A system gathers and displays information concerning status of a communications network without overloading the communications channels in the network. The monitoring system includes a monitor node, including an operator input interface. The monitor node is coupled to a first switching node in the distributed switching nodes of the network. The monitor node includes a first application maintaining topology data indicating the topology of the network and supporting a first protocol for updating the data with the first switching node. In addition, the monitor node includes a second application maintaining a list of alarm conditions entered in the node event logs in the network, and supporting a second protocol for updating the list with the plurality of distributed switching nodes. A third application runs in the monitor node for maintaining a monitor database indicating the configuration of the switching nodes as it is entered in the node configuration databases in the network. This third application also supports a third protocol for updating the monitor database with the plurality of distributed switching nodes for updates to the node configuration database. Distributed applications in the switching nodes support the protocols with the monitor node without interference with communications tasks in the network. A display application that is responsive to operator inputs identifying a subject node or other object in the network having plural windows on a display monitor, presents configuration data about the subject node, the network topology and the alarm conditions to the operator.