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Boosting remote network monitoring visibility with Paessler PRTG

With free unlimited probes, Paessler PRTG was the right choice for school district's remote network monitoring needs.

The IT organization at Forsyth County Schools in Georgia replaced its legacy monitoring platform with PRTG Network Monitor to save money and provide greater remote network monitoring visibility into its infrastructure.

The school system needed more visibility into its infrastructure, which spans more than 30 schools. The IT department wanted to deploy more remote probes to deepen its visibility into the district's infrastructure, but its legacy remote network monitoring platform, SolarWinds Orion, required individual licenses for each probe, a cost the district couldn't afford, according to Mark Klingler, director of technical services at Forsyth County Schools (FCS). Klingler and his team turned to Paessler AG's PRTG, which offers an unlimited number of free probes with a general platform license.

"[With SolarWinds], we weren't monitoring every one of our servers, only a handful -- primarily Exchange. Everything else, we kind of heard about [problems] after they happened," said Sean Fowler, systems engineer at FCS. "We were only monitoring WAN interfaces between sites and then uplinks. With PRTG, we put probes out at all the schools. Now we can monitor the ports where the wireless arrays are. We can monitor the individual ports between the access switches and the distribution switches. We have the ability to monitor individual switches in each stack."

PRTG monitors uptime across the infrastructure. The remote network monitoring system also captures packets to maintain historical data for forensic analysis. "When users complain of slowness, we can trace it all the way back to the various ports we monitor on," Fowler said.

The broader visibility reduced the amount of time the IT organization spends diagnosing problems, Klingler said. Before PRTG, when the school system had monitoring blind spots, support calls often started with the engineer talking nontechnical callers through frontline troubleshooting so that IT could figure out the source of a problem before sending someone out to fix it.

"[PRTG] helps us identify that problem a whole lot sooner," Klingler said. "A lot of the time we already know what's going on before we get the call."

The new visibility also helped district engineers do some housecleaning on the network as they discovered a smattering of misconfigured and mislabeled ports in the infrastructure.

"The network was good. We just made it better. We did a complete discovery of everything on each switch, and then started pruning back," Fowler said. "[During discovery, a port] would tell us it was an 802.1Q trunk when it was supposed to be [an access port]. When an access port is misconfigured as a trunk port, and [someone] plugs a phone in, it doesn't work. And instead of reporting it, [the user] just claims it doesn't work. Or the description would say it was supposed to connect a finance computer, which has a specific VLAN [virtual LAN], and it wasn't. It was a printer. We discovered bandwidth bottlenecks for some of our servers where we ended up port-grouping interfaces. We had some problems with our XenServers out at schools. We used to guess at what the problem was. When we started monitoring, we discovered they were running out of space, so we remedied that."

"It saves us manpower and time," Klingler said of PRTG. "We respond to issues quicker, before an end user reports it. I can usually give a yell to one of the guys and say, 'Hey, there are no details, but we're having a problem at a school. They can immediately take a look and see what the problem is without me having to go round and round with someone at the school."

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