Network inventory management and monitoring is a critical part of ensuring your network stays healthy, well-planned, and functioning as well as possible in your enterprise. Network inventory management allows you to keep track of what network devices you have and all their relevant software and hardware. It also helps you to know when to acquire new assets, or to decommission old ones, which can help with general performance and uptime management, and capacity planning.
Network inventory tools should always be used to complete network inventory processes in large enterprises, as manual approaches will simply not be enough to keep track of everything efficiently. Network inventory software is widespread in the network management tools marketplace, and there are many options for you to choose from. My favorite tool in this space is SolarWinds® Network Configuration Manager. It allows you to discover, map, and inventory your entire network, while providing high-quality network automation tools, performance monitors, and integration with other SolarWinds monitoring tools through the Orion® Platform.
What Is Network Inventory Management?
The importance of network inventory management shouldn’t be understated: without keeping track of your IT and network assets, you can quickly lose sight of what devices you have on your network, what their configurations are, when your software licenses will expire, or whether any of your assets are reaching their end of life. When networks were smaller, this process could be managed manually, but companies and their networks are now rapidly expanding. With technology changing quickly, the acquisition and decommissioning of network assets can be a fast-moving process.
One of the best ways to keep on top of network inventory is to use network inventory tools, as these greatly free up your time and resources (leaving you available to deal with more pressing issues). These tools scan and map your network, determining exactly what devices you have, their configurations, and the operating systems and software installed on them. Network inventory software comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s important to choose the right network inventory tools for the job. I’ll go through some of my top choices for network inventory tools, so you can find the right software for your organization.
Best Network Inventory Tools
The below list of network device inventory software is mostly intended for enterprise use, but at the end I’ll note an open-source tool if you need something for small-business use. However, I should note, while these free tools can be good quality, they’re often not suitable for larger enterprises needing higher power and a broader range of features.
My top choice for network inventory tools is SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager (NCM). NCM is a network configuration and mapping tool designed to help you stay on top of your network management and, more specifically, the inventory process.
This tool includes a network inventory scanner, which allows you to track and document multiple devices and device types across many locations, including serial numbers, port details, IP addresses, vendors, and end-of-life information. No matter what kind of device types you’re using, NCM can automatically detect and import your devices for management, and device information is updated whenever it changes. It also includes out-of-the-box support for specific devices, including Cisco, Palo Alto Networks, Juniper, HP, Huawei, and more. This helps you to keep tabs on your entire inventory with minimal effort.
One of the other great features of NCM is you can create network reports based on device information, so you can quickly view a network overview of your entire inventory. NCM can be set up to scan regularly, so your device list is updated as frequently as you like. For your contracts and end-of-life information, NCM regularly polls for device data on these points, and can notify you when a device or asset needs to be replaced, or if a contract needs to be renewed.
NCM is a great piece of network device inventory software, and it offers a free trial for up to 30 days. I recommend trying it out, so you can see how comprehensive and easy to use it is.
Another good piece of network inventory software is Network Inventory Advisor. Network Inventory Advisor also allows you to track installed software, what versions you have, and the licenses included. With license aggregation, collection, and management you can easily see how your licenses compare to the purchased contracts you have.
In addition, you can scan for network device metrics, including CPU, memory, system details, and audio, visual, and peripherals. You can roll out mass upgrades or troubleshoot hardware problems. Network audits can be performed regularly with automated scanning, and reports produced will contain up-to-date software and hardware information for each asset. All devices can be tagged with statuses, and then assigned to a particular user or technical owner for management.
Network Inventory Advisor is priced on a per-node basis, but you can try a free trial for up to 15 days.
Total Network Inventory (TNI) is network inventory software designed to be used with PC, Mac, Linux, and FreeBSD. This is a tool is easy to set up: once you’ve installed it, you’ll need to define a list of network notes or IP ranges, and connect to an Active Directory domain. Then you can scan your network and it’ll automatically discover your network devices, and relevant device information.
Data from TNI is stored on your primary hard drive, so you can move, store, or archive inventory data. Devices can be grouped and commented on. Reporting in TNI requires you to select a group of computers in the file, and then select the type of report you want to produce. You can also create complex or customized reports by choosing particular objects or metrics in the TNI list of assets.
TNI can also show you what software you’ve installed on your network and which computers have the software installed. You can see how many copies are installed and then compare those numbers to your license allotment. Scans can be scheduled to collect and update information in your network, and you can separate scans by list of devices (so you can scan some repeatedly and some less frequently). Use saved configuration snapshots to compare present and past versions and quickly see any changes.
Finally, you can create and view a map of your entire network, then organize it in a logical or business-focused way. You can drag and drop assets throughout your map and organize them how you want. While TNI is a great tool, many of the processes require manual setup, and it can be a little time-consuming to get a full scan completed.
They offer two versions: Standard and Professional. Unsurprisingly, the professional version has more features, including the network map module, software license management, and license status information. You can try a free trial of Total Network Inventory for up to 60 days.
Spiceworks provides a free network inventory tool, with basic functionality so you can get up and running quickly. You can use Spiceworks to automatically discover your device information, with out-of-the-box scanning capabilities for Windows and Mac computers, routers and switches, printers, and other devices. It presents all information including the manufacturer, MAC address of the device, hardware details, installed software, and open ports. You can also see how much storage a device has, or whether it has antivirus software installed.
Automatic updating is another useful feature from Spiceworks, and it allows you to track and inventory your cloud services. Scheduled scans let you set the frequency at which you want to scan and update your information. With custom reporting, you can generate reports on your network assets and whatever metrics you need.
Finally, it includes an “Inventory with Help Desk” feature allowing you to track your tickets and tasks, and user data can be imported from Active Directory to view these tickets with links with users and their contact information.
However, I believe the main downside of Spiceworks is it requires add-ons to increase functionality, which can rapidly make the software clunky and frustrating to use. It also maintains its free status by including advertising and marketing from vendors, which I think can quickly get annoying. If you need a quick solution this one is good to look into, but for long-term enterprise use it might not be the best choice.
Open-AudIT is an open-source inventory management tool running on both Linux and Windows systems. It includes several different versions: Community, Professional, Enterprise, and Cloud. The different versions have a common code base, but the Enterprise and Professional editions include additional features. These additional features are designed to improve network device discovery and increase reporting capabilities for your organization.
Every version includes device discovery features, including agentless discovery. You can query Windows systems for hardware and software discovery, operating system and security settings, services, and user groups. You can also track network devices for their IP and MAC address, along with their open ports, serial numbers, etc. You can also set it up to scan your network devices automatically, such as setting up daily scans for your entire system, hourly network scans, or a customized setting to suit your needs.
The Professional and Enterprise versions have more network analysis dashboards and reports, and geographical network maps, and commercial support available for businesses. The Enterprise and Cloud versions also have higher scalability and higher availability provisions, and role-based access controls and a greater number of integrations. You can download these versions for free. Even though Open-AudIT has a solid feature base, there isn’t much information out there on its performance and functionality in real-enterprise scenarios. If you’re running a large business, it’s better to use software with more documentation and a more well-known reputation, so you can rely on service levels and availability.
Choosing Your Tool for Network Inventory Management
All of the above network inventory tools have good core features, but I highly recommend something designed to integrate with your broader systems, such as SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager. NCM is an excellent network inventory management tool as standalone software, as it includes the core features and broad configuration roll-outs, automated tools, automatic updates, and the ability to link-in to the Orion Platform for complex and integrated network monitoring. If you’re looking for professional network inventory software for enterprise use, start with SolarWinds NCM.
*As of May 15, 2020