Network monitoring for small businesses
If you run a network for a small or home business you need tools that work on a scale and budget that suits you. The problem for many is that these days IT networks are critical components of business success irrespective of the size of your operation. When networks fail, customers and employees cannot communicate, staff cannot access critical information or use basic print or email services, resulting in productivity and revenue losses.
According to the Federation of Small Businesses, there were 5.4 million private sector businesses in the UK in 2015. Small businesses accounted for a huge majority (99.3 per cent) of all private sector businesses. These companies have different network management needs and expectations to large enterprises that have thousands of employees because there are fewer demands on the network and access to technical expertise and staff is often limited.
Nonetheless, network monitoring tools are equally important to smaller companies because by reducing network outages and allowing businesses to operate more fluently, they can cut costs, and prevent revenue loss.
Free vs Paid
For small firms that don't have a budget, one option is to consider open source and freeware network monitoring software. Open source software is freely available and is created and administered in an â€œopenâ€ online community where the source code is available for modification or enhancement by anyone. Whereas freeware is a scaled down versions of proprietary software which is available free of charge but is copyrighted by its developer, who retains the rights to control its distribution, modify it and sell it in the future.
Freeware and open source network monitoring software can offer some level of visibility into your network and reduce the time spent on network administration and management. However, these tools only offer very basic functionality and there can be restrictions on the number of network devices you can manage.
They are also often less user-friendly because less attention is paid to developing the user interface.
There may also be less support available for when things go wrong because, for example, open source software relies on its community of users to respond to and fix problems. And although having an open system means that there are many people identifying bugs and fixing them, it also means that malicious users can potentially view it and exploit any vulnerabilities.
Key requirements for smaller companies
Low cost "paid for" alternatives are available for small organisations which won't break the bank. Small networks have a number of key requirements when it comes to choosing the right monitoring tool.
Easy to use
On a basic level, monitoring should allow users to detect problems and provide insight into usage and performance with data that is even by an IT administrative layman. Tools that are targeted at big businesses with thousands of users on the network have features that are overkill. Small networks don't run as close to capacity as enterprise networks do, and they're much simpler to maintain. Also, they're not as highly engineered and don't need the detailed trend analysis and reporting that slower-moving enterprises require.
Easy to deploy plug and play solutions are ideal for a smaller networks where often a dedicated IT person isn't present, and software solutions are available which take care of most of the configuration off site, enabling it to be installed and operational quickly easily. Network monitoring helps by watching infrastructure when IT can't, alerting you to potential issues before they impact the business.
Companies of all sizes are being careful about their investments. IT budgets are tight, and vendors need to show a strong case for ROI before securing a technology budget. It's important for small companies to prioritise their network management needs and implement solutions that offer these basic functions exceptionally well.
A good option for small businesses is to deploy a solution that is licensed on a per monitored-device basis, regardless of the number of monitored properties on that device. This method of licensing is much simpler for planning and resourcing than a per-property based method.
Owners and managers of small businesses are often short of time with a wide range of responsibilities. One of their key requirements is peace of mind and they want to know that the network on which they increasingly depend is safe from external cyber threats.
For security purposes, it's important to monitor any network device (e.g., firewalls, gateways, VPN appliances, wireless Access Points (APs) involved in your perimeter security, as well as any servers that host information or processes that require confidentiality or integrity.
Network monitoring software should be able to monitor all your resources - both what you have today as well as what you might have tomorrow. Bandwidth needs will increase as the business grows and by keeping track of traffic patterns and analysing the data, small businesses can plan for growth and add capacity to the network earlier, before it becomes overtaxed and affects end users.
The rights tools for the job
Having the right tools for any job can mean the difference between just getting the job done and doing it efficiently and effectively. When your network is down, your business is down. Credit cards don't get processed, purchases don't get completed and customers get frustrated. Network monitoring can prevent these problems but it's important to take your time to find the right solution for you.
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