In-Depth

While You Were Sleeping

Tired of 3 a.m. trips to the office? Enjoy a good night’s rest with these five Web-based monitoring tools.

I DON’T KNOW about you, but the thought of a beeper going off at 3 a.m. because of a simple server problem that’s easily fixed by running a script doesn’t do it for me. I’d rather have software that allows uncomplicated problems to be fixed automatically, while getting paged when something really important happens, like an inability to restart the corporate mail server. Furthermore, I want the ability to diagnose the problem remotely and, perhaps, even have someone do it for me. If possible, I’d also prefer to fix it remotely.

Web-based monitoring tools run the gamut from those that simply tell you something’s wrong to those that can be configured to monitor myriad Windows (and other) computers, services, drives, applications and events. Some even allow you to run scripts and other programs automatically to fix problems. The level of functionality in these tools is astounding; but the more complex the monitoring task, the more work you have to do (with the exception of SilverBack’s product, which has an engineer come to you to perform the initial setup).

This month, we review:

 VisualPulse 3.0, from $200 for a single-server install with 10 elements to $1,500 for 250 elements
Visualware, (703) 802-9006, www.visualware.com

 InfoCare 3.5, starting from $300 per device, per year (price set by partners who provide software in tandem with services)
SilverBack Technologies Inc., (978) 670-9944, www.SilverBacktech.com

 ipMonitor 6.1, $695
DeepMetrix Corp., (819) 776-0707, www.deepmetrix.com

 SiteScope 7.5, $1,995, plus 20 percent customer care, for a 25-point license
Freshwater Software, (303) 443-2266, www.freshwater.com

 IPSentry 4.5, from $465 for a single license to $8,195 for enterprise license
RGE, Inc., (317) 745-3398, www.ipsentry.com

(Also read "MOM: Everything Windows Including the Kitchen Sink," by Damir Bersinic, in this issue.)

Visualware’s VisualPulse 3.0
Sometimes simplicity has its advantages. Take VisualPulse 3.0 from Visualware, which definitely isn’t the sexiest-looking product when running. In fact, it looked downright clinical in its reporting and really shouldn’t be seen outside the computer room. But what it lacks in sexiness, it almost entirely makes up for in features.

Installing VisualPulse 3.0 is straightforward. You need to have the proper Java Virtual Machine on the computer running VisualPulse. The documentation on how to verify the Java VM is quite good, going as far as to instruct you on where to locate the correct or updated VM. Running the supplied EXE file performs the install without a hitch.

Next, configure VisualPulse to monitor your resources, send e-mail notifications (all products support this feature) and so on. Invoke VisualPulse from the program group created for it, and you’re prompted to pick a TCP port number for the Web-based interface. Default port 80 won’t work if you have IIS installed, so you’ll have to choose another. To secure monitoring, you can set a range of IP addresses to allow access to the Web-based interface. You configure VisualPulse by updating a text file with your own text entries; the GUI configuration screen updates a text file with the configuration information.

Testing the configuration invokes the Web-based interface but, because the address used is 127.0.0.1 (localhost), it fails to display the Web page. Visualware may want to change VisualPulse’s test and invocation to use the actual IP address of the computer, which works correctly.

VisualPulse supports monitoring of IP-based networks. For this reason, it’s most useful to organizations that need to monitor IP address/TCP port combinations. For each port monitored, you can also configure e-mail notification for warnings and errors, for which you can set the thresholds. If a problem occurs, traceroute capabilities help determine where the problem exists.

VisualPulse 3.0
While Visualware’s VisualPulse 3.0 doesn’t boast the sexiest graphics, it’s a solid monitoring solution for IP-based networks. (Click image to view larger version.)

The one thing I don’t like about VisualPulse is the apparent inability to install it as a service. In order to start the product, I had to log in, manually invoke VisualPulse and then click Start in the Server Console to get it going. On Unix systems, this may not be a problem, as you can start the process to run in the background as a daemon; but on Windows, it should really be a service.

VisualPulse 3.0, from $200 for a single-server install with 10 elements to $1,500 for 250 elements; Visualware, (703) 802-9006, www.visualware.com.

SilverBack Technologies’ InfoCare 3.5
On the opposite extreme from VisualPulse is InfoCare from SilverBack Technologies. Unlike the other products reviewed, InfoCare is a service that includes a hardware-based solution (InfoNest), which comes as an attractive dark green 1U rack-mountable system based on Windows 2000 Server Embedded. With the product, SilverBack sends out a technician to help set it up. It sells exclusively through a channel; partners set pricing, which depends on services rendered.

Following initial setup, you can configure additional features or make changes to the configuration—or SilverBack can do it for you remotely. InfoNest, once powered on, also creates a virtual private connection (VPN) connection back to SilverBack to allow technicians to monitor the product, as well as make configuration changes, install product upgrades and so on. If the VPN fails, InfoNest comes with a modem so that SilverBack can dial in to troubleshoot (you provide the phone line and number).

Configuration changes are performed via a Web-based interface. You can configure Assets, which are basically the computers, IP subnets or other network devices to be monitored. If these assets also contain services you want to monitor (InfoCare supports monitoring DNS, HTTP, NetWare, SMTP, Exchange, Oracle and SQL Server databases and so on), you’ll need to configure the assets before configuring services.

Note: Because InfoCare resides on your LAN but isn’t actually part of your domain, you’ll need to arrange Windows user accounts under which it’ll connect to network resources. I ran across a problem using the NT-style DOMAIN\username combination but was able to configure users properly using Active Directory-style User Principal Names (UPNs) in the format username@domainname.

InfoCare doesn’t require installation of any agents on monitored systems for most situations. I was able to monitor the nodes, all IP services, databases and almost everything I needed without installing any agents. However, if you need to monitor Exchange 5.5 performance (Exchange 2000 isn’t yet supported but may be by the time you read this), Oracle performance, SunOS or Solaris systems, or Linux or HP-UX computers, you’ll need to run scripts or install agents. This isn’t necessarily a problem, as these agents provide additional information that there’s really no other way to get, but I’d prefer to not use them.

InfoCare 3.5
For most situations, SilverBack’s InfoCare doesn’t require installation of any agents on monitored systems. (Click image to view larger version.)

InfoCare is an interesting solution, and having someone there to assist is comforting. One source of concern is that there’s no way to do a clean shutdown of the machine yourself. The power switch on the back will turn the machine off, but, with a SQL Server and other Windows-based programs running inside the box, I was a bit uneasy about it. A shutdown option from the menu would be nice.

InfoCare 3.5, ranges from $300 to several thousand per year, per device (according to the company, partners set the prices based on a combination of solution and services offered); SilverBack Technologies Inc., (978) 670-9944, www.SilverBacktech.com.

DeepMetrix’s ipMonitor 6.1
Being Canadian, it’s nice to have a homegrown entry for this roundup. ipMonitor from DeepMetrix is a comprehensive Web-based monitoring tool that’s easy to set up and provides excellent functionality at a reasonable price. It also supports SMS messaging and other alert options not found in competitors.

After executing the downloaded file, you’re guided through the installation process. By default, ipMonitor installs itself using the Local System account, but that should be changed to a domain-level administrator account with permissions on the machines you want to monitor. This also means that, unlike InfoCare, you need to install ipMonitor on a computer that’s a member of your domain or a trusted domain to enjoy full functionality.

After installation, invoke ipMonitor to continue configuration. DeepMetrix gets my award for the easiest Web-based monitoring software to configure. The first time ipMonitor’s invoked, you’re presented with a to-do list of tasks and asked to discover the network. Then you can configure what you want to monitor on the network or discover additional networks or other resources. You then automatically cross off additional configuration items on the checklist displayed on the Web form. During each step, you’re guided through a process that indicates required and optional items. Getting up and running couldn’t be easier.

ipMonitor is not only easy to use, but it also provides a comprehensive set of monitors for a product in its price range. You can monitor standard TCP ports and applications like SMTP, POP3, HTTP, FTP, DNS and so on, but there’s also an option to monitor the quality of these services. Quality monitoring performs an action like transmitting an e-mail or testing HTTP round trips, executing a database query and so on. Furthermore, you can monitor disk space changes on a shared network drive, individual files on the network, Windows Event Monitor events, Lotus Notes server or Kerberos functionality. ipMonitor also lets you execute programs and test their response times. You can even monitor another ipMonitor’s capabilities.

ipMonitor 6.1
DeepMetrix’s ipMonitor 6.1 can report on the active vs. historical availability of network services. (Click image to view larger version.)

Notification is another ipMonitor strength. You can be notified by e-mail, configure logging to a file or the Windows Event Log, send an SMS message or a numeric or simple page, execute an automatic recovery script, or send a network broadcast. Many of these features are available in other products, and all support e-mail; but DeepMetrix went a bit further in providing it all as part of the package.

All in all, this one is a winner.

ipMonitor 6.1, $695; DeepMetrix Corp., (819) 776-0707, www.deepmetrix.com.

FreshWater Software’s SiteScope 7.5
SiteScope 7.5 from FreshWater Software is another comprehensive product. Like ipMonitor, SiteScope allows monitoring of a wide range of network services and applications. A main attraction is allowing installation on a computer that’s not part of a domain and creating mappings of usernames and passwords for each monitored node.

SiteScope has a slightly larger footprint than the other products, but it offers functionality the others don’t. Installation is as simple as running the setup program from the supplied CD. After installing the software you invoke it, which launches the SiteScope First Time Setup page. This is a good way to get started quickly, while allowing you to use the default configuration template, customizing it to your environment, or copying the configuration from an existing SiteScope server. In fact, SiteScope has a feature not found in other products—the ability to mirror one SiteScope’s definition to another SiteScope installation to allow for redundancy (a feature called High Availability).

Use the Web-based interface to monitor status and to configure SiteScope further. You can create Groups, which are collections of similar elements to monitor (two exist by default: Network and Server). Within each group, you can configure services and other elements to monitor, including network services (DNS, HTTP, SNMP, Web Services, FTP and ODBC databases); servers (CPU, disk space, memory, network and Windows services); advanced monitors (directory and file availability, Windows Event Log entries and RADIUS); and many applications (CheckPoint, MAPI-Exchange, DB2, SAP, Sybase, Oracle 9i Application Server, Windows Performance Monitor counters and so on). Its ability to monitor many vendor-oriented applications makes SiteScope stand out.

SiteScope 7.5
With FreshWater’s SiteScope 7.5, you can monitor server elements, such as CPU, disk space and memory. (Click image to view larger version.)

The Web-based interface seemed a bit dated compared to offerings by DeepMetrix, SilverBack and RGE’s IPSentry. SiteScope and VisualPulse’s Web-based interfaces stood out during the review as not being terribly compelling. Maybe more (and better) graphics would help, as well as a more visual and less text-based approach to displaying monitoring and configuration information. That being said, if you need to monitor applications, you should consider this product.

SiteScope 7.5, $1,995, plus 20 percent customer care, for a 25-point license; Freshwater Software, (303) 443-2266, www.freshwater.com.

RGE Inc.’s IPSentry 4.5
IPSentry from RGE Inc. provides plenty of functionality, although it has an annoying way of wanting to kill previous instances of itself when you launch the program to administer it. Furthermore, it doesn’t actually have a Web-based interface for configuration, but outputs its reports in HTML format. However, it does provide a fair bit of functionality and allows you to purchase what you need a la carte. It’s also the only roundup product with a freeware version for use in a home-based network, as it can run on Windows 95 and higher.

To install the software, launch the product EXE. If you’re a licensed user, you’ll need to select Register Now during installation to enter your license keys. Next, the IPSentry status window is displayed, indicating the monitoring task’s progress. Selecting Options from the Edit (yes, I said Edit) menu allows you to bring up the configuration interface for IPSentry. (Note to RGE: Edit should contain Cut, Copy, Paste and so on—not the menu option to configure the software.)

The configuration of IPSentry is broken down into three sets of settings:

  • System settings—For configuring frequency of monitoring; installing IPSentry as a service; configuring logging options, telnet and remote access; automatic report creation; and the ability to import and export settings for backup.
  • Modem settings—For enabling and configuring modem use for paging operators when an alert is triggered.
  • Server/machine monitoring—For configuring what you want monitored, how to be alerted and what corrective action should take place.

You can monitor network nodes (computers and devices); network drives and shares; Windows services; and a whole selection of available add-ins, including SMTP/POP3 e-mail round-trip tests, ODBC databases, Performance Monitor counter values and the ability to start and stop Windows services. For each monitor, you can specify a different username and password for authentication, allowing you to run IPSentry on a machine not in your Active Directory forest or NT domain.

You can also create dependencies between monitors to ensure that you don’t try monitoring a file if the machine on which it resides is down. Another notable feature is the ability to create “reverse alerts” to notify you when something is up rather than down. For example, you may want to configure an alert when a file’s placed in a specific location and then notify someone or execute a script. This can be handy for organizations that need to know when a client places a file on an FTP site, for example.

The set of options available when an alert takes place is quite laudable. IPSentry is the only product reviewed that has an interface for control of X10 devices. This allows you to, for instance, turn lights on and off when something goes wrong. You can send e-mail (obviously), sound an audible alert (play a .wav file), notify one or more individuals by pages, launch a program, configure an Add-in alert or insert a SYSLOG entry on a computer.

IPSentry 4.5
RGE’s IPSentry provides easy-to-read reports in HTML. (Click image to view larger version.)

IPSentry offers a lot of features, but its lack of a Web-based administration interface makes it the odd man out in this evaluation. Its capabilities are excellent (though not as comprehensive as SiteScope), and it did produce the most-easily understood report of any product in the roundup.

IPSentry 4.5, from $465 for a single license to $8,195 for enterprise license; RGE, Inc., (317) 745-3398, www.ipsentry.com.

Final Report
Any of these products can wake you up at night, if needed, or allow you to sleep and fix the problem for you. All will notify you of what happened so that you can investigate further. InfoCare is unique in its hardware-based/application service provider model, while VisualPulse simply needs the ability to install as a service. Any of them, with Windows Terminal Services for remote access, is a good choice to ensure your network and its services stay up and running. None are perfect, but one will probably work for you.

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Reader Comments:

Thu, Jun 2, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

Good, but dated. Many more good products on the market today that surpass the ones reviewed. My favorite: WebWatchBot www.webwatchbot.com

Mon, Jun 30, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

A little light on the technical details but a good overview.

Fri, Jun 6, 2003 T Rowe Cambridge, MA

Great article. This is just the info I needed to identify a tool to monitor our network. Thanks!

Fri, Mar 7, 2003 kasra.f mcp

not bad

Tue, Feb 4, 2003 Michael Domingo (Editor) Irvine, CA

To Anonymous: Sorry for the confusion! I tried something different with this article, posting the reviews in the Product Reviews section and linking TO them from this article. This roundup now includes all the reviews as they appeared in the print issue (with the links still active to the Product Reviews section).

Fri, Jan 31, 2003 Network Engineer OK

You guys should avoid relaying on an article to do your decision making. The point is to introduce you to these products. Download their trials and develope your own comparison matrix. Anyway, I appreciated this article because it introduced me to other products that I didn't know existed. Incidentally, I use ipMonitor and have for 4 years. It has not only help me take my shop from looking and being reactive to looking and in many cases being proactive, it has also paid for itself many times over because of how quickly I learned of and was able to start working on problems.

Thu, Jan 30, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

could you tell a little more about them than the price?

Wed, Jan 29, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

glossy overview, not enough meat for a technical newsletter distribution. The audience is three levels higher than this article...

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