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Tuesday, 15 March 2022 14:26

PRTG lets your IT ops teams rest easy knowing they can monitor everything they need

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If you have a network of any size, no matter if cloud, on-premises, or hybrid, there’s no question you need Paessler’s PRTG Network Monitor.

iTWire previously looked at PRTG in-depth seven years ago; at that time we said PRTG allows a sysadmin to plan their day around the product’s notifications, and it gives executives transparency into where money should be spent on the network.

Fast forward to today and Paessler's PRTG is even more valuable than ever. The cloud is both the “new normal,” and it is here to stay. In a world where we can spin up and down elastic services from multiple public clouds, where our applications span the globe - perhaps running on AWS or Azure but consuming data from Snowflake or Google BigQuery, and firing off events to SalesForce or Microsoft Dynamics.

Our corporate infrastructure has grown both in size and in distance. Gone are the days when all the servers you managed were confined to either a physical location or to a wide area network totally within your company’s perimeter. Similarly, gone are the days where you could probably rattle off your organisation’s servers and networks from memory - or at the very least, you had a close idea in your head. Instead, today’s networks are vastly larger and more complex with a myriad of dependencies and interconnected parts. This is further boosted by the modern application architecture of container-based microservices vs. monolithic applications of the past.

Ok, that's a lot of words all to say if you don’t have an enterprise network monitoring tool, no matter your size, you truly need one and PRTG is a no-brainer. It’s proven the test of time, it supports a wide range of sensors, it includes a no-commitment, free 30-day trial, and it’s even free forever for up to 100 sensors.

If you're not familiar with PRTG its fundamental purpose is to keep you abreast of anything on your network you need to know about - server uptime, disk space, DNS server outages, web application performance, and many, many things. PRTG allows you to list all the devices, servers, networks, applications, even IoT equipment, that lives on your network - or elsewhere on the Internet - that is significant to you. You can group them in meaningful ways, add sensors to any item to report on what matters, view history and trends, drill down into what something is, and ultimately keep your eye on what’s happening.

Something goes down? A well-organised PRTG setup will show you exactly what, and importantly, what else. When the Managing Director calls and asks why he can’t send an email your trusty PRTG console will show you everything that’s affecting it; DNS, switches, routers, Internet providers, mail hosts, and more. Actually, your MD may not even need to call you because you’ll already be on top of it.

This is all the power PRTG gives you; it places you in control and gives the freedom to be proactive in managing your infrastructure - instead of being reactive, responding to ill-defined user tickets and trying to chase your own tail.

When PRTG speaks of a sensor it means a specific item you can report on. The list of sensors is enormous. We’re talking disk space, ping, time to accept a request on a port, SNMP traffic, SSL/TLS certificate health, bandwidth, IMAP health, NetFlow traffic, SNMP information, AWS EC2 performance, AWS RDS performance, Azure subscription cost, WSUS statistics, WMI metrics, VMware and Hyper-V info, Veeam details, Oracle and MySQL database details, and so, so much more. NetApp, Cisco, Dell, and other devices are supported. Linux, macOS and Windows are supported. If there is some piece of information you need to know about a device then PRTG will give it to you. It provides flexible options to add your own business process sensor too.

PRTG AddSensor

We know that what gets measured gets improved, but in short, what you need to measure can be measured with PRTG.

In fact, the list of sensors is so expansive it includes smart building infrastructure and low-powered wide-area networking, or LPWAN. While my own experience with PRTG has been more traditional computing infrastructure the product supports smart buildings, connected cities, agricultural and industrial equipment equally well, so long as it can be networked. Suddenly your PRTG environment is no longer all about application uptime, but building mould and leaks too.

Now, whether you're using PRTG for on-premises, cloud, hybrid, industrial technology, operational technology, computing infrastructure, IoT, building state monitoring, or anything else, iTWire advises you to think about your PRTG setup so you can extract the most value. With a good setup, it becomes a powerful tool that minimises noise and puts meaningful, actionable insights at your fingertips.

For example, when you first launch PRTG it will helpfully probe your network for you, finding the devices it can. You can give it a hand by providing credentials such as an administrative login. However, while PRTG will make its best efforts to find all your devices and organise them into a hierarchy it might not do this in the way that makes the most sense for you.

In my case, PRTG identified my Synology DS1621+ NAS as a Linux-based system and grouped it with other PCs, whereas I’d organise it elsewhere. PRTG also noted my DNS servers were Google’s 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 and duly went out probing those DNS servers for helpful sensors. That’s reasonable; DNS response time is important, but other aspects of those DNS servers I have no visibility of, given they belong to Google. PRTG also creates some hierarchy slots for VMware and Hyper-V hosts whether it identifies some or not, and you might like to tidy these up. PRTG also groups printers together, while potentially you might like to organise items by department - including client PCs, printers, and other devices.

These are largely trivial things; none of that is bad in any way and it is helpful that PRTG gives you a starting point. However, what is important is to ensure you make your PRTG set up your own.

For example, PRTG's emails will include the hostname of the PRTG probe device. If you’re running on an AWS EC2, or an Azure Compute VM or something else of this ilk the chances are your hostname is a lengthy, random series of letters and numbers. Do yourself a favour; go into your PRTG email settings and adjust the subject line so it is simpler and meaningful. You want the subject line to be punchy and to-the-point helping you know at a glance what’s wrong.

Similarly, group your devices in ways that make sense to you. Organise core infrastructure items together, organise departments, or organise networks - whatever is your preference. Advantages of doing this are you get a more insightful display via PRTG’s clever “map” feature - a visual display of your infrastructure radiating out from the core to the edge components, as well as being able to leverage inheritance. You can set permissions on different parts of your hierarchy so sysadmins see some items, developers some others, technicians something else, DBAs another part, and so on. Then, with a simple click or two, your permissions roll down the hierarchy you’ve built. Additionally, you can direct email alerts to the most relevant people or teams.

PRTG Groups

I say all of this to help reduce noise; if you’re getting constant chatter from PRTG with incomprehensible subject lines and for devices you have no control over then it’s more likely you skip over or ignore the messages that are important to you. I’ve sadly seen this happen too many times. I will never forget the time I discovered backups were failing and when I checked with the sysadmin if he was getting alerts he admitted he created an email rule to automatically file all the Backup Exec notifications. He had a folder with hundreds of daily emails, all marked unread, and showing day after day there was a problem - but it was being ignored. It horrified and disappointed me. From that day on I made the rule that all system-generated alerts must be clear, must be meaningful, and must be relevant. Either we create alerts that say the right thing and go to the right people - or simply disable them. If the alerts aren’t going to be read, because they’ve become noise, then at least save the email traffic. Of course, the best option is to have alerts that identify the problem, its source, and go to the correct audience. Thus, I urge you to do this with PRTG - and what’s great is you can! Simply use the various options available to you, both in the global settings and at the hierarchy level.

PRTG Settings

Similarly, rename devices or applications to use appropriate descriptors, instead of leaving them at the default where the IP address is reused as the label. Use icons to visually depict your nodes by purpose or vendor. PRTG provides a suite of icons for Synology, Sony, HP, and more.

PRTG SynologyNAS

While PRTG supports monitoring different operating systems it does require an x86/x64 Windows-based machine to run on. You could run it on your own desktop or a VM on your desktop if you so want. Besides that, you can view it via the web, or via smartphone or tablet apps. You can use PRTG from your desk or while roaming.

If your environment is spread over networks you might find it helpful to install remote probes which will then report back to your core PRTG installation. These remote probes can connect data behind a firewall and also collect data even if the network may be down. The data will be reported to the main server when online again. You can appreciate this gives you continuity during an outage, but what also deserves to be appreciated is you get back real insights into what happened on the other side during an outage. Imagine something going wrong at a remote location and being able to go back in time and see it from that side to analyse it? PRTG’s remote probes give you that capability.

I said at the beginning you need a network monitor; the network is too critical, too intricate, too expansive to leave fault-finding and health checks to manual work. In that sense, you could think any old network monitor will do the trick but that’s no good either; if your network monitor is unreliable, is slow, can’t handle all the possible types of infrastructure or applications you manage, and doesn’t allow you to customise your alerts then it’s not adding value. Such a tool will be noisy and frustrating at worst, or ignored and useless at best.

Here’s where PRTG comes in; it’s a tried-and-test, highly popular, highly versatile, flexible, customisable monitoring tool that can support whatever you do. With a 30 day free trial you can set it up in minutes without risk or commitment. Check it for yourself, spend some time setting it up to your liking, and then sit back and breathe easy. You can sleep at night knowing nothing happens on your network without you knowing about it.

Download PRTG here.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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