If you’re a Windows administrator who is intrigued by the interoperability of existing web-based monitoring systems but put off by their difficulty of configuration, you’ll have to check out FrameFlow.
I have been a Windows administrator for eight years and currently focus on Group Policy, backup, and IIS/Apache administration.
Developed to run on Windows, FrameFlow offers out-of-the-box web-based administration and reporting without tedious config files or a hefty price tag. Unlike other Windows monitoring products, FrameFlow does not utilize any client software to perform status checks, supplanting tedious client installation/patching with existing monitoring frameworks like WMI. Administrators are not limited to monitoring only Windows hosts, either: FrameFlow can handle Linux and BSD hosts with relative ease. Let’s take a quick look at the features FrameFlow has to offer.
FrameFlow – Main window
The FrameFlow Startup Wizard
After you install FrameFlow and navigate to the server’s web address (by default, it is bound to all IPv4 addresses on your machine at port 8080), you will be greeted by the FrameFlow startup wizard. The first thing you will notice about FrameFlow is that although it is a web-based product, it is very slick and polished: it almost feels like a desktop app. The startup wizard is no exception and guides you through the process of locating/adding hosts and providing credentials to set up the default host event monitors. Particularly useful is the host finder utility, which can scan your subnet to find available hosts for monitoring.
FrameFlow Startup Wizard
More advanced users may require the SNMP, website, and database monitoring features to be configured in the startup wizard as well. For example, you can add your client or employee-facing websites, SQL Server instances, or other host-services to be added to the list for total peace of mind, though some of these options require paid add-ons to work.
Navigating around the FrameFlow interface
The FrameFlow interface is divided into two main areas: a navigation pane and a content area. The navigation pane, located on the left, provides you quick access to all of your dashboards, hosts, monitors, events, reports, tools, and settings. The designers provided right-click context menus for all of the navigation items, allowing you to quickly add a host, edit a dashboard, or view a report, among many other options. Savvy admins will appreciate the dashboards, which can be configured to provide an “executive summary” of infrastructure according to your top priorities.
For example, if availability is your largest concern, you could create an “availability dashboard” that simply provided status for host uptime status. Similarly, if you were managing a group of IIS hosts, you would configure a dashboard that checked for IIS errors in the Windows Event Logs – something that is possible without ever touching the client’s configuration.
Network Device view
Other navigation options provide a more in-depth look at the different objects in the monitoring suite. The Network Device view displays all of the hosts and their respective event monitors, events and statuses. You can add new hosts (devices), remove hosts, and re-configure your hosts in this view. A typical use of the Network Device view is adding device-specific credentials to non-domain hosts, like Linux servers.
FrameFlow – Event Monitoring
Configuring new event monitors is relatively straightforward – use the event monitors view to add, edit, or delete monitors of your choosing. The usual suspects (ping, Windows Event Log, etc) are configured by default for convenience but you are free to add custom monitors or modify the default monitors. For example, you may want to increase the “warning” latency if you know that you connect to a particular host on a high-latency connection.
Reporting in FrameFlow
FrameFlow’s reporting module makes generating expressive reports a breeze. In other monitoring solutions the reporting options are either easy to configure but hard to extend or the other way around. The developers of FrameFlow seem to have found a happy middle ground in the Report Builder tool, which allows admins to connect a specific report to a set of sorting and filtering criteria. For instance, you can configure the “System Health Bandwidth Usage” report to be run only on certain host groups, within an interesting date range, and sorted by date. You can also choose to have these reports automatically emailed to your team to deliver critical information in a timely manner.
Observations and conclusions
As a Nagios administrator, I see some similarities between FrameFlow and Nagios. Both feature a web-based interface, powerful reporting/notification options, and a similar object model. I felt at ease when initially configuring the FrameFlow instance. However, there are some substantive differences between FrameFlow and open-source offerings like Nagios.
Unlike Nagios, FrameFlow is a Windows-based solution. You will need a Windows machine to run the server. While it is true that you can access the web-based interface from any platform, it is clear that the configuration options – particularly regarding event monitors – are tailored towards Windows infrastructure. For admins like myself who monitor almost exclusively Windows infrastructure this is not a problem, but others may find Linux offerings more satisfying. Like many Windows-oriented products, FrameFlow is much easier to configure than its Linux/BSD counterparts. I would argue that this ease of configuration is its best selling point. You can expend your efforts solely focused on creating an optimal configuration rather than learning an obscure syntax for another monitoring system.
Finally, it’s important to reiterate that FrameFlow is free. However, the extensions for FrameFlow are not. These “Add-Ons,” such as “Virtual Machine Pack” and “Database Monitoring Pack,” are available for a la carte purchase. Depending on your infrastructure needs they may warrant a look, but remember that Icinga and Nagios are both free and open source. As a result they already have active extensions and a community of users who are eager to help (though sometimes for the right price). If you can afford to purchase the necessary add-ons, work in a primarily Windows environment, and like to make your life easy, you should definitely add FrameFlow to your monitoring product shortlist. After all, it’s free, so what do you have to lose?