We loaded up our lab with Castle Rock Computing's SNMPc Workgroup Edition; Ipswitch's WhatsUp Gold; MRTG, provided through GNU General Public License; SolarWinds.Net's SolarWinds Engineers Edition; Visualware's VisualRoute; and WildPackets' EtherPeek NX with Network Tools.
These packages range from being like the Swiss Army knives, with lots of functional utilities, to complex systems that monitor performance and faults on your network. But they all leverage the power of desktop PCs and are inexpensive or, in one case, free. These tools do many of the same things more complex systems do, such as discovering, mapping, monitoring and reporting, but they focus on fixing problems now rather than implementing a total solution.
Down to Brass Tacks
All these products rock--there's no heavy front-end lifting to implement them, and they get down to business with a payback faster than you can spell "ROI." We don't hesitate to recommend any of them. When it comes to a network manager's day-to-day struggle to survive, these are what keep you going.
Picking a winner may seem a bit like comparing apples and oranges--after all, is a hammer better than a wrench? We'll admit that your mileage may vary, but if we could take only one set of tools to a deserted network island, we'd load up our raft with SolarWinds.Net's networking tools. It has the kitchen sink and now our Editor's Choice award too. This mixed bag of disparate tools covers the entire gambit of our modified FCAPS (see "How We Tested," for how we fudged fault, configuration, accounting, performance and security) at a reasonable price. SolarWinds.Net's product is a tool for all reasons.