gauge Network monitoring is certainly an essential part of any system administrator’s work. However, from my experience, it is often neglected. If your boss calls you because he can’t access his emails, it is already too late then. There are so many different monitoring tools out there that I find it very difficult to choose. There are various approaches to network monitoring. To a certain degree it is a matter of taste, but it also depends on your environment and on your work style to consider which tool suits best for you. I had a closer look at PacketTrap’s new version 2.0 of pt360 PRO. I was wondering before what “360” stands for. It became clear after a few minutes when I tried the tool.

Most monitoring tools I tried before focus mostly on notification and reporting methods. The problem I have with notifications is that they usually come when I am quite busy with something else. If it isn’t something urgent that requires my immediate attention, I push it aside until I have more time. But I never have more time. If you work as an admin, you most likely know what I am talking about.

dashboard_get_started_968x702 The central part of pt360 is its Dashboard. The term dashboard is often misused these days, but this one is a dashboard in its original sense. It gives you a great overview of the states of all essential servers and network devices. And you decide yourself what really is essential. That is, you can configure this dashboard to your own needs. With the new Network Discovery tool, you scan first your whole network environment to get an overview of all your devices. Then you decide which machines need permanent monitoring and add them to your Dashboard.

Basically, there are three kinds of instruments you can attach to your Dashboard: charts, gauges and lists. The “360” in pt360 supposedly is related to the gauges. And I must admit they are my favorite instruments. They don't only look cool, they are quite useful, too. You can measure a single performance counter with it, for instance the CPU load of a certain server. The charts display readings over a certain time period and the lists show a certain performance counter of multiple machines.

These are the instruments you can attach to your personal Dashboard: Active Directory (via WMI), availability (based on pings), CPU (via SNMP), disk utilization (via SNMP), memory (via SNMP), MS Exchange performance counters (via WMI), network interface performance (via SNMP), web viewer for another browser-based management tool or website (via HTTP), Windows performance counters (via WMI), and MS SQL Server performance counters (via WMI).

The instruments that are based on SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) can also monitor non-Windows devices supporting this protocol. WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation) is only for Windows machines, of course. What I like is that PacketTrap’s encrypted credential store consolidates Windows, SSH, FTP and SNMP credentials into a single location. This allows you to monitor devices and computers outside your own Windows domain easily.

If you always have the dashboard open, preferably on a second monitor, you get a feeling of what is normal for your network environment. Hint: Run in full screen mode. The load on your servers depends on many different parameters such as the time of the day, software updates, maintenance, projects, etc. This is why it is so difficult to define thresholds for notifications in advance. But like a good pilot, you know your machinery and can tell with just a glimpse on your dashboard if it’s all hunky-dory.

pt360_tool_suite When you see something suspicious or even alarming, you usually have to run further investigations to find the cause of the problem. That’s where the pt360 Tool Suite comes in. It is a collection of utilities that belongs in every network administrator’s tool box. Although you can get most of these tools for free, it is quite useful to have them all in one user interface. These tools are included in pt360 PRO: Ping Scan, SNMP Scan, DNS Audit, Port Scan, Enhanced Ping, Graphical Ping, WHOIS, WMI Scan, TraceRoute, Traffic Jam, TFTP Server, Wake on LAN, Syslog Server, Cisco config.

The names of the tools speak for themselves. Just let me explain the uncommon ones. Cisco config was added to the Tools Suite recently. It enables you to manage Cisco devices, i.e. you can download, upload, and archive configuration files. You can also recover a lost password with this tool. Enhanced Ping creates reports based on ping results, and Graphical Ping display the response time in a chart.

pt360_traffic_jamMy favorite tool, however, is Traffic Jam. It is a traffic generator that allows you to stress your network. Like humans, applications behave often differently under pressure. To make sure that your network is also able to cope with heavy loads, you can use Traffic Jam in the evening after work when no productive systems are endangered by your test.

There is not much to criticize about pt360. Even though I prefer continuous network monitoring over notification-based solutions, alerts and reports are certainly important features for every monitoring solution. The version I tested didn’t have these features, but PacketTrap announced that they will support alerts (mail, sms) and reports in April (free upgrade to all pt360 PRO users).

Other new features planned are Time Series Analysis (ability to keep key network data for periods of time as well as run reports on it), Switch Port Mapper (identify which devices are connected to each port on a switch/router), Cisco Netflow (visualizes the flow network traffic), VoIP Analyzer (provides performance statistics including MOS, jitter, network latency, packet loss, and other important QoS metrics).

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I tested pt360 PRO on Windows Server 2008 and encountered no problems. The usage is pretty straight forward. I checked the help file once or twice, but most of the features are self-explanatory. pt360 PRO costs $1,499. However, you get a discount of $200 if you buy it in March. There also is a free version, but it lacks many of the high value tools and the Dashboard feature which is certainly an essential part of pt360.


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