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Assessing network availability monitoring tools for SMBs, larger networks

Learn what features, licensing, support and maintenance options the leading performance and availability monitoring tools offer to SMBs and larger networks.

No enterprise can function efficiently without the use of network availability monitoring tools. Assessing and troubleshooting network devices to ensure their availability is a fundamental requirement in today's data centers -- especially as demand for always-accessible applications and services continues to build.

Although no one tool fits every network, understanding your organization's requirements and the complexity of your network will help determine which network availability monitoring tools will offer the most benefit. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of tools that address networks of all sizes -- from the smallest of businesses to very large organizations and service providers.

AdRem NetCrunch

This AdRem Software tool offers basic network monitoring, alerting and event log management. It can also monitor applications, operating systems and virtualization software. NetCrunch monitors network infrastructure via Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) with a management information base compiler. It also collects and analyzes network flow records, such as Cisco's NetFlow. It captures event information via SNMP traps, syslog and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI). NetCrunch also monitors Windows, Mac, Berkeley Software Distribution, Solaris and Linux, and it provides VMware monitoring capabilities. In addition to the network and server monitoring functions, it offers some storage monitoring capabilities.

AdRem ships its products with a predefined set of rules that it calls monitoring packs. These automatically set up NetCrunch for monitoring specific applications, such as Microsoft Exchange. 

AdRem NetCrunch will automatically assemble Layer 2 and Layer 3 topology maps based on the metrics it collects. Customers can interact with NetCrunch via these maps, along with dashboards and alerts. The product features more than a half dozen data widgets, which can be activated to display performance and availability metrics on its network maps. This provides users with more context about the data the platform collects.

NetCrunch version 9 is offered in two editions: Premium, aimed at smaller networks with up to 300 nodes, and Premium XE, targeted at larger networks. AdRem also offers the NetCrunch Corporate Edition package, which supports an unlimited number of NetCrunch servers.

AdRem offers both perpetual and annual subscription licenses that are priced based on the number of network nodes being managed. License tiers range from a minimum 50-device license to an unlimited license. A license comes with one year of maintenance and technical support. AdRem sells the product both directly and through channel partners. AdRem NetCrunch version 9.3 -- engineered with more than 30 new features, including beefed-up reporting and alerts -- can be deployed as a single software package, with no separate modules or databases. It runs on a standard Windows Server -- version 2003 R2 or newer.

IT administrators interact with NetCrunch via a separate administration console, which runs on a Windows PC. To ensure effective use of the platform, AdRem requires a large screen, with 32-bit color support for the administration console. The company also supports remote monitoring through a web console and a mobile client.

HelpSystems Intermapper

HelpSystems Intermapper provides detailed maps of network infrastructure with live monitoring data and drill-down capabilities for in-depth analysis of network performance and availability. The system automatically discovers every IP-connected device on the network using IP address scanning and SNMP, and displays it on a map in minutes. It can also identify new devices using scheduled autodiscovery.

In addition to discovery and mapping functions, Intermapper includes alarm management and reporting capabilities, as well as a lightweight inventory and asset management feature. Users can set threshold limits on individual network devices, so the system will send an alarm when those thresholds are exceeded.

Intermapper displays the data it collects in two ways. A network manager can open a status window to see the current operating information about a device, or he can open a strip chart that shows a graph of the device's historical performance. A user can also chart any value in a status window for historical analysis, which allows the network manager to identify trends in device health and network capacity.

Intermapper ships with an HTTP API that lets users export monitoring data in XML, HTML, CSV and tab-delimited formats.

HelpSystems offers one core version of Intermapper, but it also sells several add-ons. The Intermapper Flows module monitors network traffic, bandwidth usage and capacity view network flow analysis. Intermapper RemoteAccess RMM can access the product's management console remotely from any device. Intermapper also integrates with Splunk for the additional context of machine data analysis, and Automate, HelpSystems' business process automation software, for system remediation.

Intermapper is licensed by the number of devices a business is monitoring. A 25-device license is $550, with the first year of maintenance sold separately for $215. In the U.S., licenses for up to 500 monitored devices are sold via the company's website. For a larger license, enterprises must buy the product through the company's direct sales force. International customers can purchase the product only through a HelpSystems channel partner. A 30-day free trial version of Intermapper includes the ability to monitor up to 500 devices and comes with five remote-access and five flow licenses.

Standard maintenance for Intermapper includes telephone support, email support, online self-service support, software maintenance and access to a user forum, various documents and other online content. HelpSystems offers a Maintenance Plus option that enhances the standard maintenance package with free training on new software releases, support of customers that are one version release behind on the product, and one free system change when a new system is implemented.

Intermapper ships with its polling engine embedded in the core product. The InterMapper database is proprietary, but users can use external tools to access and query it. The system runs on Windows, Linux and Mac servers. No professional services are required for installation.

The tool is packaged with software constructs called probes that define how Intermapper uses SNMP to monitor specific device makes and models on the network. Approximately 150 probes come free with Intermapper; users can create their own for uncommon or nontraditional devices.

Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold

Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold focuses on a single-pane-of-glass approach, enabling network managers to see the overall status of the infrastructure with a quick glance at the product's dashboard.

WhatsUp Gold discovers, maps, and monitors networks and servers. It also issues alerts on network events and offers customizable reporting and dashboards. The system automatically discovers all switches, routers and servers on the network using IP address scanning and SNMP. From there, it discovers all port-to-port connectivity and network dependencies. It also offers inventory and asset management of discovered devices.

After the discovery phase, WhatsUp Gold automatically generates Layer 2 and 3 topology maps of the infrastructure. Then, the system will monitor the availability and performance of devices using SNMP and WMI. It overlays that data on the topology map for visual context. The dependency information it collects during the discovery phase is also integrated with this status data. If one device failure is triggering alerts on many other devices, arrows will appear on the map to draw the user's eye to the device that is the root cause of multiple alerts.

WhatsUp Gold alerts users via email, text or event logs on device state changes and threshold events.  Users can also set automated responses to certain events, such as restarting devices that have failed. The system uses its device dependency information to perform root-cause analysis. This feature allows WhatsUp Gold to identify a device that is causing multiple related events and consolidate down to one single alert.

The system's reporting capabilities let users create custom dashboards that present high-level data on overall infrastructure status, with the ability to drill down into more detailed dashboards for troubleshooting.

Ipswitch offers a suite of add-on products that integrate with its enterprise network availability monitoring system products, including WhatsUp Gold Application Performance Monitor. Flow Monitor tracks network traffic and bandwidth utilization by collecting and analyzing NetFlow and other flow technologies. WhatsConfigured is a network change and configuration management tool. WhatsVirtual monitors VMware hypervisor infrastructure. VoIP Monitor monitors voice systems.

There are four editions of WhatsUp Gold. The BasicView edition provides the base network monitoring essentials. The ProView edition adds advanced monitoring of WMI, Secure Socket Shell and HTTPS services, as well as wireless monitoring capabilities. The TotalView edition adds application, virtualization and flow monitoring capabilities. The TotalView Plus edition provides additional scalability for larger networks and enables them to collect and manage infrastructure configurations.

WhatsUp Gold deploys on a Windows server as a single software bundle with a database and polling engine embedded, plus a separate web server for the web-based management console. A single instance of the product can monitor 20,000 devices or 100,000 monitors. Users can increase the number of devices monitored by deploying additional polling engines, known as Scalability Pollers. With WhatsUp Gold 2017 licensing, customers purchase points that are then applied to the types of monitoring required. Each type costs a certain number of points.

Although not required, the company offers professional services for installation. It also offers product training. Users can download a free 30-day trial version of WhatsUp Gold from the vendor's website. A WhatsUp Gold 2017 license comes with renewable technical support that includes telephone support during general business hours and access to an online customer portal with user community, knowledge base and online ticket management.

Next Steps

Which features should you look for before buying a network availability monitoring system

Why the role of network engineer remains critical

Advice and insight to help extend your network visibility

This was last published in January 2017

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Buyer's Guide

Why you need network monitoring systems and what they can do for you

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