Infrastructure
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3/13/2006
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The Ultimate Free Network Toolkit

Need to boost network performance, manage servers remotely, protect your network from hackers and more? Don't spend a bundle on expensive technicians or software--instead, turn to these free open-source tools.

Your network has slowed to a crawl, which has become more than a nuisance -- it means that you are losing business. Sure, you could pay for a consultant, technician or product, but why bother with an expensive, for-pay solution, when the answer may be as simple as downloading and using free and Open Source software?

Keep in mind that there are some downsides to free and Open Source solutions. Interfaces aren't always polished, and it may take you a bit of time to learn how to use the programs. And as for getting support from the vendor...you won't get any, and so you'll be on your own. And some people worry that open source network protection programs, like Snort, don't always have up-to-date signatures.

Still, there's no need to pay through the nose when a free solution is within easy reach. To help you, we've put together the "Cleaning Dozen," a collection of twelve of the best pieces of free and Open Source software to help you get more out of your network before spending the money on consultants or new or additional technology.

Performance Tools

1. Paessler AG IP Check Server Monitor This monitors network resources for downtime, helping network administrators quickly see any points of failure. With it, you can create your own sensor types using scripting and programming languages. The software can monitor devices and servers located in the Internet, in Intranets and in VPN networks. It will also search for servers/devices in the network and automatically creates sensors for the most common protocols.

2. Paessler AG PRTG Traffic Grapher This clever piece of software monitors bandwidth and network usage to help optimize the network's efficiency. It monitors and categorizes data traffic within a network to provide accurate results about network traffic and usage trends, and displays the results in customizable graphs and tables.

3. Ethereal Network Analyzer This free network protocol analyzer for Unix and Windows lets you examine data from a live network or from a capture file on disk. You can interactively browse the captured data, and view summary and detail information for each packet. The application includes a rich display filter language and the ability to view the reconstructed stream of a TCP session.

4. Servers Alive Though technically a shareware applications, you can try it for free for an indefinite period of time. This end-to-end network monitor program checks any Winsock service, pings hosts, checks if an NT service/process is running, checks the available disk space on a server, retrieves URLs, checks database engines and offers additional minor features that can help identify and fix network bottlenecks.

5. Big Brother This application lets you use any Web browser from any location to check network performance in near real time. It's invaluable when you need to check on your network remotely.

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