Caring for Network Caregivers

Open-Source Software Tools Available for Communication Examination

By Jim Montague

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As industrial networks grow more complex, it's even more important to check on their wellbeing with network management software (NMS). Also, because networks are relying more on software and servers, there's a growing role for IT-based diagnostics tools that can examine communications down to individual data packets.

Here are several free, open-source software tools available for download. To see more about other NMS solutions, see this month's Research section.

Wireshark is a free, downloadable protocol analyzer that lets users capture and interactively browse traffic running on a computer network. Wireshark includes deep inspection of hundreds of protocols with more added continuously; live capture and offline analysis; three-pane packet browser; multi-platform for running on Windows, Linux, OS X, Solaris, FreeBSD, NetBSD and others; browsing of captured network data via a GUI or TTY-mode TShark utility; and reading of live data from Ethernet, IEEE 802.11, Bluetooth, USB, token ring, frame relay, FDDI and other protocols.

Snort is a free, open-source network intrusion detection and prevention system (IDS/IPS), developed by Sourcefire. It combines the benefits of signature, protocol and anomaly-based inspection, and is capable of performing real-time traffic analysis and packet logging on IP networks.

Tcpdump is free software and a common packet analyzer that runs under the command line, and enables users to intercept and display TCP/IP and other packets transmitted or received over a network to which the computer is attached. Tcpdump works on most Unix-like operating systems. In these systems, tcpdump uses the libpcap library to capture packets. The port of tcpdump for Windows is called WinDump.

WhatsUp Gold (WUG) NMS was developed by Ipswitch, and it offers network, system, application and log monitoring and management in both physical and virtual infrastructures. WUG's main functions include automatic discovery of network devices and interconnections; network mapping and automatic generation of Layer 2 and 3 topologies with visibility into physical and IP connections; monitoring condition, availability and status of the networks and applications using active and passive technologies; alerting from across the whole network infrastructure via one dashboard view; and reporting via standard and customizable formats.

SolarWinds offers network, applications, virtualization and storage management software for maintaining, monitoring and troubleshooting IT networks, as well as several free tools, and an online community called "thwack" with about 93,000 members.

This article is part of the Industrial Networking 2013 Quarter 1 cover story "Monitor and Mend Network Health."

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