Network management is essential for several reasons, as it plays a critical role in ensuring the reliability, performance, security, and efficiency of computer networks in organisations.
As networks have increased in complexity and importance to a business, network management has become a vital IT support role, and selecting the best tools to support the functions has become increasingly difficult.
In summary, network management is essential for maintaining the stability, security, and efficiency of computer networks in organisations of all sizes. It helps ensure that networks can meet the demands of users, applications, and business operations while also safeguarding against potential threats and disruptions. Without effective network management, organisations may experience downtime, security breaches, performance issues, and increased operational costs.
Network Management Tools
To effectively manage a network, network administrators and IT professionals often rely on a variety of specialised tools and applications in both Open source and Windows environments. The best tools for network management will depend on several factors, including the size and complexity of the network, and the business area it supports. The list will also change over time as new network tools and techniques, not to mention security requirements emerge.
Any “Best Tools” list must therefore be viewed as a “For Now” list with two implications:
New applications will overtake existing applications on the list. Your business requirements will change over time. New security threats will appear. The “find the best tools” exercise needs to be repeated regularly; and
A major part of the assessment of the tools to be purchased is their long-term suitability and the stability of the supplier. The tools, a large expense in the IT budget, will become a key part of your management portfolio and you need to be sure that they will around and applicable in years to come.
Some Essential Applications
With the caveat that this is the list at the time of writing, here are five essential applications for network management. We have tried to put two forward in basic categories in an attempt to cover Open Source and Windows requirements:
Network Monitoring Tools
The prime function of a network monitoring tool is to keep an eye on network traffic, looking for changes in traffic patterns that could indicate trouble, misconfiguration or equipment failure. It is used to optimise network performance and highlight any deficiencies in overall and individual equipment configurations.
- Nagios: Nagios is a popular open-source network monitoring system that helps monitor the availability and performance of network devices, servers, and services. It provides alerts and notifications when issues are detected, allowing administrators to take corrective actions.
- Progress: While Progress Gold has the usual visual features, it strikes an excellent balance between visual overkill and the ability to monitor network devices.
Network Configuration Management Tools
In large networks, installation and configuration of network equipment and end-user devices can be a labour-intensive and disruptive activity. The introduction of software-defined and intelligence based networks has gone a long way to overcome this, but many networks have not yet moved to that environment.
- SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager: This tool helps automate and centralise the management of network device configurations. It allows administrators to track changes, maintain backups, and ensure compliance with configuration standards.
- Cisco Prime Infrastructure: For organisations using Cisco networking equipment, Cisco Prime Infrastructure offers comprehensive network management capabilities, including configuration management, performance monitoring, and security assessment.
Network Traffic Analysis Tools
Traffic analysis is part of network monitoring. It supplements real-time network monitoring with comprehensive traffic analysis. Everything local and remote touches the network, so normal behaviour is quickly recorded and unusual activity easily detected:
- Wireshark: Wireshark is a widely used open-source network protocol analyser. It allows administrators to capture and analyse network traffic to diagnose problems, detect security threats, and optimise network performance.
- PRTG Network Monitor: PRTG is a comprehensive network monitoring tool that includes traffic analysis features. It provides detailed insights into network bandwidth usage, top talkers, and traffic patterns.
Network Security and Firewall Management
Managing network security is the ultimate no-brainer.
- Firewall Management Software: organisations with firewalls in their network infrastructure often use vendor-specific firewall management software to configure, monitor, and maintain firewall rules and policies. Examples include Cisco ASDM (Adaptive Security Device Manager) for Cisco ASA firewalls.
- Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Tools: SIEM solutions like Splunk, LogRhythm, or Elastic Security help centralise and analyse security-related events and logs from various network devices and systems, aiding in threat detection and response.
Remote Administration and Access
With many organisations supporting remote access and dispersed networks, remote management from a central site is becoming more and more vital.
- SSH and Remote Desktop Clients: Secure Shell (SSH) clients like PuTTY or OpenSSH and Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) clients like Microsoft Remote Desktop are essential for remote administration of network devices and servers.
- VPN Clients: Virtual Private Network (VPN) clients like OpenVPN or Cisco AnyConnect enable secure remote access to the corporate network, allowing administrators to manage network resources from outside the office.
As noted above, these are just a few current examples of essential applications for network management. The specific tools and applications required may vary depending on the complexity and size of the network, the types of devices and services being used, and the organisation’s unique needs. Effective network management involves a combination of monitoring, configuration management, security, and remote administration tools to ensure network reliability and security.