Review: PRTG Network Monitor v14 Simplifies Network Management
Version 14 of Paessler's PRTG Network Monitor eschews complexity for simplicity and almost makes network management fun.
Editor's Note: This review has been updated to include information on the October 28, 2014 extension of the freeware version of Paessler PRTG Network Monitor.
Managing a complex enterprise network is anything but simple, and many a network administrator has experienced sleepless nights trying to track down problems and solve issues within the network. Paessler aims to remove that trepidation and help administrators get some sleep with Version 14 of PRTG Network Monitor. PRTG Network Monitor v14 helps administrators get critical chores done quickly and easily, gaining peace of mind and hopefully some much-needed extra Zs at night.
A closer look at PRTG Network Monitor v14
PRTG Network Monitor v14 is a fully integrated network monitoring application that runs on a Windows PC and gathers information about network devices using common methods of data acquisition, such as SNMP, WMI, Packet Sniffing and Netflow. Paessler also includes sensors and probe-based technology to gather information for more than 200 network services, such as Ping, HTTP, SMTP, POP3, and FTP.
Probes help differentiate Paessler's offering from the plethora of network management products on the market today. Simply put, a sensor is a monitoring entity, while a probe is a Windows service that gathers data from devices using sensors. Probes send data to the PRTG server for recording, analysis, and auditing.
The sensors work via an integration methodology that monitors traffic and leverages the APIs offered by network device manufacturers. Administrators no longer have to deploy client applications or agents across multiple devices for data collection. Eliminating manually installed agents on devices allows administrators to deploy the product much faster and get actionable information much quicker.
Speaking of deployment speed, PRTG Network Monitor v14 only takes few minutes to install. Installation is accomplished using an executable that provides a wizard, which Paessler calls a Guru. Interestingly, the Guru only asks some very basic questions, such as the location for the files and licensing information, before figuring out everything necessary to install the product as a service running on the target Windows machine.
The Guru then launches the product for additional configuration. PRTG Network Monitor v14 runs as a web application via the browser of your preference, minimizing the software's footprint and bringing instant navigational familiarity to most network administrators, and offers access via an Ajax application, a mobile application, and a traditional client application. For the majority of administrators, the web/Ajax GUI will work just fine.
Administrators can choose to step through the guided setup provided by the Guru, do a few of the Guru-conducted tasks, or run the Guru later on and dive into manually configuring the application. These options enable both novice and experienced administrators to choose how to deal with setup, whether by tackling the complete setup in one session or targeting certain capabilities first and easing their way into the product. It is also important to note that the software can be installed as an unlicensed, fully functioning 30-day demo version that gives neophytes ample opportunity to play around with the product before committing to it or installing it on their production systems. The company also offers a freeware version of the product.
Each installation of PRTG Network Monitor v14 consists of a core server and one or more probes. The core server contains a database and web server and does all the storing, analyzing, alerting, publishing, and reporting. The probes gather data and send it to the core server. Each installation/license allows the use of unlimited probes to improve performance and monitor multiple, locally distributed networks.
As a network monitoring product, PRTG Network Monitor v14 offers all the capabilities one would come to expect, including the abilities to monitor Windows systems using WMI and network devices using SNMP and Internet connectivity. But the basics aren't what make it such an excellent choice for network monitoring chores. The bells and whistles are what distinguish the product as a segment leader.
Some of those features include the ability to monitor websites, online services, cloud services and other connected offerings. Just enter the URL of the websites or the credentials of the web services to be monitored, and the Guru handles the rest, a very simple process that delivers immense value to those enterprises looking to leverage cloud connectivity and external websites and web applications.
Once the Guru completes, the software does an auto-discovery of all connected devices. The software organizes everything using a "LAN Segment" paradigm, where administrators define a range of IP addresses, assign a group name to that range, et viola! There is now a "group" on which to run auto discovery for devices to incorporate into the management console. Cloud, Internet and website monitors are also gathered together under their own categories to ease identification of the resources being monitored. Auto discovery can take some time to process: longer on larger networks than smaller networks.
After discovery completes, administrators can access the dashboards to monitor the network in real time. The product offers three different canned dashboards, which administrators can customize to create specific views into network operations, activities and traffic flow.
One of PRTG Network Monitor v14's primary benefits is its ability to gather massive amounts of network data for analysis. That data needs to be stored somewhere, however, and can take significant space and place an unacceptable load on system resources. Many network monitoring products require that users purchase a database server to handle all that information. Paessler's product, on the other hand, bundles in a high-performance database, designed for the storage of monitoring data. The company claims is database is up to 100 times faster than the typical SQL server.
PRTG Network Monitor v14 also offers "distributed monitoring," the capability to monitor multiple sites/servers. While distributed monitoring itself is not very unique among network monitoring products, Paessler takes a slightly different approach that eliminates the need to purchase several application licenses and install applications at each site. The software allows one monitoring application to be installed on a member network and supports a single dashboard to monitor all attached networks.
The native distributed monitoring capability reduces costs and licensing. It also simplifies patching and updating, since just one application needs to be maintained. In any case, using an agentless technology means very little has to be done to keep the system up-to-date. For those sites that need continuity-enabled network monitoring, each license includes a full failover cluster with its own database and continuously monitors the same network the master monitors, giving a constant view of the network from two different perspectives.
Some administrators may worry that Paessler may not offer a sensor or probe for every one of their network devices, leaving some devices unmonitored. The vendor addresses that issue in a multitude of fashions, the first of which is through industry-standard technologies, such as SNMP, WMI and log analysis. Paessler also offers a documented API and custom sensors that can be used to build additional sensors to connect PRTG Network Monitor v14 to other applications.
PRTG Network Monitor v14 offers all of its functionality with the purchase of a single license, which administrators will never have to upgrade to gain additional features or install add-ons. That said, administrators will still need to purchase sensor licenses. One sensor monitors one network service, one URL, one network connection, one port of a switch, one NetFlow export stream, one CPU load, one disk drive, etc. Sensors can be spread over multiple devices and even sites/networks using remote probes, though. That means administrators need only buy a single license for the monitor and then select how many sensors are needed, allowing them to tightly control costs.
When combined with the low price of the product and the low cost of sensor licenses, PRTG Network Monitor v14 adds up to an inexpensive way to gain multi-site network monitoring capabilities, all without the installation and management hassles normally associated with network management products. Additionally, for networks with fewer sensor needs, Paessler's full-featured free version of the product, PRTG Network Monitor Freeware Edition, now allows the use of 30 sensors chosen from Paessler's library of over 200 sensor types, including several for Microsoft Exchange email monitoring, for an unlimited time.
Frank is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with over 25 years of experience in the technology arena. He has written for several leading technology publications, including ComputerWorld, TechTarget, PCWorld, ExtremeTech, Tom's Hardware and business publications, including Entrepreneur, Forbes and BNET. Ohlhorst was also the Executive Technology Editor for Ziff Davis Enterprise's eWeek and formerly the director of the CRN Test Center.