The price is right: 10 free net management tools

By Denise Dubie, Network World |  Development

If the thought of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for an enterprise net management platform is getting you down, you may be relieved to know that dozens of free management tools are at your disposal. And while you may still need to fork over big bucks for that platform, these free tools can complement commercial management software and fill other specific needs.

Take Cricket, a free network monitoring program. Rob Davies, global network architect at EDS/EBS Dealing Resources, is among the IS professionals using this program, which is essentially a much more scalable version of Multi-Router Traffic Grapher (MRTG), a popular free tool for monitoring network traffic loads. Davies is using Cricket to monitor about 1,000 Cisco Systems Inc. routers in 40 countries on the company's private worldwide network. He also uses Cricket at a data center to monitor Sun Solaris servers as well as switch and firewall port performance.

"Cricket's very easy to configure and operate, due to the simple text-based configuration files it uses," says Davies. He adds Cricket is simpler to use than MRTG.

Most such free management tools are distributed under the GNU General Public License. This means that the programs, some of which come with "use at your own risk" warnings, are copyrighted with specific rules governing their distribution. Here are 10 free tools offered as downloads from the Internet:

Cricket

Cricket, available for about two years, is a program created by Jeff Allen for WebTV Networks to help him see and understand the traffic on his network. Using MRTG to monitor traffic loads on network links became too unwieldy when WebTV tried to monitor more devices. So Allen developed Cricket, naming it so because Super MRTG or SMRTG just wasn't catchy enough. Plus, Cricket wasn't the same as MRTG; it just looked similar. To use Cricket, you install a bundle of modules on a server and then program them to collect network traffic data from routers. You define which routers you want to poll and schedule the frequency of the polling. You can then view network traffic trends in Web-based graphs.

TCPNetView

A private developer designed TCPNetView about three years ago to determine the IP and media access control (MAC) addresses of computers and devices on a LAN. The program's documentation compares it to Microsoft's Network Neighborhood, and it will let you know with whom you can share files and what network devices you can access. Users simply have to download TCPNetView into a working directory to run it.

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