The 7 best network mapping solutions available

Netwrok Mapping Tools
Newsroom -

August 29, 2022

Network mapping is getting more and more important in a globalized world where remote work is becoming the norm. Find out, which are the best Network Mapping solution available.

IT networks are no longer confined, local siloes – there are distributed on-premises infrastructures next to cloud environments next to highly complex hybrid IT infrastructures.

It is therefore essential that IT teams have the means to discover and map their networks to always have an overview of how their network components are connected to each other and how they work together. Network mapping tools help sysadmins to visualize and manage complex infrastructures and to detect and resolve issues faster.

Our Newsroom Consultants have put together the best network mapping solutions, including pure network mappers and more comprehensive network monitoring solutions that offer network monitoring as part of their feature set.

Paessler PRTG Network Monitor, SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper, Datadog, ManageEngine OpManager, Auvik, HelpSystem Intermapper, Nmap

What is network mapping?

The term network mapping signifies the process of discovering and visualizing all elements in a physical or virtual IT network, including network connectivity and dependencies. Network mapping is a continuous process as today’s business networks are usually very dynamic in nature.

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While it is possible, of course, to map a network manually, such static network maps will quickly be outdated and can thus only serve a very limited purpose. This is the reason why modern network mapping software should have an automatic network discovery feature and, ideally, network maps that are automatically generated and updated.

There are different types of maps:

  • Static network maps or network diagrams: these maps display the complete IT infrastructure, parts of a network, or only single server rooms etc. in an unchanging way. They can be geographical maps and floor plans that show you the locations of your distributed networks, static visualizations of the topology of your network including physical or logical connections, 3D images of specific network devices – the possibilities are practically endless.
  • Dynamic network topology maps:  these topology maps visualize the actual arrangement of all elements in a network in an abstract but detailed way down to the physical or logical endpoint. They always show the current status of a network, that is, they adapt dynamically when there are changes to the network structure and make-up.

How does network mapping work?

In general, network mapping solution scan the subnetwork for network objects and the connections between them. With this information, they create a device inventory and the respective network topology maps that show the logical and physical connections between the different network elements. More advanced network mapping software lets you click map objects to drill down and get even more granular views of your network and data flows.

Network mapping tools use different methods to collect network data. One of these methods is active probing, which uses traceroute-like packets that hop from node to node and send back information about the paths they take. This can be node data that is publicly available and non-confidential only.

To gain deeper visibility into a network, however, IT teams usually provide the IP address range of the subnetwork that they want to map, as well as credentials for the protocols that should be used for the network scan (for example, SNMP, SSH, or WMI). The most widely used protocol for discovering and mapping network devices is the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP).

What are the benefits of network mapping?

Network mapping has several benefits:

  • Enhanced visibility into the network: this helps sysadmins better understand the network architecture and dependencies between network elements. It also makes it easier to break down large and complex networks into smaller proportions.
  • Faster issue analysis and troubleshooting: sysadmins can see network issues and failures at one glance and follow the connections to quickly identify the root cause of a problem.
  • Less downtime: it is possible to detect minor issues or potential failures even before they occur and so sysadmins can react proactively before single devices or the complete system goes down.
  • Better informed capacity planning: dynamic network maps can pinpoint potential bottlenecks so that sysadmins know where they need more resources. Likewise, they can detect overprovisioning and thus save resources and costs.
  • More network security: with network mapping, admins can track network changes in almost real-time, which also enables them to discover suspicious devices and activities.

Network Mapping Tools

1. Paessler PRTG Network Monitor

Paessler PRTG Network Monitor is a well-known, all-inclusive IT infrastructure monitoring tool that offers great network mapping functionalities as part of its comprehensive feature set.

After installation, PRTG automatically scans your network and creates a hierarchically organized network topology map in the form of a device tree. If you prefer a different overview of your network, you can easily select other visibility options, for example, the popular sunburst view.

To automatically detect new devices and other changes to your network topology after the initial setup, you can set further, scheduled network scans. And if you want to have a look at specific dependencies, you can display easy-to-read dependency graphs at the level of your choice – from single nodes up to larger network segments.

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All maps and dashboards in PRTG update dynamically if the status of an object in your infrastructure changes. PRTG uses a clear color coding so that, if a failure is about to occur or if there already is an issue, you can find the problem at one glance. What’s more: dashboards and network topology maps are all interactive and clickable so that you can quickly drill down to the root cause of an issue.

A great feature for admins who prefer to design and build custom dashboards and maps is also the built-in drag & drop map editor of PRTG. With it, you can integrate all your network components using more than 300 different widgets such as device and status icons, traffic charts, heatmaps, and more. Using custom HTML, you can even design your own map elements or create multi-layer dashboards. You can publish all dashboards internally to show them on operation center screens, for example, and you can even make them publicly available via a public URL.

Sunburst view network map in PRTG Network Monitor
Sunburst view network map in PRTG Network Monitor

PRTG is an all-in-one monitoring solution where one license, no matter how large, always includes all features and functionalities. License costs start at $1,485, which is comparatively affordable, particularly if you’re looking for more than just a network mapping solution. Download[MG3] 

2. SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper

SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper (NTM) is a pure network discovery and mapping solution. Unlike SolarWind’s Network Performance Monitor (NPM), the tool does not measure and monitor actual network performance.

NTM has an automatic network scanning feature that discovers devices in your network using various discovery methods such as SNMP, WMI, ICMP, or CDP. With a single scan, the tool automatically generates multi-layer network topology maps that you can then customize according to your needs.

If there are changes in your infrastructure, NTM automatically detects these changes and dynamically adapts the network maps. In addition to this automatic network mapping functionality, you can also create maps manually, either completely free or with the help of some out-of-the-box layouts.

What’s more: although NTM is no monitoring software per se, it includes an alerting functionality that notifies you if there are issues with network devices or connections. Moreover, all automatically created maps are PCI and FIPS 140-2 compliant.

Section of a network topology map in the Network Topology Mapper
Section of a network topology map in the Network Topology Mapper

SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper is a good tool for anyone who does not want to monitor their entire network across the board. For this purpose, you need to purchase SolarWind’s Network Performance Monitor. Pricing for a perpetual license of NTM starts at $1280, which is, however, almost as much as a license of PRTG Network Monitor that includes all monitoring functionalities besides network mapping. Download

3. Datadog

Datadog is a cloud-based monitoring, management, and security platform whose network mapping functionalities are particularly interesting for network performance monitoring and network traffic analysis.

With regards to network traffic visualization, we would even say that the tool provides the most informative, easy-to-use network traffic map currently on the market. Datadog’s network map offers a topology view of your complete infrastructure. With it, you can view dependencies, drill down to visualize only parts of the network, and find bottlenecks at one glance.

The network traffic map is created and updated automatically with the data that the Datadog Agent collects. The only thing you might want to do is configure the map to your needs, for example, you can select the metrics that the map represents or filter the connections to be displayed.

What’s more: the network topology map is animated and interactive. If you hover over a node, for example, moving dots symbolize the path the traffic takes and clear color-coding signals if everything is okay or if there is an issue. All nodes are clickable to contextualize them within the larger network and to inspect and analyze them in more detail.

Datadog’s dynamic network traffic visualization
Datadog’s dynamic network traffic visualization

To benefit from Datadog’s network mapping functionalities, you need different subscription-based plans and modules: the Infrastructure Pro or Enterprise plan for core visualization features, the Network Performance Monitoring module to monitor network traffic and visualize flows on the network map, and the Network Device Monitoring module to make use of the software’s automated device discovery. While prices are affordable for smaller infrastructures, they can quickly add up in more complex environments. Download

4. ManageEngine OpManager

ManageEngine OpManager is a comprehensive network monitoring tool that includes various network mapping functionalities for different purposes.

The software automatically discovers physical and vendor-specific virtual devices and their connections in a network and creates a very basic Layer-2 network topology map. You can schedule further network scans that run periodically to detect any changes to your network topology. Or you instantly create a map by entering the IP address of a device to see all other connected devices that are dependent on it.

If you don’t want to view the network’s physical layout but need a visualization format that displays devices grouped according to their according business goals or locations, OpManager offers customizable Business Views. These also allow you to easier manage user access based on geographical locations.

A nice mapping option are OpManager’s 3D floor views that show you the actual layout of your server room including the position of server racks and the servers and switches that they contain. As with the tool’s other maps, clear color codes show you server issues and where exactly the faulty server can be found at one glance.

Basic Layer-2 network topology map in OpManager
Basic Layer-2 network topology map in OpManager

To be able to use all the described network discovery and mapping features, you need at least the Professional Edition of OpManager, which starts at $ 345 per 10 devices. For larger environments and if you want to use the tool for extensive monitoring as well, this can get quite expensive. network-monitoring/">Download

5. Auvik

Auvik is a very straightforward, cloud-based network monitoring software that also offers automated network mapping as one of its features. The company claims that their software works “without the hassle” and this is how you could describe Auvik’s network mapping, too.

The tool automatically discovers the devices in your network and how everything is connected. With this information, it creates an abstracted network diagram in the form of a flow chart that includes all logical and physical connections of your network devices. A great feature is that the map dynamically adapts in real-time if devices are added to or removed from the network.

While the network diagram in itself is not very spectacular, Auvik offers some nice ways to quickly navigate your IT infrastructure via the map. For example, you can hover over a map element to get detailed information about the respective connection or device. If there is an alert, an icon appears directly on top of the problematic device. Unfortunately, the map uses different pastel shades to signify different object states – this might look pretty but does not really scream at you if you want to have just a quick look to see if there is an issue.

Auvik’s network topology map in the form of a flow chart
Auvik’s network topology map in the form of a flow chart

Auvik’s pricing is based on a custom quote. You can choose from two subscription plans that comprise an unlimited number of users, network sites, and endpoints, and differ only in the included feature set. Automated network discovery and mapping is already included in the Essentials plan. Download

6. HelpSystem Intermapper

Intermapper by HelpSystem is a network mapping software that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Like SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper, it has no network monitoring functionalities in the strict sense.

The tool automatically discovers all IP-enabled physical and virtual devices in your network and creates a network topology map including all physical and logical connections. You can also just map a specific IP address range or subnetwork. When new devices are discovered, Intermapper alerts you immediately so that you always know what objects are connecting to your infrastructure.

Intermapper also offers some nice customization functionalities so that you can adapt the automatically generated maps to your needs or create your own maps completely from scratch. For this purpose, the tool comes with various map layout options and icons out-of-the-box. It is also possible to import custom images; and distributed networks can be displayed using a geographical map. Intermapper’s network topology maps all use a clear color coding to see at one glance if there is an issue. What’s more: live animation indicators show you network traffic problems for faster troubleshooting.

A custom network topology map in Intermapper
A custom network topology map in Intermapper

HelpSystem Intermapper is an inexpensive software that offers solid network mapping functionalities, even if the user interface is quite outdated. The tool is free for up to 10 devices. The paid version is available based on different pricing plans. Pricing is custom-tailored and you need to get a quote for your infrastructure. Download

7. Nmap

Nmap, short for Network Mapper, is an open-source Linux command-line software for network scanning and mapping. The tool uses active probing by sending packets into the network to discover devices, open ports, services, and possible vulnerabilities. Nmap requires some training but once the basic settings are taken care of, new maps and diagrams will get you where you want to go in a time-saving and effective manner.

Nmap’s multi-platform graphical user interface, Zenmap, also helps you manage network scans and create network topology maps for better visibility. For example, you can save network discoveries as templates to execute them periodically. You can also save the results of your network scans to compare them to previous or later scans.

Zenmap provides you with an automatically generated, interactive visualization of the topology of your network in the form of concentric circles that extend radially from the root host. If you click a node in the map, the view shifts so that the respective host is now at the center. To include changes to your network topology, for example, new devices, you just need to run another network scan and the map updates automatically.

Network topology map in the Nmap’s user interface Zenmap
Network topology map in the Nmap’s user interface Zenmap

Nmap is a great tool if you work in a small company that doesn’t have the budget for a commercial software, or if you actually need ‘only’ a network mapping solution – for free. Download