What is Network Monitoring?
Do you know the percentage of time your employees spend working, and the percentage of time they spend checking Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, or reading news articles and browsing forums and playing games on the internet?
Lost productivity costs businesses a considerable amount of money each year, and one of the techniques increasingly used by companies seeking to reduce lost hours and productivity is network monitoring. Network monitoring is the process of reviewing information sent or received within a computer network.
Where Is Network Monitoring Used?
In a work setting, it may be used to block access to restricted sites, or to ensure employees are not surfing the internet during company time, or even to assess the amount of time necessary to complete tasks requiring internet access.
Network monitoring can be used in the home environment to ensure children do not have access to adult websites, and is commonly used in both work and home settings to prevent unauthorized access to a computer network by individuals outside the network, such as hackers.
There are many more uses for network monitoring in home and work settings, but these are the most common.
What Tools Are Used For Network Monitoring?
Network monitoring is made possible by a variety of software packages and products that can typically be purchased online or in local stores and installed on an administrator’s computer. From there, the network monitor has access to the information sent and received over the network, as well as information regarding the amount of data transmitted and connection attempts made toward and from the computer network.
Which Factors Should I Look For In a Network Monitoring Product?
When looking for a network monitoring product, consider the following aspects:
- The features of the software package
- The level of analysis allowed by the software package
- The reports provided by the software package
- The remote access capabilities offered by the software package
- The help and support accessible by the software package, and
- The minimum system requirements of the software package.
Each aspect will be discussed in further detail below.
Software Package Features
- Is the product designed to address security threats in work settings, home settings, or both?
- Are there discounts available for corporate sized purchases?
- What level of self maintenance is provided by the product?
- Can the product be setup over a network, or must it be individually installed on every computer on the network?
- To what degree is the software integrated with computers on the network?
- Will you have the ability to monitor the network from multiple locations, or are you consigned to an administrator’s computer?
- Can you capture screenshots from computers connected to the network?
- Is there a stealth mode available to prevent employees or children from knowing that their computers are under surveillance?
Level of Analysis
- What amount of detail does the software offer in analysis of network traffic and activity?
- Where will the data be stored?
- How long will data be logged?
- Will the program offer means to monitor the amount of time spent in different activities on each computer? Such an ability may yield dividends for those seeking to increase work productivity.
Details in Reports
It is possible that you may someday need to generate reports from your network monitoring software–for example, to satisfy the requirements of a subpoena. How will the data look? Through which means will it be available? Consider how easy it will be to generate a report from the software.
Will you be able to access the network through a variety of wireless communication devices, or will you need to have a physical connection to the network to log into it?
Support and Help services
If something goes wrong, will you have help available?
- If you have difficulty setting up the network, will there be technical assistance? If so, will it be accessible through chat, email, or phone contact? If so, what are the hours in which service will be available?
- How much time typically elapses before support and help services will respond to your phone call or email?
- How long will support be offered?
Minimum System Requirements
What does it take to run the network monitoring software on a computer, and does your primary computer meet these requirements? Is there a limit to the number of computers that can be monitored by the software?
If you are looking to monitor the performance of specific applications on your network, here is a detailed overview of top application monitoring programs.
Popular Network Management Software Packages
The following network management software packages are among the leading options available for consumers on the market today. The software packages range in price from $45 to $375, and are all available for purchase online, while several may also be available in super stores and computer stores in the United States. Each software package has its own strengths and weaknesses, and a more detailed look at each software package will be provided below.
The InterGuard package is relatively expensive, coming in at $297. However, it offers a wealth of features, including the best remote access capabilities of the packages reviewed, with options for Blackberry, Wi-Fi, LAN, and GPRS remote access. The support system is also impressive, although there is not a user forum available.
Priced at $158, Pearl Echo is considerably cheaper than InterGuard, yet offers comparable levels of features and support. As with InterGuard, report options allow you to choose the format of the report, allow you to create target reports that are specified, and allow for the creation of visual charts. Perhaps the biggest drawback to Pearl Echo compared to InterGuard is the lack of phone support offered, which is frequently the first method of contact attempted by IT personnel when experiencing network difficulties.
The WebWatcher package is cheaper than both InterGuard and Pearl Echo, and can be purchased for $97. However, it lacks some important features present in the two previous packages, including features designed to reduce security threats, self maintenance capabilities, and the capability to deploy the package out of box. Additionally, WebWatcher lacks real time monitoring, a frequently used feature in work settings. The package also lacks tutorials to assist in setup or in maintenance. Additionally, unlike the previous two packages, WebWatcher does not offer a trial download for consumers wishing to sample its functioning before purchasing it.
Priced at $179, Activity Monitor is more expensive than WebWatcher and Pearl Echo but still cheaper than InterGuard. It contains more features than WebWatcher but not quite as many as InterGuard or Pearl Echo.
- In particular, it lacks the ability to offer administrative alerts, a feature common to the three previous packages discussed, and it also lacks self maintaining properties.
- In the report domain, it lacks a visual chart builder and the ability to create specified target reports.
- In the remote access domain, administrators are denied wireless access to the software, which may be significantly limiting to administrators wishing to log in to the system when not physically connected to computers in the network.
Activity Monitor does offer a good amount of help and support, although both InterGuard and Pearl Echo offer features lacking in Activity Monitor, including access to online help and a user manual. Finally, like Pearl Echo, Activity Monitor does not include telephone support.