For some customers, notably small-to-medium businesses with no cloud presence, ManageEngine OpManager may present a simpler and less expensive server and network monitoring solution than Microsoft System Center.

Timothy Warner

Timothy Warner is a Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter Management Most Valuable Professional (MVP) who is based in Nashville, TN. Check out his Azure and Windows Server video training at Pluralsight, and feel free to reach out to Tim via Twitter.

We Windows systems administrators have many choices in terms of infrastructure monitoring. In Windows Server we have Event Logs and the IP Address Management (IPAM) role, among other built-in tools.

We can take the step to deploy some or all of the Microsoft System Center products, but you may already know that these products (a) are expensive; (b) have a large, intrusive network footprint; and (c) can be resource-intensive.

Today I will introduce you to an alternative that may be a better fit for your infrastructure monitoring needs than a family of separate "point solutions." ManageEngine, a division of Zoho Corporation, offers OpManager, an agentless, extensible infrastructure monitoring solution that provides full-spectrum monitoring and alerting through the proverbial "single pane of glass."

What do I mean by "infrastructure monitoring," you ask? I mean that OpManager discovers, inventories, and reports on several types of network infrastructure components, including:

  • Switches, routers, firewalls
  • Virtualization hosts (Hyper-V and VMware)
  • Physical and virtual servers (Windows Server and Linux)
  • Storage arrays, including RAID enclosures and tape libraries

Let's get right to work, shall we?

Install the software ^

OpManager installation on my Windows Server 2016 domain member server took about two minutes. This is laughably faster than installing a single System Center product (nothing against them—I am a Microsoft specialist, after all!). According to the system requirements, OpManager runs on Windows Server, Windows Client, and several Linux distributions.

You manage OpManager through a modern web browser. By default, the application uses a Java HTTP web server front end backed by a PostgreSQL database (you can substitute SQL Server if you wish).

By default the OpManager web portal uses unsecure HTTP, but it's easy enough to enable SSL/TLS. At first launch, you see the Getting Started dialog shown in the next figure; this sums up the product configuration process quite nicely, I think.

OpManager administration portal

OpManager administration portal

Speaking of configuration, let me walk you through how to inventory your environment.

Configure monitoring ^

Setting up OpManager to monitor your network involves the following steps:

  • Create credentials
  • Discover network devices
  • Add monitors

First, we need to supply OpManager with the credentials necessary to authenticate to your target devices. Remember that OpManager is agentless, so it will communicate using industry-standard protocols such as the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI).

As you can see in following figure, you define these credentials from the Settings > Discovery > Credentials page in the portal; each credential falls into one of nine predefined categories.

Defining credentials in OpManager

Defining credentials in OpManager

Cool. Now it's time to turn OpManager loose on your network to perform device discovery. You have four options for how you do this:

  • IP address
  • IP address range
  • Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) block
  • Comma-separated value (CSV) file import

I want to make two points regarding the discovery process. First, you specify which network interface types you want to include in your inventory. For example, you may want to include Ethernet wired (IEEE 802.3), Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11), and storage area network (SAN) interfaces in your management scope.

Second, you can run the discovery process on a recurring schedule. This is important to ensure you pick up any newly provisioned network devices over time. I show you the Discovery interface in the next figure.

Creating an inventory job in OpManager

Creating an inventory job in OpManager

Once you have your device inventory, it's time to customize the monitors (what I think of as "sensors" or "signal logic") that OpManager uses to report on those devices. OpManager truly shines in this area. Specifically, OpManager uses an extensible architecture in which you can purchase add-ons that cover device types not included in the box.

Some of these add-ons and plug-ins include the following:

  • Flow Analysis: Provides in-depth network traffic analysis
  • Network Configuration Management: Monitors network changes, configurations, and compliance management
  • Switch Port and IP Address Management: Track your IP address usage and report on switch status to the port level
  • VoIP Monitor: Reports on Voice over IP (VoIP) call-quality metrics
  • Firewall log analysis: Monitors firewall policies and analyzes anomalous incidents
  • Application Monitoring: Integration with enterprise line-of-business (LOB) systems such as Oracle, SAP, and WebSphere

OpManager can also link into your service desk solutions such as HP OpenView, BMC Remedy, or ServiceNow by means of standard Representational State Transfer (REST) application programming interface (API) integrations.

Anyway, back on task—configuring monitors. As you can see in the next figure, OpManager pulls hardware and software metrics, services, file system objects, and more from your monitored systems. You then associate specific monitors with selected managed devices. Keep in mind that it does all of this without an agent!

Configuring device monitors

Configuring device monitors

You now can examine your managed devices through several predefined views in the OpManager console. Because my test environment is so small, let me share a screenshot from ManageEngine's free, live demo environment so you can see a higher-impact dashboard.

A representative OpManager dashboard

A representative OpManager dashboard

Configure fault monitoring/alerting ^

Before we configure alerts, we need to list our preferred Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) server by visiting the Settings > Basic Settings > Mail server settings page in the OpManager console. Having done that, we are ready to create what ManageEngine calls a notification profile. Take a look at the following screen capture, and I will explain what's involved.

Creating a notification profile in OpManager

Creating a notification profile in OpManager

Profile type: As you can see in the previous screenshot, you have a lot of flexibility in terms of whom you want OpManager to notify and even what automation actions the tool should perform automatically when an alert trigger fires

Criteria: The monitors for which you've configured threshold levels to trigger a fault and alert

Device Selection: The device category and/or individual devices you want to target in the notification profile

Schedule: By default the profile remains always active; however, you can delay its start or have it reactivate on a schedule

Pricing and wrap-up ^

ManageEngine offers OpManager in three editions: Free, Essential, and Enterprise. The pricing is based not only on edition but how many devices you want to manage. For instance, the Free edition limits you to 10 devices, a single administrative user, and complete monitoring functionality. Contact ManageEngine for a personalized quote if you're interested.

In sum, I have no problem recommending ManageEngine OpManager to my consulting clients who fit the following general profile characteristics:

  • Small-to-medium-sized organizations. Although you can use OpManager in the enterprise, its lower price point is particularly attractive to smaller businesses.
  • Businesses with exclusively on-premises network infrastructure. Much of the core network monitoring assumes a physical network infrastructure; cloud support can be added with its Applications Monitoring plug-in.
  • Time- and resource-constrained IT departments. OpManager is far simpler to deploy, use, and manage than larger, distributed products such as the System Center family.

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