A carpenter is only as good as his hammer. A knight is only as good as his sword. A writer is only as good as his pen. These experts would amount to very little if they didn’t have their respective tools to get their jobs done well. Similarly, a network administrator is only as good as the network tools he/she uses.
The significance of these tools should never be downplayed. Network administrators must be able to wield their tools well to maximize their effectiveness as professionals.
Here we will list some of the most indispensable tools that net admins should keep in their toolbox and learn to use well.
So let’s describe and discuss some of the most popular and useful network administrative tools for professionals working in TCP/IP networks.
This is a free and open-source terminal emulator and serial console application. It allows admins to obtain terminal or serial command line communication with network devices using protocols including SSH, Telnet, SCP, rlogin, and direct serial connections.
Since command line interface (CLI) connectivity is quintessential to performing a network administrator’s duties, one can understand the importance of a tool like PuTTY.
Among other benefits, PuTTY consists of several modular components and is thus highly configurable, allowing you to perform many types of connections from a relatively simple interface.
When troubleshooting a network, it is often vital to be able to see what is going on within the data packets themselves.
Wireshark is a free packet analyzer that provides net admins with a window into this world of packets by capturing and storing a stream of packets that can later be examined, analyzed, and visualized.
The contents of header fields on every layer of the OSI model can be inspected for each and every captured packet.
Wireshark also has impressive tools that can parse and filter packets, identify particular protocols, and present the collected information to the network admin in a meaningful way that adds value and insight.
In addition, Wireshark has developed powerful tools that can analyze streams of packets specifically for VoIP, Wireless, and firewall applications, providing the network administrator with even more valuable information that is useful for troubleshooting.
This is a centralized server that collects Syslog messages from multiple devices on the network. These messages are stored and can be viewed via a GUI.
This server, however, is not limited to simply capturing Syslog messages. It centrally manages SNMP traps as well as Windows event logs, giving you a richer view of your network, including end-user Windows workstations.
All of the information it captures can then be displayed to the net admin in a useful and informative way, giving a visual picture of the health of a network.
The server can also be configured to create real-time alerts based on critical events on the network, as well as automatically respond preemptively to specific Syslog messages with predetermined actions.
Many network devices leverage TFTP to transfer configuration and firmware files to and from network devices.
TFTPD32 is a simple yet powerful TFTP server that can be used for this purpose. It allows you to quickly set up a TFTP server on your laptop to easily update or backup configuration files on network devices or upgrade network device software images.
It’s an excellent solution when you need a quick and dirty file transfer to get your job done.
Creating network diagrams is a vital part of the documentation process that all network administrators are called to perform.
The Online Diagrams Tool is an easy-to-use web-based application that allows you to easily create network diagrams, store them, organize them, and share them with your teams, partners, and customers.
It’s almost like pulling out a pad of paper and a pencil and starting to sketch your diagrams. It’s free, available on any web browser, and powerful enough for even the most elaborate network diagrams.
This is an extremely flexible open source, web-based network monitoring and graphing tool that allows network admins to gain a network-wide insight into the health of a network.
Cacti is used to periodically poll network devices at predetermined intervals, collect information from those devices, and graph the resulting data.
Data collected typically includes time-series data of metrics such as CPU load, network bandwidth usage, and other network device vitals.
The tool creates a historical record of the state of particular events and values in the form of graphs.
Typically, polling takes place using the SNMP traps, but it can be modified and extended to monitor any source via shell scripts and executables.
Zabbix is a network monitoring tool that, in its own words, delivers a “single pane of glass view of your whole IT infrastructure stack.”
Zabbix delivers monitoring for your network, servers, cloud, applications, and network services, all within a single package.
This is an extremely elaborate cloud-based intelligent system that collects data of all types and performs visualization, creates graphs, generates geo-maps and infrastructure maps, and can automatically issue scheduled reports.
It is modular in nature, can easily monitor with a whole slew of vendor devices out of the box, and can be configured to integrate with a multitude of business software platforms of many different types, including collaboration, helpdesk, CRM, databases, and IP telephony services.
This is a simple-concept yet powerful tool that allows you to monitor the availability of remote user workstations as well as servers running Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems.
It uses simple pings sent out to configured devices. From these pings, it can determine availability, link quality, historical uptime, as well as exhaustive metrics and provides a detailed analysis of network resource usage.
It also delivers very comprehensive troubleshooting and diagnostic tools that help identify problems and resolve them quickly. Monitored devices can be anywhere in the world, as long as they have internet connectivity.
For larger enterprises, IP address management can become a nightmare if it is not appropriately designed and maintained from the beginning.
This is what Easy-IP promises to do. It is a fast, web-based IP address management system that enables network admins to keep track of all their IPv4 and IPv6 subnets, layer 2 VLANs, and DNS hostnames, to name a few.
It uses an innovative SNMP network discovery engine to initially determine the state of your network and then can be used to help you manage, organize, and plan your network addressing scheme.
NetFlow is a powerful feature that was introduced first on Cisco devices that provides the ability to collect IP network traffic in the form of flows.
A flow is defined as a stream of packets that share the same characteristics, such as source and destination ports, source and destination addresses, protocols, and other parameters.
NetFlow is a feature of network devices that can be leveraged by the Solar Winds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer.
These flows are sent to the analyzer, which stores them, analyzes them, and delivers detailed and rich information about them to the network admin.
As a result, a network administrator can determine things such as the source and destination of traffic, class of service, and the causes of congestion.
Not all tools will be used by any one network admin. It really depends upon the focus of the day-to-day operations of each individual.
However, these are among the most useful, functional, and beneficial tools that can help make a network administrator more effective in their job, not to mention making their lives easier in the long run as well.
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