Not too long ago, a product came out of the Baltic states that got people to take notice -- a little thing called Skype. It went on to become the rage in free voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calling. But, as of late, people are talking about another Baltic import. This time it’s a new network monitor application by Latvian company, MikroTik.

This product’s name? Simply, The Dude.

The company claims it can dramatically improve the way IT manages the network environment. It works like this: This freeware program automatically scans all devices within subnets and develops and lays out a map of your business networks. The Dude enables you to monitor services of your devices and send out alerts -- even text messaging your phone -- in case there are service problems.

The company, which has been making router hardware and software, mainly for ISPs and WISPs (wireless ISPs) since 1996, made The Dude network monitor initially for network monitoring and administration of routers using its RouterOS, as a free tool. Says CEO John Tully, an American, “We added features to help monitor other routers and host -- even if the user does not use our products -- so that we could get some advertising and connection with the customer.”

Well, it worked, and one customer for whom The Dude is well suited are small and mid-size businesses, which MikroTik says will benefit well from the extensive features and the advantages of “a very nice quick network map along with the sophisticated discovery and real time monitoring,” says Tully.

Here’s why small or mid-size businesses may want to take a look:

Knowledge is power

To make The Dude work for you, you’ll need a resource to put the software on, and ideally that piece of hardware should be dedicated to the task of network management. It’s important, though, that someone in your organization understands how to configure and maintain the software. Without the understanding, your company won’t be able to take full advantage of The Dude’s ability to poll for information.

However, even if your sophistication level in this area is pretty basic, The Dude allows for understanding of how different elements are connected and knowing whether they are connected at all. That, in and of itself, is better than not having any information at all, which is sadly the case for many small businesses.

The Dude could save money

Considering that small businesses can’t afford a lot of the things that bigger company can -- money, people, processes -- yet they have the same needs, they’ll need to save money. This can be done by not buying things and by automating processes where possible, points out Jerald Murphy, the director of research at the Robert Frances Group.

However, says Murphy, keep in mind that getting free software needs to be balanced with the cost of using the software, i.e. the learning curve it comes and business value that the software, free or not, provides. And, because it’s free, if you have problems with it the company doesn’t provide service. However, there are freelance consultants, such as Steve Zilis, a “Certified Dude Consultant,” based in Houston, Texas, who would be happy to help.

It’s customizable and extensible

Says Zilis, The Dude offers the capability to customize the application for your particular line of business, or type of network, or equipment vendor, giving it total freedom to make it monitor network devices, almost all the way “to washing the windows.” This is helpful not only in your own network, but also extends out to your customers. According to Zilis, say, you want to get signal strength of a radio, or name, address, and phone number of the customer who has a failing device, you can program it to do that.