Software Tools for Network Administrators

By Doug Lowe

Network administrators need certain tools to get their jobs done. Administrators of big, complicated, and expensive networks need big, complicated, and expensive tools. Administrators of small networks need small tools.

Some of the tools that the administrator needs are hardware tools, such as screwdrivers, cable crimpers, and hammers. The tools listed here, however, are software tools. Here’s a sampling of the tools you’ll need:

  • A diagramming tool: A diagramming tool lets you draw pictures of your network. Visio (from Microsoft) is great for drawing the types of diagrams you’ll want to make as a network administrator.
  • A network discovery program: For larger networks, you may want to invest in a network discovery program such as Spiceworks that can automatically document your network’s structure for you. These programs scan the network carefully, looking for computers, printers, routers, and other devices. They then create a database of the network components, draw diagrams for you, and chug out helpful reports.
  • The network’s built-in tools: Many software tools that you need to manage a network come with the network itself. As the network administrator, read through the manuals that come with your network software to see what management tools are available. For example, Windows includes a net diag command that you can use to make sure that all the computers on a network can communicate with each other. (You can run net diag from an MS-DOS prompt.) For TCP/IP networks, you can use the TCP/IP diagnostic commands summarized in the table.
  • System Information: This program that comes with Windows is a useful utility for network managers.
  • A protocol analyzer: A protocol analyzer monitors and logs the individual packets that travel along your network. (Protocol analyzers are also called packet sniffers.) You can configure the protocol analyzer to filter specific types of packets, watch for specific types of problems, and provide statistical analysis of the captured packets. Most network administrators agree that Wireshark is the best protocol analyzer available. And it’s free!
  • Network Monitor: All current versions of Windows include Network Monitor, which provides basic protocol analysis and can often help solve pesky network problems.
TCP/IP Diagnostic Commands
Command What It Does
arp Displays address resolution information used by the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP)
hostname Displays your computer’s host name
ipconfig Displays current TCP/IP settings
nbtstat Displays the status of NetBIOS over TCP/IP connections
netstat Displays statistics for TCP/IP
nslookup Displays Domain Name System (DNS) information
ping Verifies that a specified computer can be reached
route Displays the PC’s routing tables
tracert Displays the route from your computer to a specified host