Monitoring your network effectively starts and ends with bandwidth monitoring. Monitoring network bandwidth is one of the most effective ways to get a glimpse of what’s going on in a network and a reliable way to troubleshoot poor connectivity. When the specter of poor connectivity rears its ugly head, you can use a bandwidth monitor to search for the root cause. While doing this manually would take several hours or more, a bandwidth monitor identifies the cause in a matter of minutes.
Without a bandwidth monitoring tool, you have no way to know whether your network speed is on point or whether certain applications are consuming bandwidth like there’s no tomorrow. A high quality bandwidth monitoring tool will allow you to eliminate all uncertainty about your service and secure your uptime for the foreseeable future. In a world where outages cost money, bandwidth monitoring tools help you keep a watchful eye.
What is Network Bandwidth Monitoring?
Bandwidth monitoring is the practice of monitoring your bandwidth availability and consumption across a network. This practice is used by IT administrators to distinguish between devices consuming bandwidth on a network and to identify the top talkers. The top talkers are the tools consuming the largest percentage of your bandwidth. In many cases, top talkers flag up something to be addressed and indicate poor performance. For example, if a single node is taking up a disproportionate amount of your bandwidth, the bandwidth monitor will flag it.
Key Differentiators of Bandwidth Monitors
Of course, not all bandwidth monitors are built the same, for example, not all offer real-time monitoring functions. A variety of bandwidth monitors compete on the market, each with their own approach. We’ve outlined some of the key differentiators that separate the good from the best:
- Minimal network and CPU usage
- Inbuilt visualization with graphs and charts
- Provides both historic and real-time views of bandwidth usage
- Support for common flow protocols
Here’s our list of the best bandwidth monitoring tools on the market:
- SolarWinds Real-Time Bandwidth Monitor (FREE DOWNLOAD)
- Solarwinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (FREE TRIAL)
- PRTG Network Monitor (FREE TRIAL)
- ManageEngine OpUtils
- ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer
- Bandwidth Monitor Pro
- WhatsUp Gold
At the top of this list, we have SolarWinds Real-Time Bandwidth Monitor, a free tool that allows the user to conduct bandwidth analysis in real-time on a per-device basis. The ability to drill down to individual devices makes it easy to develop a complete snapshot of your network and to identify which devices are the top talkers. In this respect, Real-Monitor provides you with complete transparency.
In terms of troubleshooting, Real-Time Monitor is also very effective. To monitor a device, all you have to do is enter its IP address and select it. You are then shown a visual display with a graph showing your real-time bandwidth usage. This allows you to tell whether any problems are emerging on your network at a glance.
That’s not all you can do in terms of troubleshooting. You can also configure your own notification parameters to send a warning when bandwidth usage meets certain criteria. This adds a level of automation to the program that makes it a good choice for those managing an enterprise-grade network.
Unfortunately, Real-Time Monitor doesn’t show bandwidth usage per application. But if you’re looking for a general overview of your network at a device level, then this platform is one of the best options on the market. The best part about SolarWinds Real-Time Monitor is that it is available for free.
Next on our list, we have another excellent SolarWinds bandwidth monitor in NetFlow Traffic Analyzer. This bandwidth monitor sets itself apart from the competition because of its depth. This platform’s features allow you to delve straight to the heart of your network usage. For example, NetFlow Traffic Analyzer shows Top Talkers on your network with real-time monitoring, which makes spotting problems easy and immediate.
The overall design of the program is centered on visualization. The dashboard provides you with a comprehensive overview of your network usage and shows top endpoints, conversations, and locations with individual pie charts. Together these features provide a compelling snapshot of your network bandwidth utilization.
One other very useful feature is NetFlow Traffic Analyzer’s reporting functionality. You can generate customized reports with diagrams to deliberate and find ways to optimize your network for the better.
The reports are useful for addressing network problems once you’ve found them because you don’t need to track anything down; it’s all there. You can select your the time period you want to monitor and the information will be displayed in a format of your choice (a graph or a pie chart). This increases your network transparency and makes network administration much easier.
Before we conclude, if you need a tool to replay traffic or test future throughput expansion, then you should consider the SolarWinds Flow Tool Bundle. This set of three tools is free of charge and it will help you keep track of your network bandwidth requirements by utilizing the NetFlow facility on Cisco switched. This set of tools communicates with NetFlow v5, the packet header capture system invented by Cisco Systems. Once you have stored a cycle of typical traffic, you can rerun it through the network to watch the performance of your infrastructure. A traffic generator in the pack gives you larger volumes of data so that you can track how your current network bandwidth will cope with higher demand.
Unlike Real-Time Monitor, Netflow Traffic Analyzer does have a hefty price tag of $1,875 (£1,392). The price accommodates up to 100 elements and is the cheapest option available. A 30-day free trial can be downloaded.
Paessler PRTG has developed a name for themselves as industry leaders within the network administration space. PRTG Network Monitor is an exceptional bandwidth monitoring tool that allows the user to conduct network monitoring down to the application level. This provides you with more than enough focus to identify the cause of performance issues on a single node.
PRTG monitors network usage in a number of ways. You can view your network usage through the use of SNMP, NetFlow, or packet sniffing. This gives you a wide cross-section of methods to work with depending on your preference. The auto discovery feature finds devices on a network so you can hit the ground running rather than spending time manually configuring devices.
Once monitoring your bandwidth usage, OpUtils displays the info in a graph. Though the graphs look very polished and professional, they can be difficult to interpret at times. Likewise, the dial displays provide information in an interesting way, but can be confusing to follow. That being said, if all this information gets to be too much, you can generate a report to deliberate further.
Overall PRTG Network Monitor is a robust tool that would fit well in any network administrator’s toolkit. Network Monitor starts at a price of $1,600 (£1,187) for 500 sensors. This is a substantial price tag compared to most other tools on thigs list, but it does have the chops to back it up. You can download a 30-day free trial if you’d like to test the program before making a purchase.
4. ManageEngine OpUtils
Next up on our list, we have ManageEngine OpUtils. OpUtils has a Bandwidth Monitor tool that stacks up well against the competition on this list. The Bandwidth Monitor tool allows the user to monitor their bandwidth usage by looking through interfaces on a given device. This allows you to point straight to the root of the problem much more precisely than tools using a per-device view.
OpUtils also allows you to view the bandwidth usage data of any SNMP device active on your network in real time. In total, ManageEngine OpUtils has over 30 different network monitoring tools available to use. This makes it a good choice if you require an all-in-one bandwidth and network monitoring tool. In terms of visualization, you can transfer data into color pie charts complete with supporting metrics.
OpUtils generates reports from network usage data, making it easy to take an in-depth look at what’s been happening on a network. You can export these reports in XLS format to conduct further analysis. The variety of features available on OpUtils makes it well-suited to the needs of mid- to large-size enterprises.
ManageEngine OpUtils is available in two versions: the free version and the professional edition. The free version includes a network scanner, SNMP ping, ping and DNS, and MAC address Resolver. The professional edition gives you a number of other features including availability monitoring, a port scanner, device explorer, TFTP Server and SNMP walker. The professional version can be purchased for $102 (£75). The free trial and free version can be downloaded for Windows and Linux from here.
5. ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer
Administrators searching for bandwidth monitoring tools with sleek user interfaces would be well advised to consider ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer. ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer allows the user to monitor their bandwidth usage with Netflow, IPFix and Sflow. This provides more than enough information to identify what is happening on the network. NetFlow Analyzer gives you an in depth perspective as well; you can view bandwidth usage right down to single interfaces. These diagnostics allow point right to the heart of any issue resulting in poor performance or excessive bandwidth consumption.
One of the biggest advantages of this platform is its one-minute granular reporting. This small window allows you to take a microscope to your network and exponentially improves visibility. In many ways, ManageEngine Netflow Analyzer is a good platform even if it is let down by its clunky user interface. ManageEngine Netflow Analyzer is available from $795 (£590) and up. You can also download the free trial for Windows and Linux here.
Administrators looking for a simpler bandwidth monitoring tool couldn’t go wrong with ntopng. Ntopng is a great free platform that provides an extensive overview of your network activity. You can look at flows, IP addresses, MAC addresses, and active hosts on a live or historical basis.
Ntopng provides its own Top Talkers feature that shows which devices on a network consume the most bandwidth. The platform’s compatibility with Unix and Windows makes it an ideal choice for anyone looking to deploy a multiple platform solution.
As mentioned above, the free version of ntopng is called The Community Edition, but a paid version is available as well. The Professional Edition is available for $175 (£129). You will need to pay for the pro version if you want to use the top talkers feature, which is unfortunate because it’s one of the main draws of this program. An enterprise version is available for $588 (£436). You can view a detailed list of comparisons here.
An alternative route is to opt for an open-source tool like Cacti. Cacti functions as a bandwidth monitoring tool that takes your real-time network data and displays it within a graph or chart. This platform operates through a web-based interface, making it an ideal choice for companies looking for a solution that’s easy to deploy.
In terms of protocol usage, Cacti is SNMP all the way. The user interface isn’t particularly innovative or compelling, but the navigation tree allows you to find everything you need without too much hassle. Cacti also has a number of options in terms of customisation. You can customize charts by making them wider, taller, or thinner. You can change the colors of the graphs as well.
Even though the user interface isn’t as slick as some of the others on this list, it is still a great free tool. Cacti is available for Windows and Linux. However, you need MySQL, RRDTool, net-snmp, PHP, and a PHP-supporting webserver in order for it to run. Cacti can be downloaded for free here.
In many ways BandwidthD is very similar to Cacti in its approach. You can generate barebones graphs of your network usage to get a better picture of your network traffic. The platform acts as a complete bandwidth monitor and includes support for HTTP, TCP, UDP, VPN, ICMP, and P2P on Windows and Unix. As this is an open-source platform, a range of support materials exist online to help you on your journey.
The platform itself isn’t regularly updated and needs to be manually configured before use. This means BandwidthD has a higher barrier to entry than many of the other platforms on this list. Despite this, the core product has been embraced by many IT administrators because it gets the job done.
BandwidthD can be downloaded for free from here.
9. Bandwidth Monitor Pro
Bandwidth Monitor Pro is a rudimentary tool that allows you to monitor bandwidth consumption through a stripped back user interface. This platform limits the information you see to the basics. You can view your current average and maximum KB/s for uploads and downloads. You can customize the bandwidth utilization information presented on the display.
A bandwidth transfer graph resides at the bottom of the screen to show what’s happening on your network. Unfortunately, the graphic design is so basic that it can be difficult to know precisely what metrics are being used. While the user interface isn’t particularly refined, the program remains easy to use. For example, all you need to do to raise the settings menu is right click. The settings menu is where you customize your display. In addition, you can set alerts to notify you when network traffic reaches a particular threshold.
Though this tool doesn’t offer the most compelling user experience, it still holds its own as a great choice for IT in enterprise environments. Bandwidth Monitor Pro is available free for 30 days, after which you need to purchase a license to continue using the program. The program is only available for Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP or later. An individual license costs $19.95 (£14). Bandwidth Monitor Pro can be downloaded from the official site here.
10. WhatsUp Gold
The network performance monitoring tool, WhatsUp Gold focuses on checking the statuses of network devices, such as switches and routers. The information derived from those checks can help you improve the performance of your network. However, you can get greater insight into network performance by including the Network Traffic Monitor Add-on that integrates into the main WhatsUp Gold package.
The monitor collects data that is delivered by special messaging languages created by the producers of network equipment. These include NetFlow, NetFlow-Lite, IPFIX, sFlow, J-Flow, NSEL and QUIC. These systems allow you to get metrics on the data throughput of each link on your network. Information delivered by the monitor is identified by a number of attributes including source and destination address, application, and protocol. These attribute allow you to filter, sort, and aggregate data to get categorized analysis of all of your traffic.
The data collected by the Network Traffic Monitor is shown in real time in the dashboard of the tool. It is also saved, so that you can get a deeper perspective of traffic behavior. The analysis facilities of the monitor enable you to decide whether to expand the infrastructure or implement traffic shaping measures. These decisions are also supported by the reporting feature of the tool. The Network Traffic Monitor ships with a number of pre-written report formats, such as senders, receivers, and conversations and reports on incoming and outgoing interface traffic.
Once you use prioritizing and queue management methods to help alleviate traffic congestion, you will get insights into the performance of these traffic management techniques in the monitor. The Network Traffic Monitor is able to identify tagging and report on network activity by traffic shaping identifiers that implement Class Based Quality of Service and Network Based Application Recognition.
WhatsUp Gold and the Network Traffic Monitor Add-on software install on the Windows Server operating stem. You can assess free trial here.
Many tools offer a clean bandwidth monitoring experience, but few do so as well as NetWorx. NetWorx is a network monitoring tool for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux that conducts bandwidth monitoring on an enterprise scale. One of the biggest selling points of NetWorx is the ability to graph your real-time bandwidth usage. This is essential for keeping you up to date with your bandwidth consumption.
An in-depth reporting function lets you generate reports on demand, improving overall network visibility. If you seek a more modern user interface, you’re better off going with a company like Solarwinds. However, if you can look past the outdated design, then NetWorx has more than enough potential to reliably manage a large network. The best part about NetWorx is that it is free. The program can be downloaded from the SoftPerfect website here.
Traffic analysis insights
The ability of traffic monitors to store traffic data gives you the support you need to perform long-term traffic analysis. Often, when you are busy trying to head of performance problems, you lack the insight into the ability of the network to fulfill the requirements of all of the demands placed on it.
Traffic analysis will give you the metrics you need in order to expand the resources of the network to effectively meet new demand. Getting correct bandwidth usage data means you don’t have to guess when you add on new nodes, users, or services. When you are able to provide correct bandwidth for new projects, you will have time to study the bandwidth utilization of your existing network.
Traffic analysis can prevent you from the mistake of over-provisioning your network resources as well as heading off congestion caused by overloaded network links.
Bandwidth Monitoring: An Administrative Essential
If you’re working on an enterprise-grade network, then bandwidth monitoring is absolutely essential to maintaining your uptime over the long term. You can learn a lot about your network simply by monitoring which devices talk the most and which experience—or cause—poor performance. The visibility of your bandwidth usage through real-time monitoring and historical data analysis is key to optimizing network infrastructure on an ongoing basis.
Tools like SolarWinds Real-Time Bandwidth monitor or ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer are two of the best tools for meeting the challenges of bandwidth monitoring. They combine sleek user interfaces with in-depth perspectives of per-device network usage. Whether you simply want to monitor a network or implement capacity planning, these tools are of great help. That being said, if you’re unsure about paying for these products, downloading a free trial or another free product lets you dip your toes into bandwidth monitoring before committing.