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What network management system would you recommend for a small network?

I have a small network of 50 users and four servers including Netware, Linux, and Windows.

Can you recommend software and/or hardware that will help monitor and/or troubleshoot a system like mine?

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This size of system is in the "small-company" category. I will assume that its job is mission-critical for the company and so the integrity of the system is important, and therefore worth spending money on.

For that size, the question rapidly becomes: What is the right balance between cost and functionality?

The key functionalities needed:

  1. Continuous monitoring of critical network elements (e.g. servers and routers)
  2. Effective notification/alerts (is e-mail or pager better?)
  3. Network performance analysis

I would consider application performance and monitoring to be secondary, even though it is the most obvious aspect of the system's performance. Application performance appears to be the aspect that is most often responsible for generating trouble calls from users (after all, they use applications). But it is more often the network that is ultimately responsible.

It is sort of like deciding if spending money on cars or on roads would be more effective overall. Without roads, good cars are useless. And on a bad road, you can't even be sure if is the car or surface it is driving on that is the problem. So without worrying about the cars, start with good roads.

And so, focus on the network. Eliminate the majority of the problems early. Do it proactively. Make sure that you have the necessary tools to deal with problems that do arise as fast as possible. Then look into your applications.

Good choices for your network? Check out an article in the June 2003 hardcopy issue of Network Computing called "Network Management on $1.19 a Day". They name Ipswitch's WhatsUp Gold as Best Value and I tend to agree relative to the criteria I laid out.

This was first published in September 2003

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