How to Choose the Right Network Monitoring Solution


Untold revenue is lost when a business' network slows down, much less suffers a network crash. That's why it's imperative to help your customers select the solution that most closely matches their needs. Here, Brinsa, Paessler's executive senior vice president, offers advice on how to help solution providers make the wisest possible network monitoring solution decision with their clients.—Jennifer Bosavage

A network crash, or even a slight slowdown, can cause business operations to come to a screeching halt. Idled partners and annoyed customers often curse under their collective breath as IT personnel scramble to restore function and minimize harm to a business’ reputation and bottom-line profitability. Long gone are the days when administrators can seamlessly transition to manual systems while repairs take place. Therefore, owners and managers must take every possible step to guard against network failure. Today’s ultra competitive environment makes a company’s choice of a network monitoring system among its most important business decisions. As a qualified reseller, you are a good starting point for those seeking advice.

While many options—based on company and infrastructure size, bandwidth and other technical factors—exist, network monitoring software must always ensure continuous connectedness among locations, clients and partners. It also must immediately alert both on- and off-site IT personnel to errors or malfunctions for quick intervention and repair. Not only does this prevent lengthy network outages, but also it frees network administrators to perform tasks other than keeping constant vigil over servers, PCs and applications.

Time is money. A recent survey found that nine out of 10 clients using network monitoring software record significant time savings, with 43 percent able to free IT personnel to perform three hours of other administrative tasks each week. Systems with comprehensive trend analysis functionality better measure bandwidth usage, CPU loads, and performance of physical and virtual servers, allowing staff to more systematically plan and provide for added resources.

Network monitoring solutions come in a variety of “flavors” and sizes, including, among others, open source software, so-called introductory solutions, specialized systems, enterprise network management software, and “all-in-one” packages. Because so many options exist, many IT teams prefer to purchase their monitoring solutions through their preferred reseller. Budget-constrained IT departments often choose open source software, sometimes overlooking their required implementation and configuration, as well as limited functionality. Introductory solutions provide basic functionality offerings, requiring the transition to higher performance software with system growth or a requirement for more stringent network monitoring. Advanced monitoring capabilities can include Flow-monitoring, packet sniffing and WMI, to name a few.

Systems addressing specific areas within a network are an option for companies focused primarily on such functions as monitoring high-performance cables in combination with broader solutions. These and introductory solutions serve as a building blocks leading up to more robust enterprise network management solutions, which have more powerful features and capabilities. Its overall complexity and steep licensing costs generally make it less palatable for mid-sized companies, as does the fact that its capabilities, functionality and usability in monitoring respects often pale in comparison to stand-alone network monitoring solutions.

All-in-one solutions use SNMP, packet sniffing, flow protocols, and WMI for bandwidth, performance and availability monitoring, and provide a wide selection of predefined ‘sensors’ to collect data from very different sources (SQL, FTP, http, Exchange, POP3, virtual servers, and VoIP connections among others). Those solutions are easy to install and include professional and reliable manufacturer support. Their scalable licenses accommodate growing network structures, but their price ranges can financially strap a company with unnecessarily high dollar investments.

Next: How companies can make the best network choice.
So, how can a company make the wisest possible network monitoring solution decision? IT administrators must first be familiar with their requirements and areas of application. It’s also useful to consult with a qualified reseller or service provider who is experienced in network monitoring and knows their customer’s network. Network monitoring software should free staff to perform useful tasks other than keeping a steadfast eye on infrastructure and all connected systems. Software selection ideally will also correspond to network size and what within it needs to be controlled, such as servers, switches and workplace computers and connections between these elements, to external locations and the Internet. Website and email communication must always be stringently monitored.

Network growth presents another important consideration. It’s always best to choose a monitoring solution flexible enough to accommodate growth, as well as for its ability to support the most common protocols and technologies given the fact that most networks are highly heterogeneous IT landscapes. Also, systems that support monitoring of remote locations or distributed networks inherently address eventual company growth.

For a long-term overview of operational trends and overall network performance, it is highly beneficial for IT personnel to choose software that both tracks and archives bandwidth, performance and availability data in detailed and clear graphs, reports and lists. Ready access to highly readable information highlight recognizable trends and serve as the foundation for required network improvements and changes.

In case of emergency, network monitoring alarms are essential for alerting personnel of existing errors and reached or crossed thresholds.

Irrespective of functionality or complexity, the best network monitoring systems are highly intuitive, user-friendly and feature clear and easily understood menus across Windows, Web and mobile interfaces.

Before making a final selection of a network monitoring solution, companies must assure that the vendor offers full transparency regarding costs, licensing and integrated upgrade options.

The most effective monitoring solutions support and protect networks, result in cost savings by enabling IT personnel to perform other tasks, and reveal otherwise unrecognizable optimization possibilities. However, only when they’re squarely attuned to overall network requirements can they be leveraged to their full potential.

As monitoring is often a new topic within a business, it’s advisable to consult with an experienced reseller or system vendor who not only helps one to find the best fitting tool, but who can also assist with implementation and setup of the new monitoring solution. Businesses should also be mindful not only of current operational requirements, but should also have an eye toward future needs.