Networking

Considerations for choosing a network monitoring solution

There are several ways to go about procuring a network monitoring solution -- buy, build, or rent. Here is an example of a "buy" solution.

Three companies decided to buy a monitoring product rather than rent a monitoring service or build one from parts. This is the story of why a SaaS provider (TimeTrade Systems), an MSP (All Tech 1), and an asset management bank (Eufex Bank) decided to buy a monitoring product (PA Server Monitor) for their networks.

A recap on why monitoring is good for business

Monitoring enables reactive fixes and proactive improvements. Enterprise customers get rather excited about broken networks, and enterprise administrators get rather excited about constant fire fighting.

If you want to bullet-proof your service, you need the right monitoring setup. The right setup depends on the business – it might make sense to buy a monitoring product, rent a monitoring service, or build one in-house.

Comprehensive monitoring enables comprehensive support. An enterprise service is not operationally ready until it is comprehensively monitored for its entire operational lifetime. It’s one of the 12 principles of operational readiness.

Monitoring covers a lot of ground, and different products and services offer different sets of features. Wikipedia’s comparison of network monitoring systems lists no less than 20 categories. As a rule of thumb, the more ground a monitoring product tries to cover, the more difficult it will be to use.

Network monitoring: Buy, rent, or build?

The decision to buy a monitoring product, rent a monitoring service from a third party, or build one to order is influenced by many factors, and they are not all to do with the quality of the monitoring.

If a decision maker is disturbed by the NSA spy story and is worried about sharing network details with a cloud provider, he may want to buy or build a product to run on-premise.

The enterprise may not have enough time to devote to running a monitoring system. A manager may want to outsource monitoring to another company so the enterprise can dedicate more time to its core business.

The enterprise may have unusual needs. Perhaps there is a wide range of instruments to connect to, a large quantity of metrics to capture, or security guidelines to follow. There may be no popular product to buy or rent that covers an unusual requirement, so build is the only good option.

Buy example: Power Admin Server Monitor

The “buy” option is an oldie but goodie. Decades ago the only real monitoring option was to buy software to install on-premise. Even with modern alternatives, such as renting cloud monitoring and building a solution from open source tools, there are still a lot of good products available to buy. It’s a crowded space with a lot of competition between vendors.

Power Admin, a company in the U.S. state of Kansas, produce monitoring software called PA Server Monitor. This is an on-premise solution that customers buy, rather than cloud-based monitoring to rent. Power Admin’s customers install PA Server Monitor on their own Microsoft Windows platforms. The PA Server Monitor software can be distributed around private and public networks – a central service receives monitoring information from satellites.

A satellite agent is installed in each remote network such as branch offices, data centers and cloud infrastructure. The agent gets the inside view of what’s happening – such as event logs, resource measurements like CPU activity, and disk usage and SNMP data – and pushes it to the central monitoring service.

The central monitoring service provides the single pane of glass that is useful for a NOC (Network Operations Center). It watches machines and devices in the core network and listens to the satellites in the remote networks.

PA Server Monitor is configured using a GUI and it can be viewed using a web UI and Android app. It carries out real-time checks, raises threshold alerts, and produces summary reports.

pa-server-monitor.png

Companies that chose to buy

TimeTrade Systems uses Power Admin Server Monitor. TimeTrade is a SaaS provider, offering online appointment scheduling for a wide ranging client base. Bruce Brown, Network Operations Manager at TimeTrade, described how they monitor their cloud infrastructure. “TimeTrade utilizes PA Server Monitor in our NaviSite-hosted virtual environment NaviCloud to monitor 140+ virtual machines. ”

Oregon-based All Tech 1 is a managed cloud services provider. Robert McMillen, president, said they manage a heterogenous environment. “We use Power admin Ultra to monitor our customer’s servers, routers, firewalls etc. wherever they are. Some are in our network operating center while others are onsite with the customer”.

Eufex Bank from Finland, another Power Admin customer, offers asset management services. Otto Keravuori, CTO, said, “We monitor our servers that are in Xen Server environments on two different locations. We have over a hundred monitors running 24/7 with email and SMS alarms”.

The business models of these companies have nothing in common, but they do all have data networks of mid-range complexity. Their networks do not have extreme monitoring requirements, so purchasing monitoring software is a good fit.

Making a decision

Asking a few simple questions is probably enough to pick an adequate monitoring product. What platform does it run on? Who else uses it? Do the vendors seem genuinely helpful?

Of course, every enterprise already has some kind of monitoring system in place. Before thinking of buying, renting, or building a new monitoring solution, there is one question to ask now: Is my monitoring good enough?


About

Nick Hardiman builds and maintains the infrastructure required to run Internet services. Nick deals with the lower layers of the Internet - the machines, networks, operating systems, and applications. Nick's job stops there, and he hands over to the ...

5 comments
Florian Staffort
Florian Staffort

You're right: "(…) the more ground a monitoring product tries to cover, the more difficult it will be to use." That's especially true if the software doesn't focus solely on monitoring, but incorporates other applications, like network management. At Paessler we focus only on monitoring and while PRTG Network Monitor provides a lot of features, we're contantly working on improving the usability of our software.

Mark_Berman
Mark_Berman

Great article. I like the statement "As a rule of thumb, the more ground a monitoring product tries to cover, the more difficult it will be to use." This is so true... and this has been a challenge with most monitoring tools. This is also the reason why many enterprises have ended up having many point products than one complete monitoring solution. This trend though is changing - i read a recent Gartner article on new monitoring products that do a lot but also make it a lot simple to use than the Tivolis and Unicenters. For example, see http://www.zenoss.com or eginnovations - http://www.eginnovations.com. I have used both of these in my consulting engagements and find them very easy to use and effective.

sandeepswi
sandeepswi

Great article. Besides knowing what to monitor, to make things simple, users might want to think how a tool can increase their LAN & device visibility. And, if they find a good alerting mechanism with that, resolving incessant issues will just become a whole lot easier.

Barryherne
Barryherne

 Before you buy some monitoring software, decide what exactly you want to monitor. Then, it is time to choose the leaders in your niche and choose the tool after reading some reviews and recommendations about it. You can always buy separate monitoring software for your site, network or servers, but there are tools which offer all in one pack. For example, the software Anturis.

moran94
moran94

Keep in mind that all of these monitoring systems are using the network to monitor the network. A solution like Uplogix connects directly to the devices it is monitoring, so it's working whether the network is up or down. Local Management can then take automated responses like cycling an interface or recovering a router in ROMmon and/or spin up an out-of-band connection to give you access to the gear.