Do More with Less: Monitor network uptime inexpensively with Servers Alive

Learn about an inexpensive utility to monitor your networks reliability

Monitoring and notification are key components of minimizing downtime for a highly available server infrastructure. Having products and processes in place to handle those tasks is critical to preserving revenue opportunities and maintaining employee productivity. One product, Servers Alive, can help address this need at a very reasonable price.

About the product
Servers Alive is an extensible product that provides monitoring and notification services supporting a wide range of applications, from Web to database checks. Servers Alive can check to see whether a Windows 2000 server is running and whether a specific process is running on it. It can monitor and report on network connectivity using a ping check and/or TCP and UDP services, including HTTP, FTP, and Citrix. It can also check Windows server information, such as free disk space, and it can perform verifications on NetWare servers and other platforms and applications.

Although many monitoring solutions can send an e-mail, page, or SMS message, Servers Alive also supports MSN Messenger and ICQ notifications. In addition, Servers Alive supports WAP for portable devices.

When Servers Alive detects a problem, it can attempt to take corrective measures, including rebooting a server or restarting a service, as well as other less-extreme measures.

Trying it out
Lately, I've noticed that a lot of companies allow perpetual free use of their products for up to a certain number of users or devices so that IT professionals can test the product and get a feel for what it truly offers. Woodstone—the company responsible for Servers Alive—continues this trend by allowing monitoring for up to 10 devices before the need to pay comes in.

You can download Servers Alive from the Woodstone site as a single executable installation package. The installation is a snap, although when I tested it by installing on Windows 2000 servers, it required a reboot, which could be problematic for some systems. Figure A shows the main interface immediately after a new installation of Servers Alive.

Figure A

I won't demonstrate every option the Servers Alive suite offers but will instead provide an example to show what it can do for you. In my lab, I have a couple of Windows 2000 servers as well as a router/firewall to the Internet. I'm going to show you how I configured Servers Alive to watch two devices (my router uptime and the disk space on my mail server) and to alert me when there is an error condition.

First, I will configure Servers Alive to monitor my router to the Internet. This device has an IP address of Servers Alive offers five tabs of configuration options you can use to determine how monitoring and notifications will be handled. I will use only four of them in this demonstration. The other tab, Output, is used for updating a Web page with status information. I don't have that set up in this example, although it's obviously a great feature.

The series from Figure B through Figure E shows the configuration options for my router. To sum them up, I have configured Servers Alive to ping my router every five minutes via the LAN connection and to send me an e-mail if it is down. (Assume that a different network path is used for the e-mail message in the event that the router is down.) In addition, this device has no dependencies. That is, it does not require another device to be up to be properly monitored.

Figure B
General information about my router

Figure C
Defining how I would like the check to be handled

Figure D
Defining how I would like to be notified in the event of a failure

Figure E
Scheduling the checks

After adding this check for my router, I added another check that would make sure that the C: drive on my Exchange server doesn’t go below 4 GB of available space. I set this intentionally high to produce an alarm for demonstration. For this event, I told Servers Alive to send a pop-up message to "slowe" on the network.

Figure F shows the Servers Alive console after I added the second check.

Figure F
Servers Alive with the two configured events

To begin scanning, I clicked the Start button. The first scan worked fine, since my router is up. But the second scan failed due to lack of disk space, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G
The mail server scan failed.

In addition to the red line on the console, I received a pop-up dialog box from the Windows messenger service indicating that disk space was low. As advertised, Servers Alive notified me by my specified method that there was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Final word
This article is not intended to be a product review or a full-fledged tutorial on using Servers Alive, but an introduction that shows how it can help your organization fulfill the monitoring and notification aspects of your high-availability plan. Servers Alive is available as a free download for up to 10 devices and costs $179 to monitor up to 5,000 devices. Support contracts are available for $69.

At this cost, I believe Servers Alive is an exceptional value. In addition to the base product, Servers Alive can be extended to support additional functionality. Already on the Woodstone Web site are modules for ICQ and MSN notifications, as well as a Web interface to the product configuration.

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