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Not too many Windows systems administrators I know practice "inbox zero" or another solid email management strategy. The more typical approach I observe is the old "Put out any immediate fires, and get to the rest later." Of course, the problems with this, among many others, are that (a) you inevitably wind up losing important email messages as your inbox balloons in size and (b) you develop an overwhelm factor that makes it exponentially more difficult to dig yourself out of the hole.
I'm not even talking about incoming email messages from other humans. Instead, think of how many email notifications you receive from your network devices and services. Take a look at the following illustration and let me know if it looks familiar:
I've found that working in the smallest of IT shops still results in an almost unmanageable stack of device notifications. At best, I can eventually separate the wheat from the chaff. At worst, I miss important notifications and pay the professional price, to my and my users' detriment.
How CheckCentral works ^
Essentially, your CheckCentral subscription enables you use their service as an email gateway. Take a look at the following illustration, and I'll explain:
- Define a check by using the CheckCentral web console
- For each notification-enabled device, specify a unique CheckCentral email address as its notification target
- CheckCentral captures and classifies all incoming notifications from your devices
- Based on rules that you set up, CheckCentral will notify you when something needs your attention.
You have a couple options to get started with CheckCentral:
- Play with the live demo
- Register a free Binary Fortress account and choose the Free subscription tier
I created my free subscription, so let me show you how to create and manage notification checks.
Creating our first check ^
Your account's Dashboard page uses negative space to present a simple user interface. Click Create new check to open the New Check page.
Let’s say you have a computer running Veeam Endpoint Backup and you want to monitor backups via email notifications. We'll get to that momentarily; first we'll define a corresponding CheckCentral check.
To create a check, specify the following six properties:
- Check information: The check name, group (container for this and related checks), frequency (scheduled or on-demand), and description. For this check, we expect the backup to run every day, so we set it as a daily check.
- Matching rules: The check-specific email address and any additional notification-matching criteria (for example, messages where the subject line includes 'PC1')
- Status: Classify the notification message as Success, Warning, or Failure by default
- Warning rules: Message properties that change the notification's status from Default to Warning
- Failure rules: Message properties that change the notification's status from Default to Failure
- Notifications: How you'd like to receive Failure and Warning messages from CheckCentral (email, push notifications, text/SMS message). One of the great things about CheckCentral is that it will notify you if an expected email notification doesn’t arrive when it’s supposed to. If this backup job doesn’t run, CheckCentral will let you know.
The "check-specific email address" I mentioned bears a little further discussion. You'll assign a unique CheckCentral email address for each of your checks. For example, if my organization name is 4sysops1 and I created a check called 'PC1 Daily Backup,' then my check-specific email address would be firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaking of which, if you now open Veeam Endpoint Backup control panel and set your CheckCentral email address as an alert target. As you can see in the following screenshot, Veeam is configured to generate an email no matter the outcome of the backup. Also, as long as you’re sending an email to your CheckCentral email address, you can send mail directly to their SMTP server (mail.checkcentral.cc) which makes configuration a bit easier.
Managing your checks ^
You'll check three places to see your CheckCentral-managed notifications:
- The Web Dashboard to see your application checks
- Their mobile app
- Your email account to see messages from CheckCentral itself
I show you the dashboard here; it's got a nice, clean interface, as I mentioned earlier:
Once the backup ran, the email notification was sent to CheckCentral. Remember that the application alert email messages go to CheckCentral and not to you—that's the benefit of their service. Since this backup was a success, I didn’t receive any additional notifications in my own email inbox.
Of course, you can read the application alert email message if you want to. Select a check to see your check statistics page (shown in the next figure).
Next, click the alert link under Recent Activity to read the actual email message (shown in the next figure):
Head on over to the Notifications dashboard page to configure how much actual, honest-to-goodness email you receive from CheckCentral. You need a paid subscription to get SMS text alerts, but the free tier allows email & push notifications.
The email notification trigger options are as follows:
- Daily digest of check activity
- Failure alerts
- Warning alerts
- Unmatched check rule alerts
Closing details ^
Visit the CheckCentral Subscriptions page to compare features between the three subscription levels. I'll give you a nutshell summary here for your quick reference:
Subscribe to 4sysops newsletter!
- Free tier: Maximum of five checks, no SMS; no company support; one user
- Pro tier: Maximum of 25 checks, maximum of 50 SMS alerts/month, company support, one user, $7.99 USD/month
- Enterprise tier: Maximum of 150 checks, maximum of 300 SMS alerts/month, company support, 100 users, $29.99 USD/month
CheckCentral wrote dashboard apps for all the major mobile OS platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry. Also, check out their Discussions forum to get a handle on how other customers use the product and work past problems.