Paessler Launches Version 8 of PRTG Monitor

PRTG Network Monitor Version 8 brings a slew of network management tools to administrators looking to monitor, maintain and troubleshoot complex heterogeneous networks.

By: Frank Ohlhorst dnu

Paessler's PRTG Network Monitor Version 8 adds new agents for physical and virtual machines along with new methods to monitor Linux-based systems.

Creating a standout network management product is a difficult chore in today's highly competitive, well-populated market. To make inroads, PRTG 8 needs to offer either a better experience and/or unique features when compared to competitors such as Ipswich's WhatsUp Gold and ManageEngine's OpManager, SolarWind's Orion.

The most notable new features in PRTG 8 are the new sensors that expand the product's ability to monitor virtual devices and operating systems including a XEN Server sensor provides monitoring capabilities for Citrix/XEN-based servers, allowing administrators to keep better tabs on their virtual servers, VDI deployments and other hypervisor-based hosts. For those using Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization platform, virtual storage is now a monitored element, as well as Terminal Server.

Additional WMI sensors provide more information for Microsoft-based networks, allowing administrators to keep tabs on windows shares, server uptime and printers. VMWare users will appreciate the VMWare Host Hardware sensor, which allows them to keep tabs on the physical hardware running a VMware hypervisor. All of this adds up to increased network operations visibility.

For Linux aficionados, PTRG 8 includes sensors for LDAP, Linux SSH (Secure Shell) and Linux SNMP. Rounding out Linux support is Version 8's ability to connect to Linux systems without the need for a separate agent. Rather than communicate with the Linux systems through an agent, the product accesses managed Linux systems by logging onto them through an SSH account. Pretty much all Linux servers come with a secure way to log into them, SSH, and tapping that capability lets you get away with not installing a separate agent.

I found that PRTG 8 offers many of the same features as competitors, yet still proves simple to deploy and use. PRTG 8 is competitively priced at $400 for a 100-sensor deployment. With Version 8, Netflow and xFlow add-ons are included in the price, PRTG 8 uses an "all-in-one" pricing model, where add-ons are included in the license. However, configuration and use of add-ons can impact operational costs.

Road tests

I tested a release candidate of PRTG version 8 and found it to be a comprehensive monitoring product that offers several handy features and capabilities, and clearly shows some significant enhancements from the previous generation of PRTG.

One of the first things I noticed was deployment flexibility–PRTG V8 does not require a dedicated server or appliance to function. The product is installed on a Windows PC which is attached to the network and then functions as the PRTG server, that machine does need to be left on 24/7, however, it does not have to be dedicated to only PRTG. It can be used for other applications as well.

I installed PRTG 8 on a virtual machine running Windows in VMware ESX environment. Installation was a breeze and I was offered several choices during the process, ranging from what IP addresses to access the PRTG 8 monitor from and whether I wanted to use the included client application or a Web browser to access the console. PRTG 8 includes its own Web server application and data storage capabilities, eliminating the need to set up those elements on other systems.

The console can run three different ways, as an AJAX session in a browser, as an HTML session in a browser (for low bandwidth connections) and as a locally installed client application. For my evaluation, I used both the dedicated client application and the AJAX session. The primary console is password-protected and at logon (using a HTTPS session), I was given the choice on how to run the console.

At first launch, I was presented with a "to-do" list which included links to wizards to set up and configure monitoring. The "to-do" list has 14 items and will continue to pop up as the main screen until all "to-dos" are completed. At first, I found the "to-do" list to be an annoyance, however, it made set-up chores so easy that it became a must-have feature. The "to-do" list drives wizards that help you to discover components on the network, deploy sensors and perform other chores.

I found the auto discovery wizard easy to use; it required some basic information to scan the network, such as an IP address range or SNMP information to discover attached devices and include those in a group that I defined. I stuck with "group 1" as my group description and used the auto discovery tool to populate the group with the devices on my network. Detection was comprehensive and included all discoverable elements. For example, on an attached notebook PC, it was able to detect WiFi link information, memory usage, disk usage and other specific information. My attached routers and switches were also discovered, and pertinent information about those devices was recorded and displayed as well.

Like most network monitoring and management products, PRTG 8 works best when a sensor is configured (some products refer to that as a client, agent or other name). Sensors gather information on devices in real time and report those back to the PRTG 8 monitoring engine. Sensors can either be deployed as an agent on a device or set up to monitor events and traffic from the PRTG 8 management PC; it all depends on the type of sensor used. By default, PRTG 8 sets up sensors on the management PC to monitor basic network statistics, such as ping times, activity, uptime and so on. That allows the PRTG 8 to be immediately useful to an administrator trying to track down performance or connectivity problems.

PRTG 8 offers a plethora of real-time reports, notifications and alerts, all of which are easy to identify and run directly from the main console. There are a few reports, such as top 10 lists and history, that prove to be very useful for identifying what uses the most resources on the network and when those resources are used. For example, a top 10 report paired with a history report for HTTP requests could identify high Web usage during certain times of the day, allowing an administrator to design policies to throttle that usage during high-demand processes.

The console also offers multiple dashboards, which the administrator can choose from on the fly. Those customizable dashboards allow an administrator to define a set of monitored elements that fit a particular need. For example, I created a dashboard that offered information on Alerts, so with a glance I could determine the status of the LAN.

Rounding out PRTG 8's capabilities are comprehensive logs, which record all activity of the product and help to identify what was done and when it was done. That proves to be a handy tool for troubleshooting discovery processes and sensor problems. Perhaps one of the most impressive features was visual network mapping. Here, administrators can define maps of the infrastructure and populate those maps with monitored devices. That gives a graphical representation of the network, while allowing administrators to divide sections of the maps into managed clusters. That helps to tame managing large, heterogeneous networks that may be spread out across multiple locations.