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Recommended network tools for the home office or SMBs

You run a network for a small or home business, not for a big enterprise – so you want tools that work at the scale you need that won't cost an arm and a leg. That's why we're highlighting some of our favourite utilities for network runners, all of them free or low cost with only one exception (which the bigger SMB might want to consider).

Each of these tools incorporates features crucial for troubleshooting: Problem detection, usage statistics, performance metrics, and data that is interpretable even by an administrative layman.

You don't want tools that are not designed for small networks. Those targeted at big businesses with thousands of users on the network have features that are overkill for an SMB. Scaling that software down to make them fit for smaller networks – which is what some vendors try to do – is not the answer. SMBs have different needs; after all, the term “small business” does not equate to “little enterprise.”

High-end networking tools for big businesses can be pricey, take lots of time and resources to master, and requires skilled network administrators to perform testing and interpret test results. All of those factors add up to expense and hassle for a smaller business. The tools we've collected here work in an enterprise, if necessary, yet are relatively easy to use, making them perfect for a smaller network where a dedicated IT person is likely non-existent.

Wireshark (free)

Wireshark is free, powerful and a must-have network admin tool that provides many of the same troubleshooting and analysis features seen in more expensive packet sniffers.

NetSurveyor Professional (£21)

NetSurveyor Pro is a great utility to get the info needed to tweak your wireless network for maximum performance. You can have a free trial of the program which is good for 10 uses if you want to give it a whirl before you commit.

Spiceworks (free)

For the home or SMB network, Spiceworks is a great tool for network management, monitoring and troubleshooting, especially with the added features in the latest release.

MetaGeek Wi-Spy (£520)

Okay, so this one is a little different and far more costly, but it’s a complete business solution and custom USB spectrum analyser which measures all RF signals – not just the Wi-Fi traffic flying around. It allows for the swift location of any interference, and is a really useful tool if your SMB is developed enough to justify the asking price.