As with larger enterprises, small-to-medium size businesses (SMBs) depend on stable and efficient IT infrastructure to maintain business operations. If you are responsible for administrating the IT infrastructure at an SMB, from manufacturing to technology and any industry in between, using network mapping and monitoring software can help you do your job better by maximizing network uptime and efficiency, as well as providing alerts to potential and actual disruptions.
After you enter the most important pieces of equipment to monitor, the application just runs in the background—only alerting you to active or impending issues related to hardware, software or bandwidth utilization. Here's why you should monitor your network, plus a list of key considerations to help you choose the right network monitoring solution.
While there are many solutions available in the marketplace to perform these beneficial functions, SMB’s must find the best products that are appropriate for their needs and constraints. While there are many options on the market, it is possible to find one that combines power, ease of use, and affordabilty. The following considerations are some of the top criterioa IT professionals in SMBs should evaluate when researching network monitoring software.
What to Consider when Choosing Network Monitoring Software
Integrated vs. Add-Ons
An off-the-shelf, all-in-one solution will make the purchase decision safer, reduce the challenge of installation, and reduce and avoid surprising add-on costs. Some network monitoring vendors promote a base product with an associated menu of add-on modules to allow the end user to create customized capabilities, while other vendors have a more unified, all-inclusive product. The SMB IT professional should opt for the integrated product to ensure that the product can do what you need it to do now and in the future, avoid the hassle of multiple installations, and prevent unforeseen cost escalations.
Once the monitoring application is installed, the IT professional will need to generate a map of the devices to be monitored. There should be a user-friendly graphical interface that does not require editing text files. Be sure that the vendor you select supports a robust auto-discovery tool that will scan your network and quickly and accurately find all the connected hardware and software you want to monitor. Some manual work may be required, but the heavy lifting of identifying the major connected equipment should not entail a huge time commitment.
Basic data regarding up-time, packet loss, response times, and error rates are widely available in most solutions. If you are concerned about bandwidth hogs at your organization, look for a real-time NetFlow analyzer monitoring software that can analyze packet flow information (NetFlow, sFlow, etc.). Flexibility to monitor any hardware, software, or traffic is vital. You will want an at-a-glance view of your network with mapping and monitoring on the same screen to quickly highlight trouble spots. A diverse array of alerting/notification options to keep you in touch when you are not in the office is a great feature. One-click charting and built-in reporting will minimize the time you need to invest in analysis.
If a device you are monitoring is malfunctioning or has gone down, you want to know as soon as possible to minimize end user impact. The software should be able to poll your network every 30 seconds. Be sure there are user-friendly, customizable notification options to set up an alerting protocol. With a limited number of personnel on your team, it is essential that the alerting mechanism enables you to choose from multiple alerting types (e-mail, text message, etc.), easily escalates alerts from one person to another, or quickly changes scheduling as a result of other commitments.
Consultants should not be needed for the deployment of these tools. Beware of certain shareware solutions that may require extensive time and effort to set up and maintain. It is common for one person to monitor a network of hundreds of devices at an SMB, along with other duties and responsibilities. Furthermore, you’ll want 24-hour access using a robust remote client, for out-of-hours management.
The application should be able to run on an ordinary PC—whether it’s Windows, Mac, or Linux. Monitoring software should not eat up a lot of storage, RAM, or require the latest processors. No need to spend your limited budget on a high powered server.
Make sure that the vendor has network monitoring support technicians available to walk you through any difficulties encountered during the initial installation and configuration. Monitoring solutions are mature technologies, so minimal customer service/support will be necessary after the installation and configuration.
There is a highly competitive marketplace for network monitoring software. SMBs with 100 or fewer important devices should not spend more than a few thousand dollars for a license. Free shareware is available, but may lack the support, documentation, and ease of installation/configuration of commercial products.
If chosen carefully, the right network monitoring software can help IT professionals at SMBs optimize their network performance with minimal administration.