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"Download to monitoring in 8 minutes!" This ad copy appears on the PA Server Monitor home page. In today's product review, I will put that claim to the test.
Power Admin, a US-based independent software vendor, develops a number of cross-platform server management utilities. Of these, PA Server Monitor is their flagship product. PA Server Monitor makes several architecture and administrative goals attainable for businesses. These include:
- Distributed server monitoring across firewalls by using industry-standard network protocols (SSL/TLS in particular)
- Robust privacy in which all monitored data remains on-premises in your datacenter(s)
- Diverse management protocols (RPC, SNMP, Syslog) to accommodate different OS platforms
- Centralized management interface with desktop, web, and mobile form factors
- Affordable and flexible licensing model
With no further ado, let's get started!
PA Server Monitor deployment notes
First off, consider downloading the PA Server Monitor 30-day trial. I like that users are not required to provide credit card information in order to take advantage of the trial. The trial unlocks the Ultra (top-tier) product version, so you can enable all monitors and even their Satellite Monitoring Service.
Speaking of which, take a look at the following architectural diagram and I'll walk you through how simple the deployment of the PA Server Monitor is:
Within a single site, you need only one PA Server Monitor Central Monitoring Service (CMS) instance, although you can deploy redundant instances and configure automatic failover to provide monitoring infrastructure fault tolerance.
To "stretch" your monitoring environment across firewall and geographical lines, you can install the Satellite Monitoring Service (SMS) on a host at a remote site and point the SMS instance to your CMS. In this topology, the SMS host forwards monitoring data for those managed hosts to the Central Monitoring Service, all using encrypted HTTPS with consequently minimal edge firewall configuration.
Note that PA Server Monitor is a Windows application, although it can monitor non-Windows operating systems.
On my Windows Server 2019 domain member server, PA Server Monitor installation took all of 45 seconds. As you can see in the next screenshot, you can install a combination of three key services:
- CMS: This is your monitoring infrastructure "hub."
- Console User Interface: This is the management UI that you can install on your administrative workstation.
- SMS: Naturally, you can't have the CMS and the SMS installed on the same host.
The next screenshot shows you can choose to use a local SQLite database or an external SQL Server instance.
Discover hosts and configure monitoring policy
Next, fire up the console UI and log in. You are prompted to run the Startup Wizard, which performs the following tasks:
- Set service accounts. You can provide a wide variety of service authentication credentials here, including Windows, SNMP, SSH, VMware ESX, and IPMI.
- Configure email alerting. Naturally, you provide the hostname of your SMTP mail server to ensure PA Server Monitor can send you and your team alert notifications.
- Specify log file action. Determine how you want to configure the monitoring log file PA Server Monitor will write to.
- Run Smart Config. We will run this operation next to discover hosts and "wire them up" with monitors.
Take a look at the following Smart Config dialog box and I'll explain each of its steps.
- Specify a hostname and/or IP address list here; check the PA Server Monitor documentation to learn about all input possibilities.
- Auto Configuration automatically enables certain monitors depending on the services PA Server Monitor detects on your hosts.
- Device Type Detection gives PA Server Monitor a "heads up" on which platforms to be on the lookout for during device discovery.
- After PA Server Monitor finishes discovery, you can, of course, add, edit, or remove any monitors added during Auto Configuration.
Once again, I need to stress there is absolutely no agent software involved. Instead, PA Server Monitor relies upon native server management protocols.
To illustrate device discovery and auto configuration, the next screenshot shows that PA Server Monitor recognized my VM1 host as an Active Directory Domain Services domain controller as well as an IIS web server.
I added the "Tim Warner" bit in the previous screenshot—branding customization is one of the features of the paid license tier. Also, selecting a host gives you a nice dashboard view.
Configuring monitors and actions
To maximize your monitoring flexibility, you can configure monitors by editing their template as opposed to tweaking their properties on a per-host basis. In the console UI, open the Servers/Devices list and select a monitor. For example, let's say we want to customize the Active Directory Login Monitor.
Each monitor has its own thresholds and properties. In the following screenshot, you can see that my Active Directory Login Monitor triggers an alert whenever an Active Directory group is modified.
Now you need to decide what happens when PA Server Monitor detects an alert condition. That's what actions are. In the previous screenshot, notice the Actions button on the right side of the interface.
Look at the next interface screenshot. You create actions from the PA Server Monitor Global Action List (there are a bunch of action types to choose from—check the docs for specifics), and move them to the Error Actions (run in the order shown) list.
Thus, in my example, whenever an Active Directory login alert occurs, PA Server Monitor pops up a message box on my system and sends me an email notification.
Here, I'll show you a representative message box alert on my Windows 10 administrative workstation.
Navigate to the Reports tab in the PA Server Monitor admin console. Here, you can generate ad-hoc reports, configure scheduled report generation, or view previously created reports.
PA Server Monitor creates HTML reports by default. Open them in an external browser by locating the report URL at the bottom of the interface. You can also instruct PA Server Monitor to export the report to Adobe PDF format as well.
As I mentioned above, Power Admin has a flexible licensing model for PA Server Monitor. Specifically, they offer yearly subscription licenses as well as permanent, perpetual licenses.
PA Server Monitor is available in four editions: Free, Lite, Pro, and Ultra. As you might expect, the difference between the four editions concerns the maximum number of features, monitors, actions, and reports you can have.
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In summary, I like how "no nonsense" PA Server Monitor is. Power Admin took quite a few top-shelf features—automatic failover, multi-site monitoring, agentless design—and rolled them into a lightweight, reasonably cost-effective solution.