When Should You Replace Free Network Management Tools?

Know when it's time to upgrade from free and open source IT infrastructure software
August 21, 2017
choosing network monitoring software


Many small and mid-sized organizations rely on a mix of free and open source tools to manage their IT infrastructure. These free network monitoring and management tools can be effective and economical choices for smaller networks. But how do you know when it’s time to upgrade to a commercial product?

When your network grows 

Scale is one of the first indicators that you need to migrate to a commercial management tool. Maybe you have relied on a free or open source SNMP polling tool for a few years, but suddenly your network has grown by a few switches and you’ve found you can no longer monitor the entire network. There will be only so many probes you can configure on a single instance of a free monitoring tool. To support your growing network, you will need to look elsewhere.

When tools don't integrate

IT teams that use a mix of freeware and open source tools sometimes struggle with lack of integration between tools. Without easy integration, simple tasks, like network remediation, can become more complex than it needs to be. If you discover that it is taking you longer and longer to find and fix IT infrastructure problems, it might be time to upgrade.

For instance, you might have a free infrastructure discovery and visualization tool. While you can use this tool to maintain an up-to-date view of your infrastructure inventory with a visual map of dependencies, it has no network monitoring features. To get information on availability and performance, you find another free or open source tool. If you want to diagnose problems more efficiently, you'll want to upgrade to a more integrated tool set.

Related Content: Ultimate Buyer's Guide: Network Monitoring Software in 2017

When you're ready for support  

Open source and free network management tools have their benefits, but they usually offer limited documentation and support. Once you've gotten comfortable with the tool, this isn't a problem. But what if you, or the person who knows how to use the tool, leaves the organization? Even if the tool is fairly user-friendly, all the expertise they've built with use over time will go with them. Without support resources, your organization will struggle.

One of the greatest benefits of using open source network monitoring and mapping tools is the customization they allow. But if you lose the developer who's responsible for those changes,maintaining and continuing to develop custom coding will become difficult. 

Finding the right commercial network monitoring software

If your organization is facing any of these issues, it might be time to migrate to a paid IT infrastructure management tool. The benefit of a commercial tool is the ability to scale, streamline troubleshooting, and get the support you need when you need it. 

Thankfully, you don't need a huge budget to invest in network monitoring software. You can find network monitoring software for any budget. While some vendors offer more robust functionality for a higher investment, you can find powerful, reliable tools that do exactly what you need them to for less. 

When you're looking for a tool, make sure you find one that offers: 

  • Easy installation and maintenance: The sooner you can get up and running, the sooner you'll see ROI. 
  • Automatic network discovery and mapping: Auto-disovery saves you time and manual effort, especially for larger networks. 
  • Visual indicators of availability and performance: Live animation and color coding on network maps helps draw your eye to trouble areas so you can more quickly resolve IT issues. 
  • Flexibility to monitor all kinds of equipment from leading manufacturers: Most IT teams are using equipment from a variety of vendors. Find software that plays well with all of them.
  • Bandwidth monitoring: Getting answers to who's using all the bandwidth helps you improve network performance across the organization. 
  • Layer 2 connectivity: Layer 2 mapping can be complicated, and not every product offers it, but having a view of your physical architecture can be incredibly valuable to network administrators. 
  • Performance alerts: Find a tool that lets you configure how often you want to receive alerts, and for what. Flexible alerts ensure you never miss an important event, but you're also not overwhelmed by noise. 
  • The ability to deploy in multiple sites: If you have multiple locations you need to monitor, you'll want to make sure it's both affordable and technically straightforward to set this up.

In summary:

  • Free and open source tools are a lifesaver for small, busy IT teams... until you outgrow them.
  • Signs that it's time to upgrade: your device count has grown, you lack the integration between tools that you need, or you need expert technical support.
  • Look for user-friendly tools that offer the features you plan to use every day for an affordable price.
Get Started with Intermapper

Stay ahead of network outages and get the visibility you need. Intermapper is user-friendly, powerful network mapping and monitoring software for IT organizations. We offer a free, subscription, or device-based version to fit your unique needs. 

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