The network world is constantly changing. Hardware developments bring developments in software, which in turn bring further advances in hardware and so-on. Similarly, the complexity of networks has increased. The core, distribution, access layers model is giving way to Spine and Leaf, and Software Defined Network Access (“SDNA”) is redefining the way we configure and deploy networks. We need new network tools to manage the changed environment.
Some, such as Spine and Leaf or SDNA can’t just be tried out since they need a fundamental change to the organisation of your network. However, at the PC or small network level, there is a continual drip-feed of freeware or cheap network tools that can be tried out without affecting network performance or operations.
Of course, there are other industrial strength applications, Many will provide a trial period.
In no particular order, here are a few tried and trusted cheap or freeware applications to try out.
Bring your own device
The advent of “Bring your own device” (“BYOD”) has meant that all sorts of equipment can be attached to your cabled or WiFi network. The prudent network manager needs to see what is out there and what it is up to. Applications like Netscan (https://www.softperfect.com/products/networkscanner/) will analyse a network and tell you what is attached.
Having more than one active DHCP server on your network can cause mayhem if it’s not planned carefully. Netscan has a very useful feature in locating active DHCP servers to help you with resolving any IP addressing problems.
A second area is seeing what people are actually up to on the network. Most organisations have a fair use policy, but a careless or uncaring user can cause significant service degradation for other users. An application like Wireshark (www.wireshark.org) analyses network traffic, indicating bottlenecks and any excessive use by an individual user.
Wireless technology is fast becoming the connection type of choice. Allied with BYOD, it can bring threats to a network. Attempting to connect a device from an unknown manufacturer, perhaps cobbled together in a backstreet garage, can cause network and support problems. If it connects, such a device is likely to be unmanaged and can easily bring malware threats to a network. If it won’t connect, network support will spend much time and effort trying to connect it at the request of users.
Wireless network analysis tool
Network managers need to know what WiFi networks are available and what is connected to them. Wireless network analysis tools like Xirrus WiFi Inspector (www.xirrus.com), Wireless Network Watcher and for Mac users WiFi Explorer provide the ability to discover available WiFi networks and the devices attached to them.
If you are designing a WiFi network and need to generate heat maps to assess coverage to help with locating access points, Ekahau HeatMapper is a very useful tool.
To see other more industrial strength offerings, PCMag carried out a review of available network monitoring tools earlier this year. Have a look.
Discussion of network tools would not be complete without a look at cyber security and anti-malware tools.
A key step in any anti-malware environment is a regular security audit. This usually has a useful benefit in providing an inventory list of what equipment there is on the network. NMap (https://nmap.org/) is a typical application that provides both functions.
The desktop anti-malware software arena is dominated by a few major players including Symantec, Avast, AVG, and Kaspersky. They offer freeware versions of their full applications suite which generally meet the needs of the domestic user. The freeware version has a restricted set of functions in comparison with the full version.
They also offer a Business Suite, costed, which provides the full range of functions and coverage.
If you are interested in integrated network management, anti-malware, and automated processes, an application like Solar Winds, is an integrated application that offers a remote management platform to support IT operations. It has a 30 day trial option.
If firewalls and email protection is your concern have a look at Barracuda. The full implementation includes both hardware and software to give full management of your firewall and management of email to guard against spam.
This list is by no means comprehensive, and leaves out many other potential solutions. The best way to proceed is to search the Internet for software that meets your particular needs and give it a try.