Monitoring done differently. A closer look at PRTG Network Monitor

Monitoring your environment, whether it’s physical or virtual is very important. There are numerous tools available that can help you by keeping an eye on your systems and inform you when something is wrong, or even tell you before disaster strikes.

In this article, I will be zooming in to PRTG Network Monitor, a monitoring solution supporting an impressive amount of applications and platforms. Read on to learn more about this awesome product!

Introduction

I have been using PRTG for about 8 years, which basically covers all my years of experience in IT. My first employer already had this tool in place and I had the joy of using it as a service desk employee. In the years that followed, I have recommended and implemented PRTG wherever there was no monitoring solution or existing solutions were not sufficient.

In short PRTG is extremely simple to deploy and manage, it’s extremely user friendly but also provides endless functionality to prevent you from running multiple monitoring solutions.

Features

PRTG offers a lot of features, but depending on the customer or environment, some features might be irrelevant. I listed features that really distinguish PRTG from most monitoring tools.

  • Up and running in 10 minutes
  • Agent-less monitoring
  • Fast and full web-based HTML5 interface for management and monitoring
  • Mobile apps on iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone (http://www.paessler.com/apps)
  • Multi-Site support
  • Approximately 200 sensor types covering all monitoring challenges (explained later in this article)
  • Application monitoring
  • Virtualization monitoring on Amazon, Citrix, Hyper-V, VMware and Parallels (yay!)
  • Notifications using E-mail, Push message, SMS/Pager, Syslog and SNMP Trap, HTTP request, Event log entry, Play alarm sound files, Amazon SNS, any external technology that can be triggered by an EXE or batch file
  • Dependencies for preventing notification storms
  • Integration with Microsoft Active Directory
  • Clustering

Deployment

Deploying PRTG is fairly easy and can only be done on a Windows box. It doesn’t matter if you’re deploying it on a client edition like Windows 7 or a server edition like Windows Server 2008.

I will not cover the installation of the application here, as it’s straight forward. After the installation completed on your system, you will be able to browse to the IP address or DNS name of your PRTG box using your favorite internet browser. If everything went OK, you will probably be presented with a screen similar to the one below:

PRTG-Deploy-01

This screen will appear right after starting the PRTG services. After the startup reaches 100%, you will be presented with a login screen. The default credentials are displayed on-screen and should be used only once, as a setup wizard will follow. In this wizard, you can decide to use Guru.

Guru, say what?

Guru is one of the methods for configuring PRTG. It’s a detailed wizard for collecting information about your network and systems, including credentials, so PRTG can figure out exactly which systems can be monitored and how they should be monitored. To be honest, I only think this method works in smaller environments. PRTG will create a lot of sensors for each system and you could end up with thousands of (useless) sensors. A monitoring system providing too many or even fake alerts destroys it’s efficiency and usability.

If you are going to use the Guru wizard, be sure to have this information ready to fill in:

  • First administrator login username, password and e-mail address
  • Credentials for Windows systems
  • Credentials for SNMP devices
  • Credentials for VMware/XenServer systems
  • Credentials for Linux/OSX systems
  • IP address of the default gateway and DNS servers to monitor
  • DNS names or IP addresses of Active Directory Domain Controllers
  • DNS names or IP addresses of Exchange and Email Servers
  • DNS names or IP addresses of other servers
  • URLs of to-be-monitored websites
  • IP subnet or range of the first group of systems (you can add more after Guru has finished)

After finishing the wizard, you should be able to log into PRTG with the credentials you filled in.

PRTG-Login-01

After successfully logging in, some buttons will show up to get you started with PRTG, like performing a network auto discovery to add more devices, or you can re-run the Guru wizard.

PRTG Welcome Screen

Sensors

PRTG works with so-called “sensors”. A sensor is simply a monitoring method. You create a device object by IP or DNS that you want to monitor, and add the sensors that you like to the device. This approach is optional, because PRTG offers you an Auto Discovery method as well, creating those devices and sensors automatically by providing an IP range and credentials with access to your systems.

In both ways, one sensor is defined as any particular, individual monitoring entity. 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, and so on.

There are approximately 200 sensor types available. These range from a ping sensor to monitoring the mail queue of your Microsoft Exchange server. Among all impressive sensors, I would like to share this one with you:

Windows Update

PRTG is able to monitor how many outstanding Windows updates you have on monitored systems. Awesome! More sensors are released on a frequent basis. If you want to check out whether your required sensor is available yet, check out this page.

Interface

The user interface of PRTG is something they can be really proud of. Next to the functionality and simplicity, it’s the best thing in PRTG if you’d ask me. First of all the device overview, which shows you all devices that are currently monitored by PRTG. Accessed by simply clicking on Devices in the menu bar as shown below.

PRTG Menu Bar

The device overview will be displayed (click to zoom):

Quickly going through the different parts of this screen, you can observe the following things:

  • The device tree starts with the root, forking into “probe” device and ending with groups
  • Devices and their sensors. Colors indicate if they are OK or not
  • Sensors marked with a “U” means it’s unusual (higher or lower value than expected)
  • A summary of all sensors, having 92 OK and 5 Unusual sensors in my case
  • I have configured simple sensors like ping, disk thresholds and NIC thresholds, but also some more advanced sensors that are monitoring my VMware vSphere hosts (explained later in this article)

For each group you can configure different thresholds, alerts and credentials. Depending under which probe a group or device is placed in the tree, decides which probe is responsible for the configured sensors.

Another cool way of viewing the health of your devices is by changing the device tree view. I marked the button as shown below, which shows a detailed circle which is ordered by probe, group and device. This way you can easily see which group (application, site or however you would group your devices) is OK and which is not!

Device Pie

If you want, you can create custom dashboards and maps, which you can share with administrators or managers, only showing information that’s relevant to them.

Mobile apps

If you are on the road, or no laptop nearby, you can use one of the mobile apps Paessler offers on the different mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry) to check your environment in an instant.

Opening the Devices view will show the groups you created:

Mobile-Devices

Opening a group and selecting a device lets your scroll through the different sensors your configured and request details or even historic information.

Mobile-Device

Integration with virtualization platforms

This wouldn’t be my blog if I wrote about something not related to virtualization. So here we go!

Currently, the following platforms are supported:

  • Amazon CloudWatch
  • Citrix XenServer
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Parallels Virtuozzo
  • VMware vSphere

For each platform, one or more sensors are available.

After adding my VMware vCenter Server, PRTG automatically created devices for all ESXi hosts and VMs. It even came back with a defective hard disk in one of the hosts, as you can see below.

Multi-site and load balancing

So how do you implement PRTG if you have multiple sites, or if you have a large number of devices and sensors that cannot be handled by the default installation? These are just examples of when you should deploy one or more remote probes.

These probes are like the default probe which is deployed when you install PRTG, but then without the core components like the web interface and database. It’s a small package (about 29 MB), which can be downloaded by navigating to Setup, Downloads / Add-Ons and then Remote Probe Installer in the PRTG web interface.

Remote Probe

By configuring extra probes, you can move load from your core server and reach areas of your infrastructure without granting too much access to your core server or implementing complex network configurations. As described earlier, you can simply move groups or devices to a different probe, which then takes over the monitoring role for those entities.

Updating PRTG

Keeping up-to-date with the latest version of PRTG is achieved using an auto update feature inside the web interface. By navigating to Setup and Software Auto-Update, you can check whether there is a new version available and can initiate the update process right away. If you configured e-mail notifications in PRTG, you will receive a notification by e-mail as well when there is a new version released.

In my case, there was a new version available and I chose to update immediately. The progress can be followed on the same screen and there is no need to refresh the page or abuse your F5 key.

Auto-Update

Remote probes will usually receive the newest version automatically after update your core server, but as you can see in my case the specific version I deployed required a manual update of the remote probes.

Licensing

If you are interested in purchasing PRTG, you can choose from a wide range of packages. All these packages are based on the number of sensors you require.

  • 100 Sensors – $ 440.00
  • 500 Sensors – $ 1,600.00
  • 1000 Sensors – $ 2,700.00
  • 2500 Sensors – $ 5,600.00
  • 5000 Sensors – $ 9,500.00
  • Unlimited Sensors – $ 13,500.00

These prices include a maintenance plan of 12 months, which you can extend to 24 or 36 months.

Price information is gathered from the PRTG price list page.

Try before you buy

Hopefully you have become enthusiastic after reading my article! If you want to try out PRTG for yourself, you’re in luck because they offer 30 free sensors if you request a trial key. Visit this page to do so.

Support

If you are an existing customer, visit the Paessler Knowledge Base to get answers to frequent questions.

More information about PRTG can be found on the product page at paessler.com

One thought on “Monitoring done differently. A closer look at PRTG Network Monitor

  1. Pingback: Monitoring vSphere 6.5 with PRTG | SnowVM

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