A Guide To Network Monitoring Tools

You don’t have to be an expert to monitor your network, but you just need to understand a few basic tools and concepts. Usually your goals are are very simple, like seeing if your connection is active and passing traffic. You may want to see if  you’re able to reach a particular network device, or you might want to check the network path to that device. Now let’s dig a little deeper to find some of the best network monitoring tools available to you to help with some of these things.

Command Line Monitoring Tools

Probably the most common network monitoring tool is ping. The term is short for packet internet groper. Ping is a measuring tool. It tells you how long it takes for packets to travel from your computer to the device you’re pinging — and back. What you’re measuring is the response time. You measure ping in milliseconds. It really shouldn’t take long for the packets to make the round trip. If you get a long response time (typically over 1,000 milliseconds, or 1 second), then the remote device is either a long way off or it is going through a network that has problems. Network congestion or misconfiguration can lead to long response times. You can do ping on the command line, but it’s also included in software tools that monitor networks.

Try the ping command yourself. If you have a Windows machine, then click the Start button and type “cmd” in the run window. A black, square command line window will open. There you can ping the Google DNS IP address 8.8.8.8 as an example. You should see something like the screenshot below. Notice that the response time is pretty good, with an average of 36 milliseconds.

command line monitoring tools

Another network monitoring tool shows the network path from your device to the end device. See below what that looks like. This tracert from Naples, Florida, shows all the routers that the connection passes through to get to the Google DNS Server. If you were having problems with your connection and any single link showed a very high response time, then you you would know that you should look there to troubleshoot the problem. In this case, all the individual links look fine:

ipconfig command line

You might also want to try the command ipconfig in this window. The ipconfig command will tell you the IP address of your computer, the IP address of the first router that you are going through to the internet,the network mask, and the MAC address of your machine. These terms will make more sense as you learn more about networking.

Monitoring Tools for Windows

Network monitoring software comes in all shapes and sizes. If you’d rather not fool with the command line to monitor your network, you can use software applications designed for that purpose.  There are quite a few programs out there, both free and premium, that will install onto Windows. But you may need a Windows server for best results. .

Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor has a free trial period. This tool covers a lot of ground, and even includes a network map. Here’s a screenshot from their interactive demo:

Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor

Another online tool that you might consider is the OpManager from ManageEngine. The software lets you view performance, bandwidth consumption, and recent changes to your devices, among other things. Here’s a screenshot from their website:

OpManager from ManageEngine

There are many more online tools that you might want to consider. Here are a few more to check out:

PRTG Network Monitor from Paessler

WhatsUp® Gold

Nagios XI 5.5

Online Network Monitoring Tools

It’s not necessary to download software for network monitoring. You can do it online. CA App Synthetic Monitor Ping Tool is one such tool. This software includes ping, traceroute, and a DNS tool.

Pentest-Tools offers a variety of online tools, including TCP Port Scan with Nmap. You can also do a ping sweep and perform other tests on web applications and infrastructure.

Turbobytes Pulse is an online tool that lets you run DNS, HTTP, and traceroute tests across the world instantly. This gives you the advantage of seeing responses from many different computers rather than just your own.

Open Source Network Monitoring Tools

Thankfully there are open source tools available for monitoring your network. They come in all shapes and sizes.

Zabbix  claims to allow you to monitor anything. They offer solutions for:

  • Network monitoring
  • Server monitoring
  • Cloud monitoring
  • Application monitoring
  • Services monitoring

These elements often run together. As for network monitoring, Zabbix focuses on network performance, network health, and configuration changes. And you can use templates to monitor all kinds of device vendors, from Cisco to Netgear.

Another open source network monitoring service is Icinga. They want to help you inspect your entire network infrastructure. The company touts an efficient monitoring engine and an appealing user interface.

Protocol Analyzer

If you really want to take a deeper dive into network troubleshooting, you might try using a protocol analyzer. The first one that comes to mind is Wireshark. You can use this software to see what’s happening on your network at the packet and protocol level. Here is a Wireshark screen capture borrowed from Wikipedia:

wireshark

Solarwinds has a product called Netflow Traffic Analyzer. It comes with a performance analysis dashboard, and it includes a bandwidth monitor and network traffic analysis capabilities.

VPN Watcher

This program from UGDSoft keeps an eye on your VPN for you. It serves two purposes. First, it prevents applications from establishing a network connection while the VPN is down. This is a sort of kill switch that is necessary with VPN connections. VPN users may want to go online only with VPN to prevent anyone snooping hackers from identifying their IP address. The other reason to use VPN Watcher is so that you can automatically turn on applications once VPN is active. This is a way to control applications that may transmit private information.

Conclusion

This is only an introduction to some of the network monitoring tools available. If you want to learn how to monitor network traffic, I suggest you first start with the command line tools mentioned above. This will give you some basic understanding of the traffic that’s moving along your network. Playing around with all these monitoring tools is perhaps the best way to learn. You can read all about them, but there’s no substitute for hands-on monitoring and troubleshooting.

 

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