January 2, 2021

How to Choose the Best Network Discovery Tool

Even small businesses are forced to figure out how to efficiently manage complex networks that are constantly growing and changing based on current demand. Many are turning to network discovery tools for help.
Editor’s choice 2019
Network Inventory Advisor
Automatically collect all relevant data on all network devices and get detailed OS and devices statistics.
Network Inventory Advisor for Windows scans Windows, Mac OS X, Linux computers and SNMP devices, any of them will count as a node.

What Is Network Discovery Software?

Network discovery software allows network administrators to collect relevant data on all network devices. Its importance has grown hand in hand with the average network size. It’s no longer feasible for network administrators to manually create network maps using tools like Microsoft Visio or SmartDraw. They need a software solution that can automatically provide visibility and help them be one step ahead of their network’s growth.

Network Discovery Tools often gather basic system information on network devices using the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) protocol. Devices that typically support SNMP include cable modems, routers, switches, servers, workstations, printers, and others.

“SNMP network discovery exposes management data in the form of variables organized in a management information base.”

In Windows 10, you can turn on network discovery via SNMP from the “Turn Windows features on or off” list located in Control Panel → Programs and Features. Keep in mind that SNMP network discovery is different than network discovery Windows 10, which can be activated from Advanced Sharing Settings and allows Windows 10 to find other computers and devices on a network.

How to Choose the Best Network Discovery Tool?

The demand for network discovery tools is huge, and there are many solutions available to network administrators and regular users alike, some of them good and some not. When choosing a network discovery tool, there are certain things you should always pay attention to.

  • Vendor-neutral: Also known as proprietary lock-in or customer lock-in, vendor lock-in makes a customer dependent on a vendor for products and services. When you become dependent on a single vendor, you can’t readily use another vendor without substantial switching costs. Today’s networks are increasingly heterogeneous, which is why you should always choose a network discovery tool that’s vendor-neutral can capable of discovering and monitoring devices on your network regardless of vendor.

  • Performance reports: The best network discovery tools don’t stop at data gathering. Instead, they help you make sense of your network and its performance by providing customizable performance reports that can be used for troubleshooting and presentations. Some network discovery tools can even proactively detect security, software licensing, and other issues, keeping your network safe.

  • Flexible pricing: Excellent free network discovery tools do exist, but their real cost is typically higher than the cost of paid network discovery tools, which often include premium customer support. Instead of trying to find the cheapest network discovery tool available, it’s a much better idea to look for network discovery tools with flexible pricing, so you can pay only for what your really need.

Top 3 Best Network Discovery Tools

Narrowing down all available network discovery tools to just three wasn’t easy, but we’re happy to say that our selection should help any business get on with network device discovery.

choice #1
#1 • Editor choice
Network Inventory Advisor
Professional Network Inventory
Runs on Windows. Scans Windows, Mac OS X, Linux computers and SNMP devices.
Good stuff
  • Free version available
  • Supports Windows, macOS, Linux computers, and SNMP devices
  • User-friendly interface
  • Powerful reporting that reveals information that many other network discovery tools miss
  • Flexible pricing
Bad stuff
  • Lifetime upgrades cost extra money
Network Inventory Advisor is a cost-effective network discovery tool that automatically collects relevant data on all network devices and displays detailed OS and device statistics. You can try it for free for up to 15 days, and its flexible pricing makes it suitable for small businesses and large enterprises alike.
Network Inventory Advisor
It takes just a few minutes to conduct automated network audits with Network Inventory Advisor, covering everything from hardware devices to software licenses to non-IT assets such as your office furniture.
Editor’s choice 2019
Network Inventory Advisor
Automatically collect all relevant data on all network devices and get detailed OS and devices statistics.
Network Inventory Advisor for Windows scans Windows, Mac OS X, Linux computers and SNMP devices, any of them will count as a node.
choice #2
#2 • Author rank
Good stuff
  • Free and open source
  • Supports topology mapping
  • Allows you to easily compare scan results of different scans
  • Plenty of default scan profiles to choose from, making it accessible even to junior network administrators
Bad stuff
  • No legend for colors or symbols
  • Lack of customer support
Zenmap is a cross-platform graphical user interface for Nmap, a free and open-source security scanner used to discover hosts and services on a computer network. Zenmap makes Nmap easy even for complete beginners while still providing access to all the advanced features Zenmap is known for.
For example, you can save frequently used scans as profiles to make them easy to run later, and a powerful command creator allows for interactive creation of Nmap command lines.
choice #3
#3 • Author rank
Good stuff
  • Easy to roll out
  • Presents information in a concise and visual manner
  • Suitable for the world’s largest networks
Bad stuff
  • Customer support can be a hit or miss
  • Cloud-deployment only
NetBrain is a feature-packed network discovery tool geared toward large enterprises. It makes it possible to visualize a network in seconds with a feature called Dynamic Maps and automate any data collection and analysis with Executable Runbooks. NetBrain integrates with many other network management tools but can also function as a stand-alone solution.
Because NetBrain is built for enterprises, it’s hard to recommend it to small and medium-sized businesses, which would be much better off using Network Inventory Advisor.


Modern discovery network tools greatly simplify the traditionally arduous task of network management. They are a boon to network administrators, who are expected to manage increasingly complex networks to keep companies afloat and operational. A great network discovery tool can quickly pay for itself by providing the visibility needed to deal with problems before they bring the whole network down in a catastrophic fashion.

Editor’s choice 2019

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