Do You Know What's About to Bring Down Your Network?

By Joseph Moran | Posted January 13, 2010

The job of keeping a network running properly has its ups and downs.  In particular, timely knowledge about the downs — when a server or device has gone south or may be about to — is crucial to keeping the flow of business uninterrupted.

IpMonitor 10 from SolarWinds gives businesses a way to monitor their networks while keeping cost and complexity manageable.  For starters, the self-contained software doesn’t use agents for monitoring, so you only need to install ipMonitor on a single system. (The software runs on any 32-bit Windows operating system — 7/Vista/XP, plus Server 2003/2008.) The browser-based (rather than application-based) management interface is convenient and relatively simple to use.

iPMonitor screen shot
The “user experience monitors” simulate user input to check how well a Web or e-mail server is doing its job.
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Perhaps most important is ipMonitor’s simplified pricing structure; the $1,995 price tag is a flat license fee for an unlimited number of monitored devices, and SolarWinds says ipMonitor can handle as many as 5,000. Even if you want to monitor the maximum number of devices, ipMonitor’s system requirements are pretty modest, consisting of a 2 GHz dual-core processor and 1 GB or RAM.

Simple, Straightforward Setup

SolarWinds makes it easy to get ipMonitor up and running without a lot of head scratching, even if you’re not especially well-versed in network monitoring technology. A first-run wizard walks you through the process of setting up one or more ipMonitor administrator accounts and then entering the various account credentials. These let the software poll network devices and applications for status information via WMI and SNMP.

Next, ipMonitor sets about the task of network discovery. An Express discovery option checks for the most common device and server types (like Windows Active Directory, Exchange and SQL) and automatically sets up monitors that are appropriate to the device. There are also advanced and manual options that let you limit discovery to specific device types and choose the monitors you want for each.  

iPMonitor screen shot
The Dashboard provides a customizable overview of your network status.
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We installed ipMonitor on a Windows 7 system and ran Express discovery on our test network consisting of a pair of Windows servers, about a dozen clients and sundry other network devices (about two dozen devices in all). 

Keeping Tabs

One of the nice things about ipMonitor is that its monitoring isn’t limited to simple up/down status (i.e. ping connectivity) or resource utilization (CPU, RAM, disk space, etc.).  The software includes upward of 50 different monitors in all, including a number of “user experience” monitors that aim to measure a device’s performance when delivering a particular service or application by simulating an appropriate transaction.

For example, if ipMonitor detects that a device is running a Web server, it configures an HTTP monitor which measures its capability to respond to incoming requests and to deliver pages. Similar experience-based monitors cover other services, including POP/IMAP/MAPI-based e-mail, DNS and FTP. There’s even one that will monitor a specific Web page (say, your company’s home page) to make sure none of its links are broken.

ipMonitor’s browser-based Dashboard provides an easy to digest and highly customizable overall view of your network, with myriad “Web Resource” modules you can add and arrange (via drag-and –drop) to highlight the information you consider most important. There’s also a NOC [[screen]]view that forgoes the graphical display in favor of a simplified text-based view with highly visible up/down (green/red) indicators. 

Each Dashboard module includes links that let you get the particulars of a given device. From the Devices tab, you can add or remove individual device monitors and organize devices into customized groups. ipMonitor also includes a SmartGroups feature that automatically includes (and dynamically updates) a group of related devices or monitors as the network changes. For example, there are SmartGroups that track all disk-space monitors or all routers; plus you can create your own.   

Maps and Alerts

The ipMonitor Dashboard’s network map offers another vantage point from which to view your devices. The map doesn’t automatically indicate the connections or relationships between devices — you can edit the map to show that information — but you can upload a background image like an actual geographic map or office floor plan diagram to help you better visualize device locations.

iPMonitor screen shot
The NOC view delivers a streamlined indication of which devices are up and down.
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In addition to the Dashboard’s real time alerts, ipMonitor’s Express Discovery process automatically configures simple e-mail notification to a specified address when a device goes down (as well as when it recovers).

You can also set up more complex alerts, including ones that can notify by other means (like text messages), automatically run a program or reboot a server and/or widen notification or escalate it to a manager the longer a problem remains unresolved. (Incidentally, ipMonitor supports multiple administrator accounts as well as non-administrator user accounts with limited access to information and settings.)

The Bottom Line

ipMonitor provides a solid level of network monitoring for its price, and you can try a 21-day free trial download before you buy.

For firms with thousands, rather than hundreds, of devices to manage, ipMonitor’s flat-licensing scheme positions it between the free/extremely low cost Spiceworks (which includes handy features like software auditing and a help desk Intranet but lacks anything akin to ipMonitor’s user experience monitors) and pricier products like IpSwitch’s WhatsUp Gold.  

Price: $1,995 for an unlimited number of devices and one year of maintenance

Pros: Easy setup with automated network discovery; simple license fee includes unlimited devices; user-experience monitors use multiple-step transactions to gauge application performance

Cons: Flat licensing not as cost effective for smaller networks; lacks some features found in free SpiceWorks software

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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