20 free software favorites

Freeware applications and open source software that provide IT managers with great tools at no cost

  • Network protocol analyzer Wireshark, which was formerly named Ethereal, works on Windows, Linux, OS X and Unix platforms to allow network managers to examine protocol data from a live network or from a capture file on disk. Key features: Wireshark is freely available open source software that provides deep inspection of hundreds of protocols, examines VoIP application traffic and performs live data capture with offline analysis.

  • Nagios is an open source host and service monitoring application designed to run under the Linux operating system, but also works on other platforms as well. Key features: Nagios, built out of the project formerly known as NetSaint, monitors network services such as SMTP, POP3, HTTP, NNTP and more. The software also monitors host resources such as processor load, disk and memory usage, running processes and log files. It can incorporate environmental factors such as temperature. The open source application can also be customized by network managers via plugins.

  • Scrutinizer is a NetFlow and sFlow analyzer that accepts unlimited flows from routers, switches and network interfaces to help network managers better understand the top talkers in their environments. Key features: Scrutinizer can identify top hosts, top application per hosts, top hosts per applications and provide network mapping. The software integrates with third-party applications and is able to notify service providers if intruders are coming from their networks.

  • Freeware faves A to Z: Network managers have long turned to freeware applications and open source software to address pain points without breaking the bank. The applications offer quick fixes to management and security issues with no budget approval and often become core to IT toolboxes. Here we highlight 20 freeware and open source tools, some that are well established and others that are newcomers to the free software game.

  • The NetFlow Configurator utility, available from management software maker SolarWinds, lets IT managers unfamiliar with the command-line options for configuring NetFlow set up NetFlow on supported Cisco devices. Key features: The utility also helps network managers set up collectors for Cisco NetFlow data by specifying the ports on which the collectors are listening and enabling monitoring of inbound and outbound traffic data per interface, SolarWinds says.

  • PuTTY is a client for Secure Shell (SSH) and Telnet connections that enables network managers to run a remote session on a computer over a network. PuTTY implements the client end of the session. Key features: PuTTY uses cryptography to secure the connection against eavesdropping, hijacking and other attacks, according to its developer. The software application supports SSH1, SSH2 and Open SSH as well as Telnet and Rlogin.

  • ZipTie is a framework for network inventory and configuration management that allows network managers to discover devices in their network, create an inventory and manage the configurations of those devices. Key features: ZipTie performs discovery, backup and restoration of network device configurations as well as provides a comparison of device configurations over time. The software offers a vendor-agnostic approach to managing configurations across varied vendor gear.

  • jManage is an open source application management platform. It provides a centralized console for managing application clusters and distributed application environments. Key features: The jManage platform includes dashboards, alerts, graphs, security features and SNMP support. The software is designed to manage applications in development, quality assurance, staging and production environments.

  • Snort is an open source network intrusion prevention and detection system that uses a rule-driven language to combine several methods of protecting networks, such as signature, protocol and anomaly-based inspection practices. Key features: Snort has three primary uses: It can be used as a straight packet sniffer like tcpdump, a packet logger (useful for network traffic debugging, for example), or as a full-blown network intrusion prevention system.

  • Kiwi Syslog Daemon is a freeware Syslog Daemon for Windows that receives messages from network devices and displays them in real time. Key features: The freeware "receives, filters, logs, displays and forwards Syslog messages and SNMP traps from such hosts as routers, switches, Unix systems and other Syslog-enabled devices," according to its keeper, Kiwi Enterprises.

  • OpenNMS is an enterprise-grade network management platform developed under the open source model and supported both by community and commercial efforts. Key features: OpenNMS enables network managers to perform service polling to determine the availability of managed nodes, as well as collect data to store, report and establish thresholds. It also includes event notification and management capabilities.

  • MRTG (Multi Router Traffic Grapher) is a tool that graphs router and other network device traffic by monitoring SNMP and creating visual images of the traffic passing through each interface. Key features: MRTG is free software licensed under the GNU GPL that works on Unix, Linux, Windows and Netware. The software can track traffic on network devices and show network managers the bandwidth hogs, chatty protocols and end users potentially tapping applications they shouldn't.

  • UltraVNC is a free software application that enables network managers to remotely control the screen of another computer from their own workstation via the Internet or a network connection. Key features: IT staff and help desk workers can use UltraVNC to more quickly address end-user performance problems and fix computers located at remote sites without sending a technician to the client desktop. The application also enables file transfers between computers.

  • The freeware application FastSCP, introduced in 2006 by virtual systems management start-up Veeam, promises to provide file management capabilities for VMware ESX Server users. Key features: FastSCP (Fast and Secure Copy) enables IT managers to transfer files between ESX Server and Windows machines, without reconfiguring the ESX Server.

  • Argus is a software application that monitors systems and network devices such as routers for availability and alerts IT managers when there are potential performance problems. Key features: Argus features an intuitive Web interface, monitors network connectivity as well as system availability, and generates graphs on what is happening across the network. The software also can escalate alerts and notify network managers when problems aren't addressed within a predetermined time.

  • Kismet is an 802.11 Layer 2 wireless network detector, sniffer and intrusion detection system. It works with any wireless card that supports raw monitoring mode. Key features: Kismet is able to identify networks by passively collecting packets and detecting named, hidden and non-beaconing networks via data traffic. The software can provide graphical mapping of networks, perform hidden network SSID de-cloaking and output data via XML.

  • NTOP is a network traffic probe that can sort network traffic according to protocols, display traffic statistics, show IP traffic distribution among protocols, and identify e-mail addresses of computer users, among other things. Key features: NTOP lets network managers sort network traffic based on various criteria, analyze IP traffic based on source and destination, act as a NetFlow/sFlow collector for flows generated by routers or switches, and produce RMON-like network traffic statistics.

  • PingPlotter Freeware is a traceroute application that allows network managers to trace the route between them and a target and collect performance metrics about that route. Key features: The software application can deliver packet loss and latency numbers and display them in a graphical format. The visualization can help network managers more quickly determine which hop on a route is causing performance problems, according to

  • Clam AntiVirus is an open source antivirus toolkit for Unix that was designed to scan e-mails on mail gateways. Key features: ClamAV includes utilities such as a multi-threaded daemon, a command-line scanner and an advanced tool for automatic database updates. The core of the open source package is an antivirus engine available in the form of a shared library, and the application includes built-in support for almost all mail file formats.

  • Cacti is a data collection, storage and graphing tool that lets network managers poll data from multiple sources and create visual representations of information across complex networks. Key features: Cacti is available free for use under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and can tap SNMP for those network managers using MRTG or other traffic graphing tools.

  • Nmap is a free, open-source security scanning utility that scans networks for network exploration, inventory or security auditing purposes. Key features: Designed to rapidly scan large networks, Nmap runs on all major operating systems and uses raw IP packets to determine which hosts are available on the network, which services those hosts are offering, what operating system they are running and what types of packet filters and firewalls are in use.

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