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Toolbox: New products for IT professionals

These two systems-monitoring products give you a sweeping view of network operations, right down to system-level details.

Greg Steen

LogicMonitor

Knowing there’s a problem before anyone else is essential to being an IT superstar. You need top-to-bottom systems and application monitoring. You need a constant view of CPU usage and disk space. You need to fully understand the services and applications installed on your systems. It’s the only way to move from reactive to proactive.

There are numerous application-monitoring solutions out there, but one that takes over the act of administering the monitoring solution itself is the hosted “Monitoring as a Service” from LogicMonitor Inc. Instead of installing a complete monitoring platform, LogicMonitor installs one or more “collectors.” These gather data from your servers inside the firewall. Then they securely transmit that data to your datacenter for analysis and alerting.

You can deploy a collector to a Windows or Linux machine behind your firewall. Each collector can handle hundreds of hosts, although the final amount will depend on the frequency and number of monitors you create for those hosts. For redundancy, scalability or geographic dependency, you can install multiple collectors that report back to the same LogicMonitor account. If a collector loses contact with LogicMonitor, it will buffer monitoring data locally and send it when connectivity is restored.

Once you’ve set up your collectors, you’ll do all configuration, administration and reporting via the LogicMonitor Web site. The site has six main tabs: Hosts, Services, Alerts, Reports, Dashboards and the ubiquitous Settings. The Hosts tab is where you administer your machines. Adding a host is a simple, wizard-driven process. It will automatically probe the target and add monitors for any services it finds, from SQL Server, IIS and Exchange to Apache and Solr. It will also check standard CPU, memory, disk, network and general host health.

You can group your hosts into multiple levels for easier access. Clicking on a host group will show you the applicable monitors for that group in a single view. So you can check on your Web servers or database servers at once, for example. Clicking on an individual host will show you all monitors for that host. When clicking on a host or host group, you’ll also see any relevant alerts. You can acknowledge the alert, add notes or change the alert threshold. You can categorize alerts as warnings, errors or critical alerts so you can prioritize and take appropriate action.

Adding a new monitor to a host takes a little getting used to, but it becomes routine once you get the pattern down. Besides setting up monitors, you can also schedule downtime for your hosts to ensure you don’t send false positives during standard maintenance windows. Under the Services tab, you can add external monitor checks for Web sites and ping checks. The Web site checks can chain request responses and check for text within the response to verify your site is up and running.

The Alerts tab lets you filter your view of all alerts. You can filter views by alert type, host group, service, data source or alert state. Here you can also acknowledge alerts, add notes or jump to the host that triggered the alert to check its current condition. You can download Alerts tab data for reuse or auto-refresh.

On the Reports tab, you can create reports on alerts, hosts and services, and save them. You can also generate service-level agreement (SLA) reports on availability. You can generate reports in PDF, HTML or CSV file formats.

The Dashboards tab lets you create custom views of your monitoring data. You can have multiple dashboards with various views including charts and graphs. If you create multiple dashboards, you can have the site auto-rotate the boards, which is great for your Network Operations Center (NOC) screen. On the Settings tab, you can configure users and roles, collectors, alert templates, rules and escalation chains; create batch jobs and network scans for new hosts; and see your account information.

One significant feature of the Monitoring as a Service application is the integrated chat. During normal business hours, you can chat directly with a LogicMonitor engineer, who can guide you through setting up or tailoring the system to your needs. If the LogicMonitor engineers aren’t online, you can e-mail your request from within the site so you don’t have to break your workflow.

Pricing for LogicMonitor starts at $20 a host for five hosts per month with price-per-host discounts as you increase volume. For example, monitoring 200-299 hosts would run you a flat fee of $8 per host a month, and for 500-999 hosts it would be $5 a host per month. A “host” is defined as an IP address that you add to your account.

There’s a demo portal to preview LogicMonitor, as well as a free 14-day full-version trial available on the Web site. If you’re looking for a monitoring solution or are just tired of the overhead involved in maintaining your monitoring infrastructure, check out the Monitoring as a Service architecture from LogicMonitor.

LogicMonitor

Spiceworks

As an IT professional, you have to know what’s on your network, who’s using it and if there are any troubleshooting issues. One product that aims to help you cover all that is Spiceworks.

Spiceworks gives you inventory, auditing, monitoring and help desk ticket software in one package. The software is free, but makes its revenue showing you well-placed ads as you use the product. Setup is simple and installs with a few clicks on Windows. The interface to Spiceworks is browser-based, so you can connect from a remote host as well.

Spiceworks can scan your network and automatically gather details about devices and software, including desktops, switches, uninterruptible power supply (UPS), servers and even the number of Windows 8 machines. You can also direct the application to your Active Directory to gather metrics and details on the people and accounts in your system. Once you’ve completed a network scan, clicking on a device will show you all the details gathered, from manufacturer and asset tags to disk usage and memory installed.

For desktops and servers, you can see when the last reboot was, who was last to log in and what type of antivirus software is currently installed. You can also see every application installed on a computer along with its install date and version. You can associate licenses, add notes about devices and even attach applicable documents to the inventory record.

The help desk component of Spiceworks is integrated into the inventory component, so you can associate tickets with devices. The help desk ticketing system lets you create, assign and prioritize issues. Spiceworks can send and receive e-mail, so you can have your users create help desk tickets via e-mail as well. The help desk ticket views give you quick insight into open tickets, unassigned tickets, tickets that require purchases and statistics on all your tickets.

Spiceworks also has a built-in knowledge base, so you can create articles related to particular issues to help your staff. The purchasing feature of Spiceworks lets you maintain quote records, purchase lists and acquisitions. Requests for quotes for various products are sent out to up to five configurable vendors automatically, so you can get feedback and move on purchases more easily.

The advertisements within Spiceworks are definitely prevalent, but the application is free to use. There’s also a dedicated support staff and a hosted community site for exchanging ideas, accessing white papers, and staying up-to-date on trends and new products. Other Spiceworks community features include the Script Center, which has hundreds of administration scripts for everything from virtualization and monitoring to file manipulation in various languages and for various platforms. There’s also a community-driven “How-To” section you can search if you’re looking for something particular.

If you’re missing a key component of your systems administration or if you’re paying too much for too little, check out the ad-supported Spiceworks platform as a possible solution to any or all of your inventory, auditing, license management, help desk ticketing and general monitoring software needs.

Spiceworks

Greg Steen
Greg Steen is a technology professional, entrepreneur and enthusiast. He’s always on the hunt for new tools to help make operations, QA and development easier for the IT professional.

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