Ezine 156 – Free Utilities for Network Monitoring

Guy’s Ezine 156 – Free Utilities for Network Monitoring

This week I have two recommendations for free network monitoring utilities.  As they have different approaches to analyzing network traffic I suggest you try the offerings from both Microsoft and SolarWinds.

Microsoft Network Monitor 3.2Real-time bandwidth monitor

The secret of success with Windows Network Monitor is that you must have a clear purpose; you need a real problem to solve.  Bonding with your Network Monitor reminds me of women, who as teenagers, seem to have no interest in babies; then in their twenties, when they have their very own baby, they transform into brilliant mothers.

If you just mess about with Network Monitor you will soon get bewildered with all the data, and give up.  However, once you get a mission, your drive to succeed will ensure that you home in on just the facts you need.  Then as you solve the problem, so you become a minor expert on Network Monitor.

See more on the Network Monitor

Network Problems You Could Solve By Monitoring Include:

  • Measuring server connection latency.
  • Investigating which processes are sending packets across your network. (One day you may find a rogue process has invaded your network.)
  • Researching connectivity problems.  For example, discover why DNS cannot contact a server (Wrong IP address).
  • Discovering if there are any unexpected broadcasts or multicasts on your network.

Installing Windows Network Monitor 3.2

3.2 is the latest version of Network Monitor for Windows Server 2008.  Surprisingly this version also works with Vista, XP and Windows Server 2003.  Any knowledge of installing version 1 or 2 is completely useless, as you simply download the latest version of Network Monitor from Microsoft’s site and install like a 3rd party utility.  My point is don’t bother to look for a Network Monitor amongst the ‘Features’ or ‘Windows Components’ because its not there.  Here is where you can see more on the Real Time Network Monitor

Guy’s Sidebar

If you suspended belief and pretend that you were downloading Windows Network Monitor from a 3rd party site you might think, ‘What a good place Microsoft is’, and ‘how easy it is to install this utility called Netmon’.  Here is another paradox which amuses me: Microsoft DOESN’T say, ‘This is easy to install’ – yet it is!  You just double-click the cabinet file which you downloaded and away you go.  In contrast, so many actual 3rd party software companies say, ‘This is easy to install’ – but they lie!

Filters Make the Difference Between Success and Failure

Filters especially capture filters, make all the difference between seeing manageable data in the monitor’s GUI, or viewing an amorphous mass of meaningless numbers.  This is an example of how to create a filter to capture only http traffic.

Filter menu, Capture Filter –> Load Filter – Standard Filters.  Scroll down to: HttpWebpageSearch.

Controlling the Capture is easy, just look for the Start, Stop or Pause buttons.  Incidentally, they remind me of an old tape recorder.

One of the best new features of version 3 is Network Conversations.  The idea is that Netmon groups traffic into meaningful clusters.  This would be how you could spot a rogue program that had wormed its way into your network.  Download your free copy of Windows Network Monitor 3.2.

SolarWinds Real-time Network Traffic Analyzer Free Real-time Netflow Analyzer

The Real-time Network Traffic Analyzer is another free utility.  Whereas the Windows Network Monitor is designed for the skilled foot-soldier, the Real-time Analyzer provides an overview for the colonel of your network’s army. 

As colonel you want to know as soon as a server has been taken down by the network gremlins.  Also, also want to know which of the enemy troops (the users) is consuming most of the bandwidth.  Intelligence about who is talking to who may cause you to redeploy your server or router forces.

The reason this is such a fantastic free tool, is that SolarWinds also make a family of Orion utilities, for which they do charge.  As the name ‘Real-time’ indicates you cannot store weeks of history with this product, but you can with its big brother the SolarWinds Orion Network Traffic Analyzer.  My point is I wanted to explain why you get such a good utility for free.  Download your copy of Real-time NetFlow Analyzer.

Typical Tasks for the Real-time Network Analyzer

This utility analyzes NetFlow traffic packets, thus you need access to a router.  Once installed you literally get a picture of what’s occurring on your network.

  • The Real-time NetFlow Analyzer lists your network’s utilization by user or application.   This helps you to analyze traffic from different perspectives for example, router or server.
  • It’s ideal for troubleshooting connectivity problems, and also for detecting network bottlenecks.
  • Examining the results will help you understand the effect of a server’s workload on resources.  Consequently, you may get ideas to optimise resources by moving servers and printers to the subnets with the most users.
  • In your more reflective times, checking the NetFlow charts will highlight which sub-systems need upgrading.  It can also help you predict network traffic if you employ more users or open new offices.

Guy’s Crazy Bet

I bet that if you install NetFlow that you will find a server, workstation or even router on your network that you did not know was there.  Perhaps your predecessor installed a backup server and forgot to document it? 

Now I confess that I only win about 30% of these bets, but sometimes I win big, as when a new manager in Boston discovered a whole branch office in Williamstown that nobody had told him he was overseeing.  If you want to try for yourself here is the free Real-time NetFlow Analyzer.

Guy Recommends: Tools4ever’s UMRAUMRA The User Management Resource Administrator

Tired of writing scripts? The User Management Resource Administrator solution by Tools4ever offers an alternative to time-consuming manual processes.

It features 100% auto provisioning, Helpdesk Delegation, Connectors to more than 130 systems/applications, Workflow Management, Self Service and many other benefits. Click on the link for more information onUMRA.

Summary of Network Monitoring

Capturing and analyzing network packets can seem like a black art.  However there will be times when you need to troubleshoot a connection or latency problem.  At such times of crisis you need a good tool like Microsoft’s Network Monitor, or SolarWinds Real-time Traffic Analyzer.  Good news, both utilities are free.

Will and Guy’s Humour

This week Will and Guy are getting ready for Christmas.  Theirfunny advent calendar may surprise you – or give you an idea!

See more interesting free computer utilities

Here are my reviews of more useful computer tools.  Most of these programs are free, while others are major applications, but time-limited.  One common theme is that Solarwinds give you a free specialist utility, and then supply a more comprehensive suite for larger organizations.  To let you into a secret; for small networks the free tool is all you’ll ever need.

E 202 Permissions Monitor  • E 190 Network Device Monitor   • E 181 Config Generator

E 166 IPAM  •E 161 OB IT  •E 159 Kiwi Syslog Review  • E 156 Windows Network Monitor

Real Time Netflow Analyzer  •Syslog Utility  • Ezines Home  • Ezines Home