What is Agentless Network Monitoring Software?

October 27, 2016
What is agent vs. agentless network monitoring software?


The agent versus agentless debate is a hot one in the software world. Deciding which is right for you will depend on your IT environment, goals, and resources. The biggest draw to agentless network monitoring is its ease of deployment, closely followed by low cost of ownership and flexibility to monitor all kinds of IP-enabled components. Traditional agent-based network monitoring solutions can provide deeper monitoring capabilities, and are generally considered more secure and stable.

Agentless vs. Agent-Based Monitoring: How Do They Work?

Network monitoring tools provide real-time information about network performance in order to help you spot issues as soon as they occur. These tools do this by capturing IT metrics in one of two ways. The agent-based approach relies on an installed agent (client, service, or daemon) to compile data from your hardware and applications, and sends it to a central spot. This method requires installing agents on every item you want to monitor.

The agentless monitoring approach uses protocols that are already installed on your IT servers, applications, and hardware to collect data. Common protocols that are used include SNMP, WMI, NetFlow, sFlow, and others. Agentless network monitoring software does not require any additional installation on components that you monitor.

Most devices and servers have the built-in ability to support a specific protocol, typically written at the OS level of these devices. All you have to do is enable your hardware to send the appropriate info to your agentless monitoring software. By contrast, agent-based solutions push out their own proprietary agents, bypassing what is already built in to capture specifics.

Why IT Chooses Agentless Monitoring

Overall, the main argument against agent-based monitoring is that it is complex to manage and time-consuming to implement, while agentless monitoring allows IT to be more agile. Here are the most common reasons agentless monitoring software is chosen over agent-based:

  1. You can deploy agentless software easily and quickly.

Without the need to install agents on every network component that you want to monitor, you can start monitoring right away. This is especially helpful for small organizations with limited IT resources.

It’s also a benefit to government and defense organizations, who have to follow strict approval processes to make any changes to devices. Installing agents on devices would require jumping through those approval hoops, which can dramatically slow down your implementation timeline.

  1. The cost of ownership is lower.

For starters, with a faster rollout, you save time right off the bat with an agentless solution. Agentless monitoring also requires less maintenance over time because you don’t have to upgrade agents every time you upgrade devices. With less overhead and time to manage required, the cost of ownership turns out to be less for agentless network monitoring tools.

  1. You can monitor non-standard technology.

Most monitoring solutions can easily monitor common network components like servers, routers, and switches. But what about your HVAC system or door alarms? What about healthcare machines or environmental factors in your data center? Most organizations have “non-standard” IP-enabled items that need to be monitored. An agentless solution can discover and start to monitor these non-standard items quickly and easily.

Also, agentless monitoring gives you more robust monitoring and support for devices that use APIs to hook into storage environments or virtual platforms.

Which is Right for Your Organization?

The case for agentless monitoring

While agent-based network monitoring used to be the norm, today more solutions are transitioning to being agentless, offering support for both approaches, or providing agentless abilities via a plug-in. While there are benefits to both approaches, many IT professionals are gravitating toward an agentless approach for its ease of deployment and reduced overhead.

If any of these statements are true of you and your organization, agentless monitoring is probably the best way to go:

  • Our IT resources are limited, so we would benefit from a solution we can implement quickly.
  • Our network is homogenous. We have mostly the same types of devices and a similar setup throughout.
  • Our network is centralized and localized.
  • The items we monitor are constantly growing, so I don’t want to have to go install agents every time a new component is added.
  • We need to capture high-level metrics such as system name, uptime, traffic, etc.
  • We want to capture data using protocols (such as SNMP, WMI, or HTTP).
  • We have some non-standard devices that we’d like to monitor.

The case for agent-based monitoring

If your IT team can handle the frequent updates agent-based solutions require, the granular monitoring they provide may be helpful. Agent-based monitoring can also be helpful for IT environments that don’t talk to each other consistently, or lack VPN connectivity. Review the list below and if any of the items are true for you, agent-based monitoring may be a more beneficial approach for your team.

  • We have ample IT resources to handle frequent upgrades.
  • Our IT environments are distributed, without much co-dependency on the local network.
  • We have virtual and/or cloud environments.
  • We don’t have constant VPN connectivity.
  • We need to capture granular metrics, such as operating system-level information (device level, inventory applications, asset tag, etc.)

Lastly, many IT professionals automatically assume agent-based monitoring will be more secure. While it does offer a high degree of security, you can still implement authentication configuration and role-based access within an agentless solution to ensure data security.

So who wins in the agentless vs. agent-based network monitoring software debate? While agentless software is rising in popularity for the agility it gives IT teams, considering your timeframe, objectives, and resources will help you make the best choice for your organization.  

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