Product Reviews

Seen Those Servers Lately?

Keep a close eye on all your servers with ipMonitor.

IT shops are getting leaner by the day. It's not uncommon for a couple of people to have responsibility for managing several hundred servers, and that's a tall order. With so many servers to manage, most admins slip into reactive mode—waiting until users complain that something isn't working. Then IT staffers spend all their time putting out fires.

It's far more productive and less stressful to get proactive—fixing problems before users notice and before problems grow out of control. The question is how do you make the transition when you are chronically understaffed? The best answer is to automate.

IpMonitor is a stand-alone HTTP server that runs as a service within Windows to monitor the health of web applications, SQL databases, commerce software and mail software. It can also keep an eye on any Windows service and can monitor hardware devices such as servers, workstations, switches, routers and UPS. Because ipMonitor is its own HTTP server, you don't need to run IIS to use it.

Installing ipMonitor is easy, with a streamlined setup process that guides you to a configuration program. You'll start by creating an administrator account, assigning an IP address and port number for the account and installing an SSL certificate. IpMonitor will generate a self-signed certificate if you don't have a commercial certificate or access to an internal certificate authority.

There are several other options for you to configure, including SNMP trap settings, the service account used by ipMonitor (it uses the localsystem account by default), the ipMonitor license and the IP ranges to which ipMonitor will allow or deny access. IpMonitor has more than 40 different types of monitors, including availability monitors, systems monitors and quality assurance monitors (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Configure 40 different types of monitors.
Figure 1. From the monitor page in ipMonitor, you can activate and configure more than 40 different types of monitors. (Click image to view larger version.)

The availability monitors watch most application-layer protocols that run on TCP/IP. The list of availability monitors includes Ping, LDAP, NTP, Radius, HTML, ASP, IRC and NNTP. The systems monitors watch the various components of Microsoft operating systems such as Windows services, event logs, Active Directory, files and disk space.

The quality assurance monitors perform transaction tests. Each test measures response time and analyzes the results to determine the status of a particular software or hardware component. Some of the quality assurance monitors include ADO, DNS, FTP, HTTP, IMAP4, POP3 and SNMP.

Documentation 15%
Installation 10%
Feature Set 35%
Performance 30%
Management 10%
Overall Rating:

1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
10: Exceptional

These are the real workhorses. They monitor just about any aspect of server performance. They let you test a process and see if it is truly working as expected. Instead of just checking if your DNS server is responding to port 53, for example, ipMonitor will actually query DNS for a host record to make sure it's working. You can configure all the monitors to follow a maintenance schedule. This lets you schedule times when the monitors should ignore downtime, such as during backups or scheduled outages.

The network scan feature is most helpful. I put in my network range and ipMonitor scanned the entire subnet. It scanned six computers in about 120 seconds, then reported back a list of recommended monitors based on the services each machine offered. This can cut set-up time in half, as ipMonitor sets up most of the monitors for you. You simply enable them and configure the alerting.

Warning Signs
Alerting is one of ipMonitor's key features. After all, what good is it to monitor your environment if you aren't notified of problems?

ipMonitor can send you alerts via a pager (numeric and alphanumeric), network broadcast (net send), SMS (cell phone) or e-mail. It also provides automatic alert escalation, so if the alert signal continues for a set period of time, ipMonitor will adjust who gets the alerts. This lets you provide a tiered support system, instead of having everyone immediately receive every alert. You can also configure alerts to initiate a specific action. For example, following an alert, ipMonitor can restart services, start other applications, reboot servers or execute a script.

You can also have ipMonitor write alerts to the windows event log or a local text file. Then you can write your own custom apps to use the alert data in whatever way you need. You won't have to develop custom applications to use ipMonitor, though. Its built-in alerting is good. This just gives you more flexibility for using the data.

Figure 2.  ipMonitor gives you a full monitor status rundown, color-coded to indicate level of intensity.
Figure 2. ipMonitor gives you a full monitor status rundown, color-coded to indicate level of intensity. (Click image to view larger version.)

There are also detailed reporting features built into ipMonitor. You can view reports in real-time to see system status data on the fly, or you can look at historical reports with archived information. The live views are intuitively color-coded and sorted by monitor state, which makes it easy to see problems. For example, green indicates the resource is up and running while bright red means it is down.

Reports show response time, downtime and uptime, displayed in graphical and tabular formats. You can also use e-mail reports to send data to appropriate managers.

What You Need
You need systems that meet the following requirements to be able to use ipMonitor:
  • 1GHz CPU or higher
  • Windows XP Home or Professional, Windows 2000 with at least SP 3, or Windows Server 2003
  • At least Internet Explorer 5.5, Netscape 7.1, Opera 7.2, or Mozilla 1.4
  • 256MB of RAM for up to 500 monitors
  • 512MB of RAM for up to 1,500 monitors

There's also a tool in ipMonitor for remotely managing servers and workstations. It lets you browse the network to find a machine, reboot it or stop and start its services. You can even set separate credentials for each machine so you don't have to be logged in with administrative rights in order for the tool to work. This tool doesn't do anything we can't already do within Windows XP, but it's nice to have everything accessible from one console.

Another aspect of ipMonitor that impressed me was the documentation. Many times after purchasing software, you realize that the only documentation is a hard-to-read PDF file. This is definitely not the case here. ipMonitor comes with a 372-page manual that walks you through every step of installation and configuration. There are screen shots included as well. It's easy to follow and is some of the best product documentation I have ever seen.

Overall, ipMonitor is very easy to use. I had it installed and monitoring my lab network of six machines in about 30 minutes. Using the quick start link, I created an HTTP monitor, set up an e-mail alert and tested it in about five minutes. I could have done it even quicker, but I was taking my time to familiarize myself with the interface.

If you're looking for an easy to deploy network monitoring package that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, ipMonitor is a great choice.

About the Author

Chad Todd, MCSE, MCT, CNE, is the author of Hack Proofing Windows 2000 Server by Syngress Publishing. He is the co-owner of Training Concepts, which specializes in Windows 2000 and Cisco training.


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