The price is right: 10 free management tools

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 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, 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.

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.

NetSaint will monitor hosts and services, such as SMTP, Post Office Protocol 3, HTTP, Network News Transport Protocol and ping, on a network. And it can send an e-mail or page when problems arise and are resolved. It can be run as a normal process or as a daemon, intermittently performing service checks on what you've specified. NetSaint lets you monitor host resources such as processor load as well as disk and memory usage. This software has a simple plug-in design that lets you develop your own service checkss. The program includes several Common Gateway Interface programs to let net managers view status information via a Web browser.

NetIQ's Qcheck is a utility that runs at a user's desktop and identifies performance problems, such as response time, throughput, availability and lost packets. It also runs traceroute to determine the exact path of network traffic between any two computers on a network and measures the round-trip response time. And it evaluates the network's ability to support streaming traffic, letting network managers know how many packets get lost.

Sysmon is for monitoring host-based services and devices, such as mail and news servers. You download the source code from an FTP server and then compile it on your system. Once you have defined what you want to test, start the daemon. From there, Sysmon runs, sending e-mail or starting external programs as necessary to notify you of network outages. Also included in the download is an HTML status page that users can customize.

VNC is a remote display system that lets you view a computing desktop environment not only on the machine where it is running, but also from anywhere on the Internet and from a variety of platforms, including the Palm OS. You install a VNC server at one location and VNC viewers at other locations from which you wish to monitor systems. You must also download the VNC protocol stack that lets the server and viewer communicate. "You can remotely [administer] all kinds of boxes, from Macs to [Windows] 98 to NT to Unix, and it will run under [Secure Shell] for security if you need it," says Terry Evans, senior network specialist at Pacific Gas & Electric, a VNC user.

It's similar to, but still different from, good old ping. Whereas ping sends an echo request to let you know if one device can reach another over a network, Ping Scanner performs this task en masse. It can send requests to one address many times or many addresses one time. It performs six major functions: scans; multiscans; identifies MAC addresses on subnets; finds IP addresses; traces the same IP addresses; and queries the "whois" database for names.

Another adaptation of a common ping program, Echo lets you log pings in a file. The program also has the ability to detect network breaks and log them. With this program, network managers can determine when the network went down, how long it was down and when it become available again.

Sam Spade is a set of tools for testing different utilities in Windows environments. The tools include common ping, lookup, whois and other such query-oriented tools. You can also take advantage of dig, a more advanced Domain Name System query tool, or finger, which looks up user information on a remote Unix system. The tool set also includes a keep-alive feature that will send HTTP packets to an ISP's Web server on a scheduled basis (every minute or so) to prevent a dial-up user from losing his or her Internet connection.

OpenNMS is an open source network management platform. Just download the source code, install it on a server and configure it to perform tasks. Its supporters claim OpenNMS is a complete platform, comparable to the likes of Tivoli, Hewlett-Packard OpenView or Computer Associates. Right now, OpenNMS is seeking volunteers for its Early Adopters Program. With OpenNMS, you can locate and identify devices on a TCP/IP network. And you can consolidate and store events from various other managed devices and management platforms.

This story, "The price is right: 10 free management tools " was originally published by Network World.

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