PacketTrap gives enterprise "Perspective"

Computers are strange beings. Sometimes they stop working for no apparent reason, sometimes they work so well they don't need to shutdown or stop processing, and some literally blow up in your face.

Computers are strange beings. Sometimes they stop working for no apparent reason, sometimes they work so well they don't need to shutdown or stop processing, and some literally blow up in your face. Dealing with one computer can be troublesome enough, but how do those like enterprise managers, IT and network administrators face the task of being a lifeline to x number of computers ranging from usually 20-10,000 computers?

Last week I spoke to Matt Bolton, VP of Products at PacketTrap Networks, about a new version of their enterprise and network monitoring utility, "Perspective". Although I didn't think much about the name, I tried out the software after a cut-short live meeting (bomb alert at work), and it clearly gives a perspective on your network like no other. It's rather genius, I must say.

PacketTrap launched their network diagnostic tool suite in March 2008 and have registered more than 80,000 users (although only about 40,000 of them use the tool suite daily). This has been done with only submissions to freeware sites, with no business partnerships, and no marketing budget to speak of.


Perspective gives the administrator an easy view of the entire enterprise from a single window, allowing IT staff to identify and fix problems quickly reducing downtime on a server or network portion. The usability is excellent, the performance is extraordinary, and the utility itself is highly customisable to what the administrator needs to see, wants to see, and can even be configured to automate certain processes.

The software is best run on its own dedicated server, or even PC if you wanted it to, and doesn't require anything else to work really. Of course, there's little point installing it on an Exchange server, because if that server goes down, then you might not know about it until somebody calls you.
You don't need to run client installs, you don't need to configure a whole load of client settings to get it working. It works by using SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) to communicate with the client machines, and that's usually enabled on Windows machines.

It could take me all day to run through everything this software has, so I'll just whiz through a few of the main features, plus the ones that really stick out to me as "really rather cool":

  • SMTP support for emailing the administrator errors if they occur when they're out of office
  • Multiple network discovery techniques, including MAC scanning, pinging computers and SNMP.
  • Fast and responsive network discovery, allowing to wildcard search IP addresses and ranges, subnets and even domain names.
  • Full details on IP addresses, DNS names for the corresponding servers, which protocols they support, which operating system they run and if possible, the main role for the server.
  • Policy management, allowing administrators to monitor different kinds of devices other than servers on the network, with full Windows support; SQL Server, Exchange, Active Directory, Windows background services, Active Directory, POP3, NetBIOS and SMTP.
  • Full customisation of alerts which allow administrators to see performance exceeding the "benchmark" (see below), and diagnose network, disk usage and memory usage issues on individual servers.
  • Actions which can be performed, automating the process; eg. if a Windows service has stopped and can't be restarted, restart the entire server so everything starts working again.
  • A dashboard view which allows you to see pretty much everything you might want to see in your network, fully customisable of course.
  • Groups of network devices and servers, allowing you to separate multiple branch offices, campuses and buildings if you wish.
  • A full set of tools including WHOIS, enhanced ping, wake-on LAN, trace route, MAC scan, port scan, DNS audit, graphical ping and ping scan, although another complimentary product is needed for this.
  • Linux support!
  • Live system information displaying IP, roles, operating system, processor and memory usage, disk usage with pretty little graphs and red/orange/green colours for quick looking.
  • Availability chart with graph showing response times and any latency.
  • Software inventory of all installed products on that server, and process viewer displaying all the services running on that server.
  • Reports view, allowing you to see the "most of" or "least of" item/device/configuration in your entire network, to see which servers are the most or least of something.

What seems to be unique in Perspective is the "benchmark" facility. It can monitor the steady, stable state of a server - network usage, disk usage, and memory consumption and work out an average over a period of time. Sure, a server running with 80% memory churning up for a week isn't the best thing to have, but if it works then best just leave it to it. If once the benchmark is calculated it suddenly drops to 20%, that would presume maybe a vital service has stopped working, thus causing effect on the rest of the network.

The benchmarking facility can come in handy later is when creating alerts - emails or messages to alert the administrators when something doesn't appear right, depending on how the administrators configure them. You can set, say a file server, to send an alert when it's equals to or greater than the benchmark disk usage by x percent. Of course a file server would be always spinning and throwing data to clients left, right and center, but if it's getting to the point when it's dangerously high "even for it's own limits", it can let people know before any downtime comes their way.

The point of this software is simple; it makes life easier for the system/network administrators, and can allow them to pre-empt issues before they even happen. In some cases, with the reporting and feedback tools, the administrators could even fix problems before anybody notices and calls the helpdesk.

To have a 20-day trial go with the software, just check out the website and have a spare computer free. It'll work on XP, Vista and Windows Server 2003 without a problem.

I actually can't find anything bad to say about it - except the price, it starts from $1,995, but in an enterprise setting, that's thruppence. Sorry, had to get something British and whimsical in there somewhere.