users with a complete and flexible solution." 

12. WireShark

One of the more popular and widely used network monitoring tools, WireShark offers granular network packet analysis. In other words, you can use it to help troubleshoot issues, conduct forensics work after an issue, and fine-tune system and network performance. Available on Windows, Mac, and Linux, WireShark has a number of filters to you help you focus on the information you need. "There is no denial that Wireshark features an impressive amount of features, all of them aimed at power users," Softpedia says. "Apart from making available traffic information, it can also present statistics, which can include anything from general information about the captured file to the number of HTTP requests and responses." In short, WireShark is an excellent tool, but one that is designed for professionals. 

13. Observium

Observium is a functional web monitoring tool that works with multiple platforms (though its developers say it focuses on Linux, UNIX, Cisco, Juniper, Foundry, and HP). Known for its detailed graphs, its intuitive interface, and auto discovery features, Observium is a simple monitoring solution that works with large and small installations. But there's one thing that Observium lacks: real-time alerts. Combining it with another product like Nagios, which does provide alerts, is recommended. Downloads of Observium are available for Ubuntu and Debian installations, RHEL and CentOS 6 installations, and RHEL and CentOS 7 installations. 


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