Managing a small business network can involve a lot of time-consuming grunt work. And while you can find networking software and services that make performing a given task faster and more efficient, it usually means spending a lot of money, and who's got that these days?
With a few exceptions, the fifteen networking utilities and services highlighted below (listed in alphabetical order) are free—and not just for 14- or 30-day trial periods, either—and they can make network management a good deal easier. Even the few that aren't free are pretty cheap given the capabilities they offer.
One caveat: while most of these tools are just plain free, some are simply pared-down versions of a vendor's paid software or the free tier of a paid service. We'll point this out when appropriate; the free versions can still be plenty useful if you can live within their limitations. Also, a few of the vendors require that you provide contact information (including a phone number in some cases) in exchange for their product. Ready? Let's begin.
15 Small Business Networking Tools
1. Angry IP Scanner (Free; Windows, Mac and Linux)
We're not sure why it's angry—all we know is that it works, and works fast. Within minutes (or seconds in some cases) Angry IP Scanner will poll your network to find active IP addresses and any associated MAC addresses, hostnames, NETBIOS information, ports in use, etc., and it can save the results in a variety of formats.
Figure 1: Angry IP Scanner will quickly find every active IP address on your network.
2. Anturis (Free; Windows and Linux)
Keeping track of server health can be a pain. Anturis checks various parameters once each minute and notifies you by email in the event of any problems. Anturis can monitor free RAM and disk space, CPU usage, mail server or website availability and response time and a lot more. (Anturis limits its free tier of service to five monitors.) Read our Anturis review.
3. DNS Jumper (Free; Windows only)
DNS makes the Internet go 'round—you can't get to a Web site without it—but it also makes things slow to a crawl or stop completely when your company's DNS server (or your ISPs) has problems. DNS Jumper makes switching a PC's DNS quick and easy when such outages happen; you can choose from several well-known public DNS servers (i.e. Google, OpenDNS), or enter your own.
4. FastResolver (Free, Windows)
Pinging an IP address is typically the first step in network connectivity testing, but the standard ping command in Windows pings only a single address at a time, and it stops after four pings without additional command line arguments.
FastResolver, on the other hand, can ping multiple addresses at the same time including entire IP ranges (which you can import from a file), and it does so continuously until you tell it to stop. It also outputs results in simple, easy-to-read HTML charts.
5. InSSIDer ($20, Windows and Mac)
So this one isn't free, but for a mere twenty bucks InSSIDer 4 can be a valuable tool for uncovering Wi-Fi coverage and interference issues. InSSIDer displays a graph of all nearby networks—including 802.11ac and 5 GHz if you have hardware that supports them—showing signal strength and channels in use. It will also recommend the best channel for a given network.
Figure 2: InSSIDer is a great way to see what Wi-Fi networks are operating in your area (and which ones might be interfering with yours).
6. ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus (Free; Windows and Linux)
Providing technical support to network users can be a real time sink, but a good Help Desk application can streamline the help process, automate repetitive tasks, and really cut the time spent managing requests rather than actually working on them. ManageEngine's ServiceDesk Plus, lets an unlimited number of technicians track unlimited users and tickets, even across multiple sites.
7. NetResView (Free, Windows)
Don't have a handle on all your network's shared resources? NetResView will sniff out every shared folder, disk, and printer on your LAN, including hidden shares that won't show up in Windows Explorer—and list them along with IP address and workgroup/domain name.
Figure 3: NetResView will show you at a glance the names and locations of all the shared resources on your network.
8. Ninite Updater ($10 per year per computer, Windows only)
Out-of-date utilities such as Java, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Reader pose a real security risk to your network, but these programs get patched so often that keeping up with them all can be a real challenge. Ninite Updater automatically updates these programs (and nearly 100 others) in the background and even suppresses the browser toolbars and other junk software that often comes with them. To get a sense of how Ninite Updater works, read our review of Ninite Pro (which costs $20 a month for up to 100 computers).
9. Pertino (Free; Windows, Mac, Linux)
More and more technology moves to the cloud every day—so why not your VPN? Pertino links PCs and mobile devices together securely via the cloud and without the cost or configuration hassles of conventional VPN hardware and software. Pertino limits its free tier of service to three devices, and it omits support for iOS devices, though it does support Android. Read our Pertino review.
10. RemoteRebootX (Free, Windows only)
Turning off or rebooting a large number of computers usually requires a lot of time and running around. But RemoteRebootX can turn off or reboot lots of computers at once over a network, and you only have to install the software on a single system to do so. The software also supports Wake on LAN, so you can use it to turn on dormant computers as well.
11. RemoteUtilities (Free; Windows only)
When you need to provide PC support from afar, some type of remote desktop (RD) software is an absolute must. But easy-to-use RD tools can be pricey, free ones can be complicated, and those that are easy and free typically prohibit commercial use. RemoteUtilities is both free and easy (no firewall configuration hassles), and it provides remote PC control with unattended access. The free version limits you to 10 PCs.
Figure 4: Remote Utilities is provides easy-to-use remote access (attended or unattended) and is free for up to 10 PCs.
12. SolarWinds AD Admin Tools (Free; Windows only)
This trio of tools simplifies three time-consuming chores common to Windows domain networks. Namely, it flags inactive user and computer accounts (filtered according to a specified date) and removes them if desired. It also lets you bulk create new domain accounts (and optionally, MS Exchange mailboxes) by importing names and other user attributes and information into Active Directory via a CSV file.
13. Spiceworks (Free, Windows)
Spiceworks comes packed with enough features to fill its own article (see here for our most recent review). In exchange for gazing upon a few unobtrusive ads, it offers comprehensive network monitoring and management capabilities. Not only can it let you know things such as when a server goes down, a desktop is running low on disk space, or printer is out of toner, you can also use it to remotely uninstall software, see what cloud services are running on your network, and manage your mobile devices.
14. TamoSoft Throughput Test (Free; Windows and Mac)
Need to test the performance of a wired or wireless network? TamoSoft Throughput Test measures and graphs upstream/downstream throughput, packet loss, and latency for TCP and UDP, and it lets you specify the type of traffic you want to simulate (AV streaming, VoIP, etc.) for QoS purposes.
15. Wireshark (Free; Windows and Mac)
If you need to dig deep into your network traffic for troubleshooting, you can't do much better than Wireshark. This tool collects and analyzes your network traffic, and then it displays the results in an easy-to-read, color-coded format that makes it easy to identify different types of packets at a glance, as well as which ones might be problematic (e.g. dropped or delivered out of order). The site also provides several useful video tutorials.
Joseph Moran is a technology writer and IT consultant who specializes in services for consumers and small businesses. He's written extensively for numerous print and online publications, and is the co-author of two previous books on Windows.
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