Network usage monitor tools are some of an IT administrator’s most valuable weapons at catching out top talkers and minimizing inefficiency. As enterprises spend an increasing amount of bandwidth resources, monitoring network usage and traffic has become very important to addressing poor speed and performance within an IT environment. It is no secret that slow and patchy connections can cost time and money if left unaddressed.
One of the main reasons why network usage monitor tools have become popular in recent years is because enterprises are working on diverse network infrastructures. The rise of cloud services like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure means many companies incorporate eye-wateringly intensive network resources that require battle-tested tools in order to maintain top performance long term.
Before delving into some of our favorite network usage monitor tools, it’s important to outline that your choice of tool depends upon your needs. Are you looking for a general network usage monitor tool or are you looking to eliminate a specific problem within your network? Setting a clear goal before moving forward will ensure that you have a clear idea of what you want out of your product.
In this article we take a look at some of the best network usage monitor tools and help you to choose the best program for your organization. This includes a rundown of core features, prices, and a review of overall functions.
Here is our list of the best network usage monitoring tools:
- SolarWinds Real-Time Bandwidth Monitor (FREE DOWNLOAD)
- SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (FREE TRIAL)
- PRTG Network Monitor (FREE TRIAL)
- ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer
- Bitmeter OS
- Manage Engine Utility (Available on Manage Engine OpUtils)
Top Network Usage Monitor Tools
At the top of our list we have SolarWinds Real-Time Bandwidth Monitor, one of the most powerful offerings on the market today. This free platform allows the user to monitor their network usage in real-time. You can view network usage broadly from the dashboard or drill right down into individual interfaces if you so choose. Clicking on an interface with raise a graph displaying its real-time network usage.
The simplicity of the user interface is what makes this a great tool for IT administrators. The process of moving in and out of individual systems is seamless and allows you to quickly troubleshoot individual services without sifting through needlessly complex navigation options. As a bonus, the user can set their own parameters for bandwidth usage and the platform will send them a notification when this reaches a certain threshold.
Overall SolarWinds Real-Time Monitor is a great free tool for administrators working with an enterprise-grade network. This is mainly because of the clear visualization offered to overview the network usage of individual devices. SolarWinds Real-Time Bandwidth Monitor can be downloaded for free here.
Real-Time Bandwidth Monitor is not the only SolarWinds usage monitor tool to have graced our list. SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer is its paid avenue to network bandwidth monitoring. You can view everything about a network’s traffic from IP address bandwidth usage to the usage of individual applications or protocols.
Like Real-Time Bandwidth Monitor, the user interface is also very easy to use. Network admins in particular are supported by the Top Talkers feature, which shows those network components with the highest traffic consumption. This makes it very easy to get an overview of your network on demand.
Before we conclude, another very useful set of free tools from SolarWinds is the Flow Tool Bundle. This pack contains utilities that exploit the NetFlow v5 capabilities of Cisco routers. Once you have NetFlow turned on at the router you can send packet headers to a collector for storage. This traffic can then be replayed though your network. Another tool in the Bundle will generate traffic volumes for you so you can test your current infrastructure for its capabilities before adding on new services or endpoints.
In terms of pricing, SolarWinds has a free 30-day trial after which it can be purchased for $1875 (£1384) for the NetFlow Traffic Analyzer. The only drawback is that it requires SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor in order to operate. If you’d like a complete network monitor solution and traffic analyzer all-in-one, it’s a great choice, but otherwise it might be better to go with Real-Time Bandwidth Monitor. You can download the NetFlow Traffic Analyzer on a 30-day free trial here.
If you want a comprehensive network usage monitor tool, then look no further than PRTG Network Monitor. This Windows-based tool offers the user bandwidth monitoring and monitoring for servers, applications, and virtual machines alike. PRTG has its own packet sniffing tool and SNMP to get the most information out of your network.
In terms of visualization, PRTG has a lot to offer. The platform allows the user to convert their usage monitor data into graphs and reports where they can be easily reviewed. This is a really useful feature for larger enterprises seeking to catalog performance issues and come up with a targeted plan to address them.
PRTG Network Monitor offers users a 30-day free trial where you can monitor unlimited sensors. Once the free trial ends, you’ll be placed back on the free edition that allows you to monitor up to 100 sensors at no extra cost. If this isn’t enough for you, then you can purchase the Commercial Edition and monitor over 100 sensors. The Commercial Edition costs $1600 (£1181). A 30-day free trial of PRTG Network Monitor can be downloaded here.
4. ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer
ManageEngine have been a critically acclaimed provider in the network monitoring space for quite some time, and for good reason. If you’re looking deploy a usage monitor tool that troubleshoots poor performance, you’d be hard pressed to go wrong with NetFlow Analyzer. With packet analysis, Netflow, IPFix, and Sflow, this platform has the potential to cut straight to the heart of any network performance issues.
NetFlow Analyzer can examine individual protocols and applications. It is similar to SolarWinds in the sense that you can get an overhead perspective before shining a spotlight on a particular application. This is great because it makes diagnosing application-specific issues much easier. The navigation tree allows you to systematically comb through your network and assess for weaknesses.
Once you’ve finished examining real-time data, you can then convert it to a report for further inspection. ManageEngine has a 30-day free trial period where you can get to grips with the software. Once the trial has ended you can purchase the paid version for $795 (£586). NetFlow Analyzer can be downloaded from the ManageEngine website here.
Ntopng is available for Unix and Windows and offers a competitive range of network usage monitoring features. Users can view network usage in real time as well as information gathered from protocols such as: TCP, UDP, ICMP, DLC, Netbios and Decnet. Ntop also allows the users to convert their network data into color-coded charts. You can select a timeframe window anywhere from five minutes to one year.
Like a number of other platforms on this list, ntopng also has a Top Talkers feature which shows which applications consume the most bandwidth. Ntopng pro can be downloaded for free via the community edition or you can pay $178 (£131) for the professional version. The professional version provides you with the top talkers feature and allows you to generate reports on a selected host, network, or interface. Ntopng can be downloaded from the Ntop website here.
Cacti is an online open-source network monitoring platform that allows you to analyze your bandwidth usage and convert it into complex graphs. Cacti’s use of SNMP makes it a great choice for bandwidth monitoring in particular. IT departments looking for a network monitoring package with clear visualization would be well advised to consider Cacti. The problem is that Cacti doesn’t have much use beyond bandwidth monitoring when compared to competitors.
That being said, customization is at the heart of Cacti’s overall design. You can adjust your graphs according to your preferences just as you can change how the user interface is shaped (between the preview, list and tree views). If you want to get straight to cataloguing your network performance, then Cacti is great for a free open-source platform. Cacti can be downloaded for free here.
If you want a barebones open-source network usage monitor for Windows and Linux, then BandwidthD should be your first choice. From daily to yearly usage metrics, this program was designed to give you a clear snapshot of your network performance. This is also seen with how the platform takes your live network and plots it straight into a graph ready for closer inspection.
However, due to Bandwdthd’s design, it requires a lot of initial work. If you’re on Linux, you need to install libcap, lippng, libgd, and apache to monitor traffic usage. Even though this is simple enough with the use of online guides, it is still more legwork than any of the other tools on this list.
That being said, BandwidthD is a free product with a clear visual display. If you take the time to set it up properly to work with your network, you will be able to monitor your bandwidth usage very closely and accurately. If you’re on a budget, this is definitely one to try. BandwidthD can be downloaded here.
8. BitMeter OS
BitMeter OS is an alternative open-source network monitoring platform available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. With BitMeter OS you can monitor your network through a web interface or command line interface. You can use these interfaces to generate graphs and charts of your network data. As an added bonus you can set the parameters for your network usage so that once you exceed this value, you receive an alert or notification.
However one of the biggest drawbacks of Bitmeter OS is that you need to have Python installed in order to use the desktop program. That being said, as an open-source application, BitMeter OS is free. For experienced users, Bitmeter OS has more than enough to offer. But if your looking for simple deployment, you’re better off choosing a tool like SolarWinds Network Traffic Analyzer. Bitmeter OS can be downloaded from the Codebox website here.
Networx is a formidable network usage monitor tool available for Windows that can be downloaded for free. SoftPerfect have built NetWorx from the ground up to be as easy as possible to use. You’ll notice that the overall design is extremely barebones. If you want to view network traffic on a single device, you can simply go to settings and click on Monitored Interfaces to set this up.
Networx can also monitor traffic from any device using SNMP or uPNP as well. In terms of visual display, NetWorx takes the usage data you find and transfers it straight to a graph like BandwidthD. You can also set up alerts to notify you in the event of downtime or malicious activity. You can purchase a NetWorx license for $25 (£19) for five devices or $52.80 (£39) for 10 devices.
Overall this is a good tool for SME’s who need to incorporate a network usage monitoring solution into their day-to-day operations. The prevalence of graphs in NetWorx’s design makes sure you actually take in what is occurring on your network. SoftPerfect Networx can be downloaded from the platform website here.
10. ManageEngine Utility (Available On OpUtils)
ManageEngine Utility is a lesser known network usage monitor tool available on OpUtils. With Utility, you can use SNMP data to analyze live data generated by your network and the devices connected to it. You can also create user-defined alerts when your network usage reaches a certain threshold.
In terms of visualization, ManageEngine Utility also allows you to change your monitored network data into reports. With the free version, you can monitor up to two interfaces per device. The pro version is available for $345 (£254). The only drawback with this tool is that you need to have OpUtils in order to use it. However, the tool itself is simply excellent. OpUtils can be downloaded from the ManageEngine website here.
Finally, we have Wireshark. Wireshark is one of the most famous network monitoring tools in the world. While the user interface doesn’t look that impressive, don’t be fooled; this free application can hold its own against even the most expensive products on this list. Wireshark is available for Windows and macOS. It offers real-time usage monitoring and data capture.
You can turn your network data into graphs and charts to help make them more usable. While Wireshark is easy to use, it’s not as straightforward as some of the other tailormade usage monitoring platforms on this list. If you wanted to see the performance information of a certain application, you would need to click Statistics > Conversions and click on the tab you wish to see more information on.
If you’re looking for a free network usage monitoring tool Wireshark is a good choice, but it doesn’t have as much to offer as SolarWinds Netflow Traffic Analyzer and ManageEngine Netflow Analyzer. As a result, users looking for a comprehensive network usage monitoring tool would be best advised to pass on Wireshark despite its competitive offering. Wireshark can be downloaded from here.
Network Usage Monitoring Tools: The Bare Necessities
The rapid advance of network infrastructure and the rise of disparate and complex distributed IT environments means most organizations need some form of network usage monitor tool. Trying to maintain a large network without one is next to impossible because you simply won’t be able to systematically address poor connectivity or faults when performance issues emerge.
All of the tools we’ve outlined above are solid choices for network transparency. However, if you really want to get the most out of your usage monitoring, our top picks are SolarWinds Netflow Traffic Analyzer and ManageEngine Netflow Analyzer. These two tools straddle the line between a clean user interface and the capacity to delve deep into your network usage.
These tools rise to the challenge of providing users with a tool that allows top-down monitoring as well as individual application usage monitoring. If you’re serious about improving your network performance on an enterprise scale, these two platforms are well-worth considering.
That being said, no two enterprises are the same, so it is important to weigh up the advantages of each package before you decide to make a purchase or start deployment. Incorporating a quality network usage monitor into your administrative toolkit will ensure you stay productive on an ongoing basis.
What is Network Monitoring and Why is it Needed?
Network monitoring is the practice of monitoring your IT infrastructure and looking for inefficiency or faults. In many cases this is simply scanning through your network devices to make sure no key services are down or compromised. For example, you could check on the usage statistics of web servers and easily see when a service has failed. In the event that your network experiences downtime, you can then set a usage monitor tool to notify you via email or SMS to take action.
There are many reasons why network monitoring is needed, such as:
- Troubleshooting Network Performance
- Bandwidth Capacity Planning
- Monitoring Bandwidth Usage
The primary reason most administrators incorporate network usage monitor tools to troubleshoot network performance. For example, if you have a department using massive amounts of data, you can identify the individual devices eating through data supply. A network monitor will help you to see the top talkers and help explain what causes extensive data usage on the network.
Many network administrators employ usage monitor tools for bandwidth capacity planning. Every device on your network takes its toll on performance and speed. An administrator can use a network usage monitor tool to see how many devices your network can sustain before it needs to be upgraded. Once signs of poor performance emerge, the administrator will be able to identify when your service needs to be upgraded.
Finally, if you have an agreement with an ISP to cap bandwidth consumption, then it is extremely useful to have a usage monitor tool to ensure you don’t go over your monthly allowance. This will not only help to make sure you don’t incur any additional charges, but will also allow you to verify that your ISP is providing you a level of connectivity in line with what you originally agreed.
How do Network Usage Monitor Systems Work?
In a nutshell, network usage monitor systems work by sending ping signals to ports across your IT infrastructure. Once the monitor sends a ping, it then waits for a response from the targeted port. Generally speaking, most systems send ping tests every hour, though many can do so as frequently as every minute. The length of time between the ports’ response can highlight poor performance and latency. Below we’ve broken down some of the core components that every great network monitoring system should have:
- Continuous Monitoring – You need a tool that gathers data 24/7. Ideally you’re looking for a program that does so without adversely affecting your network performance.
- Individual App Data – In order to get a clear view of what is happening on your network, a tool that can show you data on individual apps to help identify the top talkers is vital.
- Remote Monitoring – If you belong to a larger enterprise, remote monitoring is important as it allows you to gather data from disparate locations and view it from a centralized location.
Network usage monitors can report data back to administrators from devices across the network all the way down to individual nodes and interfaces. Many quality usage monitoring platforms allow the user to set predefined alerts and create their own graphs and reports for deeper analysis.
Deploying a network usage monitor
The purpose of network usage monitors is to detect when traffic levels approach full bandwidth capacity. You need to know what traffic volumes represent normal everyday activity on your network so that you can judge whether you have the right bandwidth capacity available.
Budget considerations may force you to squeeze the most out of your infrastructure budget by providing capacity that is below the peak in demand. If you have periods where the bandwidth is not fully utilized, you can reschedule batch jobs away from times of high demand, or practice traffic shaping measures. You can also examine which applications and protocols use up the most bandwidth and investigate more efficient alternative to reduce the load on the network.
In order to fulfill both monitoring and planning requirements, you need to measure a baseline to establish what is considered normal and peak activity on the network. Continuing monitoring should highlight an inevitable growth in activity over time, so you can adjust your record of normal and peak activity levels.
Once you have your normal capacity records, you can set alert levels on each of your devices to notify you once traffic volumes exceed normal activity is exceeded. Other alerts can notify you when processing rates drop on a network device because that condition would indicate a fault with that piece of equipment.
Knowledge of the capacity of each network device and regular usage figures will help you plan for extra demand on the system that requests for new applications or extra user endpoints will create.
Surges in network traffic might also indicate anomalous behavior, which would indicate intrusion. So, network usage monitors can also play an important role in your network security checks.
Network usage monitoring tools have a range of purposes and will prove useful assistance in your network monitoring and planning tasks. Heck out the free trials and demo versions of the tools listed in out recommendations to see how a network usage monitor tool can improve your system administration working practices.