Paessler, with the release of PRTG Network Monitor Version 9, is looking to keep ahead of the competition in the ever-evolving world of network monitoring tools.
About a year ago, I took an in-depth look at Version 8 of PRTG and was quite impressed with the product, which left little room for improvement. While there were some minor nits to pick, I found it to be a solid tool overall.
With that in mind, I approached V9 with some trepidation, wondering whether Paessler did indeed improve the product or if it had fallen victim to the all too common phenomena of software bloat and feature de-evolution. In other words, many software products seem to suffer from the problem where a new release does little to improve the underlying product, and in some cases a product update actually removes features or limits the functionality of the software.
V9 of PRTG Network Monitor proved to be a significant revision of the product, though users of previous versions will find that the overall usage paradigm remains much the same, especially from an operational view, save for the fact that V9 is easier to use and does more than V8 in the form of what is monitored.
A Closer Look
PRTG V9 comes to the table chock-full of enhancements. Some are geared toward usability, others toward enhanced data collection, while still others focus on ease of scale. Paessler has published a short list of enhancements:
- A completely redesigned, interactive Web interface featuring a customizable tree view display and individual libraries for improved at-a-glance monitoring and drag-and-drop ease for moving and cloning sensors
- A new Enterprise Console designed specifically for larger installations to monitor multiple PRTG installations, ideal for managed service providers (MSPs) or geographically dispersed operations
- Simplified user management with Active Directory integration
- Support for Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) across all applicable sensor types, including Packet Sniffer, and the ability to use auto-discovery in IPv6 networks
- New wizard for manually adding sensors as well as dedicated hardware sensors for selected vendors, such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and APC
- Automatic download of PRTG updates to ensure administrators can always install the latest release with two mouse clicks.
That short list of improvements hides the real value offered by V9. I found that there are other significant enhancements, which will make an administrator’s life much easier.
Perhaps the best place to start is with an explanation of what PRTG is all about, something that should prove to be useful to those new to the product, and also refresh the memories of those who have looked at PRTG in the past.
PRTG is a network-monitoring product that has been optimized to enable administrators to monitor network devices across heterogeneous networks, both large and small. The product uses what could basically be described as a client-server model, where a monitoring (and reporting) application is run from a central console, while sensors connect to the various devices on the network to gather information.
The cool thing about PRTG’s sensors is that they require no installation on the endpoint, a sharp contrast to products that use agents, which must be hand-installed on each device to be monitored. Sensors work hand in hand with PRTG’s probes, which automatically query the various devices on the network, including switches, firewalls and servers, regardless of whether those devices are physical or virtual. Simply put, sensors monitor the devices without administrators having to install any additional software on the target systems.
That amounts to a management platform that gives administrators insight into how the network is operating, provides them with the ability to take a proactive approach to maintaining network health, and keeps them apprised of any potential problems on the network. Simply put, PRTG is a tool that helps administrators monitor, troubleshoot, manage and balance network operations.
One of the first things I noticed was the improved installation procedure. Installation, which wasn’t that complex with PRTG V8, has been further simplified, allowing administrators to spend more time on the more important aspects of the product, as opposed to spending the day with installation issues. The installation questions have been reduced, as have the number of installation screens, and the language in the installation questions is now much clearer. As with V8, V9 includes its own Web server application and data storage capabilities, eliminating the need to set up those elements on other systems.
Other noticeable changes include an updated interface, which, thanks to a redesigned GUI, sports a cleaner, easier to understand look. However, users of previous versions will still feel right at home, as much of the terminology remains the same, making the transition from PRTG V8 to V9 that much easier, while ensuring that the product remains easy to use for the newly minted network administrator.
One of the most notable enhancements is the product’s new Enterprise Console, which does a good job of rolling up multiple servers, network segments and so on into a manageable single pane of glass view of the overall network. The console provides the ability to drill down into a particular device with just a few mouse clicks or quickly perform operations that can be inclusive across multiple servers.
The Enterprise Console should prove to be a useful tool for those offering infrastructure hoteling, as well as those looking to offer MSP-like services, where multiple entities need to be kept separate, but monitored as a whole.
That leads us to another major enhancement of the product-the ability to monitor more devices than ever and more things about those devices. For example, PRTG now includes a much larger subset of WMI sensors, including WMI Physical Disk, WMI Security Center and a WMI-based Windows Scheduled Task reporting element. Also worth noting is the inclusion of additional sensors for Linux and Unix servers, as well as the ability to monitor services such as DHCP, DNS, Websites and so on.
The enhanced sensors go hand in hand with improved monitoring capabilities-administrators can now monitor IPv6 elements, such as HTTP, SNMP, ICMP and WMI. In addition, the product now supports the ability to run a packet sniffer on IPv6 traffic, which will surely be a handy tool for those troubleshooting the transition to IPv6 in their data centers.
PRTG also offers the ability to create custom sensors that allow administrators to include devices that are not natively supported. However, most devices on the market are well-covered, and having to create a custom sensor may be a rarity for typical network monitoring chores.
Speaking of customization, V9 now includes the ability to create customized device tree libraries. In other words, administrators can now design a treelike structure that groups monitored elements together in a fashion that best suits the needs of the administrator. That library approach lends itself well to task division, as well as defining monitored groups, which in turn becomes a valuable capability for those pursuing roles-based administration.
Roles-based administration is further enhanced with integration to Active Directory, where a single sign-on approach can be used to define what an administrator can and can’t do with PRTG. That’s a good idea for those MSPs looking to grant administrative controls to particular customers while isolating their virtual infrastructure management from other customers.
Auto-Updating Saves Time
Those managing busy networks often have little time to spare managing their network management application. PRTG addresses that concern by incorporating auto-updating. Patches, updates and enhancements can now be automatically applied to PRTG V9, with little or no administrator action. That helps to keep the product up to date, while eliminating another thankless chore that administrators normally have to contend with on a network management product.
For administrators who have to deal with multiprotocol networks and quality-of-service (QoS) issues, PRTG has introduced enhanced QoS reporting, which now employs a two-way sensor that can calculate round-trip QoS between devices. That’s an important capability for those looking to meet the high-demand bandwidth needs of voice-over-IP (VOIP) and video conferencing solutions.
Rounding out the list of improvements is enhanced auto-discovery. PRTG V9 can now detect more devices automatically and can accomplish detection much quicker, which speeds up initial setup and makes it easier to find rogue devices on the network, an all-too-common occurrence now that the consumerization of IT has taken hold in the enterprise.
Paessler has taken what was already an excellent product and has made it better. I found it difficult to find any nits to pick with this new version of PRTG, and I found the upgrade process pretty easy, as well as the overall operation of PRTG. The new features add a great deal of value to the product, and the improved GUI makes monitoring and troubleshooting that much easier. The new sensors and related capabilities allow users to drill down much further into the operation of a device, while a comprehensive alerting system keeps them on top of the situation, allowing a network manager to be more proactive. In addition, the IPv6 capabilities help to future-proof the product and prepare administrators and network managers for the onslaught of IPv6-based products that are expected to arrive on the market.
What’s more, Paessler has incorporated all of these enhancements and improvements without increasing the price of the product, making what was once a very good value an even better one. That value is further increased by the incorporation of IPv6 capabilities, which will become a key need for enterprise administrators and network managers as the industry adopts more and more IPv6 products.