Is your modus operandi mostly conducting tasks manually, rather than automate them? Many IT teams would give anything for a network automation solution, but budget constraints mean a fancy automation tool just won’t fly with your boss.
If you’re up to your arms in manual tasks, I’m guessing you’ve felt the pain of spending hours creating a static Visio diagram depicting every device in your network, then updating the diagram anytime you change even one tiny component in your network. Or gotten a phone call from a remote location in which someone tells you a critical piece of equipment has failed, and the only way you can restart it is to drive an hour to get there.
The problems with these scenarios are multi-faceted. For one, they’re tedious and time-consuming, especially when you’re trying to juggle a thousand other tasks in a day. For another, making a human being part of a critical task like restarting a failed device is not only dangerous, but it’s impractical. What if you miss the alert saying a device is down? What if there are no technicians on premises and you can’t get in the car and go right this minute? And what if you make a mistake—as we all do from time to time?
Fortunately, there are network automation tools that can perform tasks like remediation, reporting, mapping, and more automatically. Unfortunately, many solutions on the market are expensive and offer far more features than you really need. For the next few paragraphs, I’ll compare two of them: Intermapper, a network mapping and monitoring solution from HelpSystems, and NetBrain, a platform that offers similar features.
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Comparing Network Automation Tools
While Intermapper and NetBrain have diverse feature sets, they do both offer several key features valued by network administrators, including:
Intermapper and NetBrain both offer dynamic mapping capabilities, giving you a visual map of your network.
You can automatically discover all the technology in your IT infrastructure with both Intermapper and NetBrain.
Performance and fault monitoring
Both solutions provide network performance monitoring and fault monitoring to identify potential network issues, such as excessive bandwidth usage or slow response time between devices.
NetBrain positions itself as a Windows automation platform for the world’s largest networks.
While Intermapper is primarily a network mapping and monitoring solution, the most recent releases interface with the HelpSystems robotic process automation platform—called Automate. For anyone running both Intermapper and Automate on Windows, you can predefine network tasks within Automate to run in response to Intermapper alerts, giving you similar automation abilities as NetBrain.
Beyond these key features, NetBrain also offers extra features like path analysis, dashboards, and reporting. Depending on your goals, you may or may need these additional capabilities.
Why choose Intermapper?
If you only have the budget for one tool, and your main goal is to increase your network visibility and free up time to focus on other tasks, Intermapper might be your best choice. Here are some of the reasons why.
Stronger mapping component
While NetBrain does offer mapping, it looks basic and generic compared to the level of deep visibility Intermapper provides. NetBrain maps may look good on a Microsoft Word document, but Intermapper looks better on a computer screen—which is where you’ll be looking at it every day.
As network mapping software, Intermapper gives you infinite ways to personalize your network maps to be most helpful to you. You can integrate with Google Earth to see devices against a geographic area, or upload any background image you want, like a floor plan. With Intermapper, the highly granular detail allows you to identify exactly which device is down and where it is located, so you can troubleshoot issues fast.
While NetBrain provides some basic text alert options, Intermapper provides a strong, diverse set of notification options that alert you to problems before an end user will call to complain. Intermapper allows you to set alerts on devices or interfaces, build notification schedules, assign alerts to various individuals or groups, and build your own script alerts.
Used alongside Automate, you can connect Intermapper alerts to actions you’ve built in Automate so that when a network event occurs, the right command will trigger when the alert sounds—so you don’t have to get involved.
While managing your network, probes can play an essential role in helping you capture specific types of information regarding devices. You can’t say you’re performing a full monitoring of devices without the use of probes. Intermapper comes with built-in probes you can use right out of the box, and our users contribute probes to share with the community as well.
NetBrain offers a handful of basic probes, but Intermapper gives you monitoring for a wider range of thresholds. Many network administrators want to capture more than just the up/down status of their device. With Intermapper, you can create probes to monitor virtually anything in your network—everything from environmental sensors to security systems.
J-Flow and sFlow
Although it’s a very capable solution, NetBrain has some limitations in its support for devices that are sFlow and J-Flow-capable. A network monitoring tool like Intermapper, however, supports NetFlow, sFlow, and J-Flow. This makes Intermapper a much better match for firms with disparate infrastructures. If your organization has a non-Cisco environment running and wants to capture flows data, NetBrain simply can’t provide the same level of detail or data capture as Intermapper.
Intermapper also offers a NetFlow analyzer called Intermapper Flows. Flows enhances your ability to analyze the kinds of data flowing across and through your network. Flows is a powerful and affordable network traffic monitor capable of sub-millisecond accuracy for network bandwidth monitoring. It paints an even clearer picture of the type of conversations flowing across your network and is a great option for current NetBrain or Intermapper customers who want an integrated network traffic monitoring software.
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Getting Started with Monitoring and Automation
If you need a robust tool like NetBrain and are confident that you’ll use all the features provided, go for it. Some people even use Intermapper and NetBrain side by side to benefit from their combined power
But you don’t have to purchase an expensive automation platform to start to save time and simplify your network tasks. You can start with a tool like Intermapper to capture device information, display it on a live map, alert you to potential issues, and give you a real-time look at network health—along with automating manual tasks on your plate. With Intermapper it won’t take long to see ROI, since you can get up and running fast, and be mapping and automating tasks quickly—immediately helping you prevent manual errors and save time.