As networks grow ever-larger and more complex, so does the effort required to manage effectively all the devices connected to today’s networks.
After all, today’s networks and their related infrastructure are in a state of flux, with new technologies such as the Internet of things (IoT) greatly increasing complexity and affecting network performance.
Hardware abstraction, hybrid cloud environments, software-defined components and IoT initiatives are quickly turning enterprise network environments into something less manageable while making effective monitoring and management a seemingly impossible challenge.
But now, Paessler AG, based in Nuremberg, Germany, is trying to bring a measure of simplicity to the network monitoring and management conundrum with the company’s latest iteration of the PRTG Network Monitor.
PRTG Version 16 does a lot more than just monitor networks. It offers easy-to-understand insights into network operations. PRTG accomplishes that with a client-server configuration, where the primary console as well as the associated databases and logic is installed on a workstation or server and functions as the centralized information repository.
All devices on the network report to the management system using a variety of communications capabilities. The primary element used to gather device information is called a sensor. From an operational perspective, PRTG builds a list of devices and then an administrator assigns sensors to the devices.
Each sensor monitors a single aspect of a device. This can be, for example, a Ping time, the CPU load on a server, the traffic on a network interface or the status of a printer toner cartridge. Each defined device can have multiple sensors; on average, there are five to 10 sensors installed on a server-class device.
PRTG offers an extensive list of sensors, including ones for SNMP and others that enable bandwidth monitoring using common protocols such as NetFlow and more. There are sensors for virtual servers, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Secure Shell (SSH), HTTP, SMTP, database servers, file servers, hardware sensors and many more. The sensors allow the product to cover a rich suite of low-level protocols to enterprise-grade servers, across a raft of platforms.
If PRTG does not have a sensor for a given platform or device, administrators are able to create custom sensors. Custom sensors can be based on protocols, on the results of executables, SSH scripts or other custom data streams communicated from a device. Custom sensors can often be the perfect mechanism to deal with the growing IoT device ecosystem that many enterprises have to deal with.
Sensors and devices aside, the primary function of PRTG is to keep administrators aware of the condition of components connected to the network. To that end, PRTG provides several dashboards that give a visual representation of what is happening on the network.
Paired with the dashboards are policy definitions, which can be set up to send alerts to administrators if device activity falls outside a defined range. Smartphone and tablet apps are available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone to allow administrators to follow alerts while roaming the office or travelling to network sites.
Going Hands-on With PRTG Network Monitor V16
Getting started with PRTG Network Monitor proves to be very simple. The company offers a fully functional free copy of the product, which is limited to 100 sensors after 30 days of use.
PRTG Network Monitor Aims to Simplify Connected Device, IoT Management
That means taking a test drive is a simple task of downloading, installing and entering a demonstration key.
Installation takes little more than running an executable and entering a license key. The installation is fully automated and can be accomplished in a matter of minutes. The installation wizard also handles the initial probe of the network and discovery of connected devices using a guided script.
The product steps administrators through the initial configuration process, vastly simplifying what would normally be a time-consuming task. Once the setup is complete, administrators are automatically logged into the main dashboard and are ready to start using the product.
Administrators will find there are multiple use cases for PRTG, ranging from day-to-day monitoring to advanced network troubleshooting to traffic discovery forensics. However, using PRTG starts with identifying what’s on the network and understanding how those devices communicate. That creates the foundation for analyzing network usage and identifying the status of connected devices, an important capability for those looking to proactively manage the network.
The Rise of the Internet of Things
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing network managers today is the ability to understand the impact of IoT devices on the network. Here, PRTG Network Monitor V16 proves to be a valuable ally by making it simple to include IoT devices in the network management process.
Not only is Paessler adding new sensors to the mix constantly, but PRTG offers full support for monitoring SNMP and WMI traffic, as well as NetFlow, sFlow, jFlow, and packet sniffing, which creates a robust monitoring infrastructure to include IoT devices.
If IoT devices do not support any of the above technologies, then network managers can turn to the PRTG RESTful API, which gives the ability to create/edit/delete custom monitoring objects to access device data. What’s more, the product provides the capability to create custom sensors built as executables, CMD scripts, Powershell commands, as well as other scripts to query devices.
Simply put, the tools provided with PRTG allow network managers to integrate IoT devices into their management infrastructure to gather the knowledge needed to judge network loads, look for bottlenecks, determine bandwidth utilization, as well as monitor the health of those connected devices. This capability will prove a critical factor for those managing networks, considering that market research firm Gartner predicts that IoT device deployment will grow from 5 billon devices to more than 20 billion by 2020.
Unified Network Monitoring and Management
One of the most impressive capabilities of the PRTG Network Monitor is the ease with which it can unify the network monitoring and management process. In the past, network managers used to have to rely on numerous, non-integrated tools to monitor network operations.
That often meant recreating policies and alerts as well as data-gathering tasks across multiple monitoring products. PRTG 16 allows administrators to monitor all network devices on a single dashboard and set alert policy scripts based on what is happening across the whole network.
PRTG is able to accomplish this by using a multi-pronged approach to monitoring, which combines product-specific sensors, with “open” technologies, such as SNMP, WMI, Netflow, etc., to make sure every physical or virtual device on the network is accounted for and monitored.
PRTG Network Monitor Aims to Simplify Connected Device, IoT Management
What’s more, the interface allows sensors to be grouped and secured, which ensures only authorized network managers can view network and device performance data. The factor allows IT managers to assign certain network monitoring responsibilities to specific individuals. For example, network managers may want to assign only their telecom administrators to monitor and manage VOIP devices.
Of course, network managers can create custom sensors based on protocols or on the results of executables or SSH scripts or other custom actions, which are virtually unlimited. If a network manager can dream up something to monitor, PRTG provides the capabilities to create a custom script to accomplish that.
The massive amount of data collected by the product is readily converted into visual elements in the form of dashboards. Those dashboards offer device views, sunburst views and tabular views of information. They can also be color-coded to highlight specific issues, which speeds troubleshooting, while also providing overall network status at a glance.
PRTG’s Proactive Capabilities
Monitoring is only one part of the network management equation. The other part is the ability to promptly act on information. Here, PRTG offers multiple action items that can be driven by alerts. This means administrators can script actions than can run automatically based on what an alert is reporting.
For example, administrators can build escalation points that are based on how long a sensor has not been responding, which means that multiple action items can be driven by a single alert. For instance, if a sensor has failed to report activity for 60 seconds, then PRGT can be configured to send an alert to a network technician about the issue.
If that same sensor has failed for more than 600 seconds, then other managers can also be informed. On the flipside, when the problem has been resolved and the sensor starts reporting properly again, the system can dispatch an alert confirming that the problem is resolved.
Both scheduled and ad hoc reporting capabilities are included with PRTG, allowing administrators to customize the reports to contain information pertinent to the task at hand. For example, PRTG can schedule monthly reports that tally new devices discovered on the network. Or reports can be filtered to cover just a particular group of sensors.
Ad hoc reporting capability allows administrators to report on most any group of sensors and set filters for numerous criteria, which is a handy capability when it comes to planning or troubleshooting.
Altogether PRTG Network Monitor does a lot more than track the performance of networks and connected devices. As network managers delve deeper into the product’s capabilities, they will find much more to it.
The ability to script specific actions and create custom sensors turns PRTG into a viable network management platform for numerous use cases, including managing the forthcoming deluge of new IoT devices running on enterprise networks.
The exponential growth of network services, such as VOIP, means that PRTG may well become the one-stop solution for all small and midsize enterprises’ network monitoring needs.
What’s more, the simplicity and ease of use will undoubtedly bring network management capabilities to network managers trying to work in existing environments where reliable performance information is scarce and hard to come by.