Network Instruments Observer Suite 14 review

Network Instrument’s Observer celebrates its 15th year and in this review we find out why this network monitoring and troubleshooting software has lasted where many others have faded away.

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This latest version has a number of additional VoIP features with support for a greater number of signalling protocols including H.248 and SCCP (Cisco Skinny). This means you could, for example, look at specific SIP call invitations and track SIP server performance.

One area where Observer falls down is SNMP device monitoring. The SNMP device discovery routine found all our enabled devices but it was unaware of what each one was so only provided a standard set of monitoring options.


Observer's Application Transaction Analysis allowed us to keep a close eye on one of our servers running web and FTP services.

You can edit each entry and change the device type but the choice is very limited. Network Instruments suggests its separate Link Analyst for these duties but we would also put forward the IT PRO Recommended NHSIpswitch WhatsUp Gold 14 as it is very sophisticated in this area.

Observer scores well with its network trending and baselining features. You need to leave this running for a few days to enable it to get a good feel for general network usage but afterwards it can provide plenty of information about server and application performance. This is accessed from Observer's separate web console and drilling down into selected entries provides metrics comparing the baseline values with current and past performance.

The days when network packet capture and analysis was a dark art only available to those with deep pockets are long gone. Observer offers a wealth of network monitoring and decoding features at a very reasonable price and it's for these reasons that it continues to grow whilst most other solutions have fallen by the wayside.


It’s no surprise that Observer has been around for so long as it continues to adhere to the commendable philosophy of delivering network monitoring tools at an affordable price. Don’t get it for its SNMP monitoring as this is a big weakness, but the network analysis and excellent packet capture and decoding abilities are well worth the outlay.

Processor: Dual-core Pentium or faster Memory: 2GB minimum OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7 Options: Observer Standard, £995; Observer Expert, £2,895

Dave Mitchell

Dave is an IT consultant and freelance journalist specialising in hands-on reviews of computer networking products covering all market sectors from small businesses to enterprises. Founder of Binary Testing Ltd – the UK’s premier independent network testing laboratory - Dave has over 45 years of experience in the IT industry.

Dave has produced many thousands of in-depth business networking product reviews from his lab which have been reproduced globally. Writing for ITPro and its sister title, PC Pro, he covers all areas of business IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, network security, data protection, cloud, infrastructure and services.