Most Network Administrators know the importance of getting feedback on the health of their servers. For instance, finding out about small problems such as low disk space in a timely manner can prevent big problems like running out of disk space. A great tool for monitoring the health of your network that I recently found is NetStatus Professional 2.3 from OTO Software. This package is thorough, easy to use, and best of all, it works. In less than an hour, I was able to configure it to monitor my entire organization.

Using NetStatus Professional
The NetStatus console is Web based and consists of several sections; Setup, Tests, Tools, Reports, and Help.

The Setup tab contains a Setup area and a Download area. If you choose the Setup option, you will see the properties sheet shown in Figure A. As you can see, this is the area where you enter some basic authentication and configuration information. You might notice in the figure that the Setup properties sheet also contains a Mail tab. This tab is used to configure SMTP notification. This allows you to receive e-mail alerts directly from NetStatus.

Figure A
The Setup tab asks for some basic authentication information.

If you prefer to receive other types of alerts instead, then select the Download Area option from the Setup menu. This option allows you to download a 916-KB client that you can use to receive notifications at your desktop.

The tests are where things really start to get interesting. If you select the New Test option from the Test menu, you will see the screen shown in Figure B. This screen allows you to configure one specific network test. Attaining a comprehensive network analysis requires you to create many different tests, but I’ll show you how to create the single test.

Figure B
This is the screen used to set up a new test.

When setting up a test, you must begin by providing NetStatus with a unique test name. Beneath the Test Name field are fields for a parent folder and intermediate test. These fields are not used most of the time because they are only for specific types of tests. You must next select the test type. There are roughly 20 different types of tests that you can conduct. You can do anything from a disk space test, to a file exist test, to a server ping. There are more advanced tests available as well. For example, you can test SQL Server or terminal services.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be doing a simple PING test against my mail server. Beneath the Test Type field are one or more fields that are specific to the test that you are performing. For example, if you perform a ping test, then there will be a field asking for the IP address of the ping target. If you were to perform a disk space test, then you would see fields asking which volume should be tested and what amount of free disk space constitutes low disk space.

The next section asks for the logon name and password to be used for the tests. Depending on the type of test you are doing, you may or may not need an account with administrative privileges to the machine that’s being tested. What further complicates things is if you change an account’s password, the test will no longer work until you change the password within NetStatus. I recommend creating a service account that has a user name that blends in with the names of the rest of your users. I also recommend assigning the account a minimal level of permissions and a complex password. By doing so, you can safely use the account without updating the password very often. Of course if you find that your service account needs a higher level of privileges, then you will probably want to update the password more often.

The last section of the New Test screen asks for the test interval. The appropriate testing interval varies widely depending on the type of test you are performing. For example, if you are performing a ping test, you might want to ping the server every minute or two. If you are running a disk space test though, you might just run the test once an hour. Keep in mind that the more often you run the test, the more accurate the results will be. However, running the test excessively places a burden on your network bandwidth and on your servers being tested.

The other component to the New Tests screen is the Actions tab. The Actions tab, shown in Figure C, allows NetStatus to take action when a test fails. You can configure NetStatus to take one action if a test succeeds and another action if a test fails. Actions consist of things like sending an e-mail alert, sending a NetSend message, writing to a log file, restarting a service, or running a script. You can even associate multiple actions with a single test failure or success. Of course, NetStatus also allows you to customize the text used in e-mail messages and NetSend messages.

Figure C
You can configure NetStatus to take action based on the test results.

The Tools section
NetStatus also has a Tools section containing lots of handy networking tools. Some of the tools include things like Trace Route, Net Stats, and tools for resolving DNS names and IP addresses. There is really nothing fancy about these tools, but they are nice to have around. You can see a sample of the Trace Route tool in action in Figure D.

Figure D
This is the NetStatus Trace Route tool.

There are three different reports that NetStatus generates. The Summary Report is generated in PDF format for easy printing. It consists of the names of all currently running tests along with the testing details, testing frequency, and the date, time, and status of the most recent test. You can see an example of this report in Figure E.

Figure E
The Summary Report lists all currently running tests and their most recent results.

The next type of report is the Event Report. The event report allows you to view specific types of events within a certain time frame. You can specify the dates that you want to examine and then get a report of any combination of success events, pending events, failure events, and enabled or disabled events. The final type of report available to you is the uptime report. This report tells you which tests are running and how long each test has been running.

Acquiring NetStatus Professional 2.3
You can purchase NetStatus 2.3 directly from the OTO Software Web site. The purchase price is $299, or you can purchase the standard edition for $129. There is also a free evaluation copy of each version that you can download from the site. The trial download consists of a 6.95-MB self-extracting executable file. Double-clicking on this file launches a standard installation wizard. The wizard is very easy to follow and the entire installation process only takes a couple of minutes.

I personally plan on using NetStatus Professional within my own organization. I have a cell phone that supports e-mail and text messages, so I plan on configuring NetStatus to monitor my server’s health and send any alert messages to my cell phone.