Caption by: Roger Howorth
WhatsUp Gold from Ipswitch is a network monitoring tool that's extremely quick and easy to deploy. In our tests we found the range of features and ease of deployment make WhatsUp Gold a good fit for organisations with up to 500 users running on a single network. After a few days use in our Labs we wanted to put WhatsUp Gold in several places on our network to get a better view of how our devices were working. At £1,482.86 (ex. VAT) for 100 devices, the Premium Edition costs about £340 more than the Standard version, but includes the capability to monitor servers using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), such as those running Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft SQL Server.
New features in version 11, launched in February, provide role-based administration via the product's web-based interface. This allows various managers to log into via a browser and monitor only those devices that are relevant to their departments. IPv6 support has also been added, and the reporting engine has been overhauled and now provides a comprehensive set of reports, including some that will help service providers generate reports for their clients.
We reviewed the Premium Edition using a VMware Workstation 5.5 virtual machine running Windows XP Professional and fitted with 256MB of RAM. The WhatsUp Gold installation utility checked our XP environment and told us to install MSDE-2000, which is supplied on the WhatsUp Gold CD-ROM and can be installed by the setup tools. The installer required one restart on our system to complete the installation.
With the software up and running we needed to tell the suite about our network and the devices we wanted to monitor. We used the New Device Discovery Wizard to scan our network and build a list of servers and desktops. This has options to scan a range of IP addresses, perform a scan for SNMP devices, and to find devices via Windows Network Neighbourhood or by using a 'hosts' file.
Although the first three options work well with devices that are located on the same LAN, they won't necessarily identify servers located on a different IP network. We wanted to add our external DNS and web servers so they could be monitored by WhatsUp Gold, but rather than create a host file for them we added them manually using the New Device… option on the File menu. We also wanted to add a server running Citrix Presentation Server 4.0 and our IMAP-based mail server. Unfortunately there is no specific support for monitoring Citrix servers, and while there is a module for monitoring IMAP servers, the module doesn't support the use of SSL encryption. As our mail server uses SSL we were unable to monitor its IMAP service.
However, we liked WhatsUp Gold’s agent-less design, which means administrators don't need to install monitoring agents on servers or other network devices that are to be monitored. Instead, WhatsUp Gold has a range of Active and Passive monitoring capabilities. The simplest Active Monitor is to send ICMP 'Pings' to a remote device and ensure that it responds. In addition to this network monitoring capability, there are another 16 Active Monitors that attempt to use the services that a particular server is running, such as by establishing an HTTP connection to a web server.
The Passive Monitoring capability can retrieve a range of information from devices that support Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). Likewise, Passive Monitors can connect to Windows servers and collect performance data such as CPU and disk utilisation using WMI, and can work with the Windows event log and syslog software. In addition, custom scripts written in Active Script can be configured to interrogate WMI and SNMP devices and perform custom actions.
Although we liked using the suite, we noticed a few examples of strange behaviour by the software. For example, we selected the DNS monitoring module when we added a device for our DNS server, but this setting seemed to be ignored and WhatsUp Gold started monitoring the device by sending Ping packets. We needed to edit the device properties to remove the Ping monitor and replace it with the probe specifically for DNS servers. Similarly, one of the wizards failed when we used an apostrophe in a name field; we had to delete the wizard's work run it again without the offending character to get past the problem.
In other respects we were very impressed. WhatsUp Gold is so much easier to install and configure than the more expensive enterprise-wide monitoring systems, yet it includes many of the essential features of such suites, such as multi-user capabilities and the ability to define dependencies. We used the dependency feature to set the availability of our external servers as being dependent on the availability or our office router. Thus we received only one warning when our office router went down, rather than receiving one warning per external server — which would otherwise happen if the remote servers were working well but our router had failed. We also liked the scripting capability, which can handle a variety of devices and conditions. For example, we found a script on an Ipswitch forum to that could look at a Cisco device and report high CPU utilisation.
There is also much flexibility in how device errors are handled. Most companies will prefer to be notified by email, but there are 12 options in total, and these include sending an SMS message, restarting a service or writing data to a syslog.
The web interface uses DHTML to provide a highly intuitive and interactive environment, and is excellent. For example, right-clicking the mouse on a device produces a drop-down menu with relevant options. As with all suites of this kind, IT managers will probably need to spend a little time fine tuning their policies and monitors in order to minimise false positives. However, the alternative of operating without any such monitoring usually proves an unacceptable risk to most businesses.
As far as technical support is concerned, the relevant section of Ipswitch's web site provides a good set of facilities, including patches and upgrades, online forums and discussion lists, Active Script and MIB libraries, plug-ins and utilities, and a knowledge base. Email and (US-based) telephone support is available for registered users with in-warranty products, or those who have a service agreement.
Caption by: Roger Howorth