Hands on with SolarWinds ipMonitor, written by Dr. Tom Shinder

As a Windows network admin, you know that one of your key duties is to monitor the health and status of your network. There are a lot of ways to do this. You can manually check each machine each day, but unless you have a exceptionally small network, this isn’t a realistic option. What you need is a network monitoring solution that can provide you with real time information about your network. That solution needs to be able to detect when systems or services are down, and then information the appropriate people that there’s a problem.

This is where ipMonitor from SolarWinds comes in. ipMonitor provides you a secure-real time network monitoring system that allows you to proactively monitor, alert and recover systems and system services. And ipMonitor does this around the clock, in the background so that you don’t have to worry about watching the console all the time.

I had a chance to install and test ipMonitor 9.01 recently. I consider one of the key features of a good software product is that installation and initial configuration is transparent. I shouldn’t have to read the manual to do the initial setup and installation. If there’s a problem, I expect the software to let me know about the problem and provide guidance on how to correct the problem.

ipMonitor didn’t let me down. The installation was smooth and there were no errors when I installed ipMonitor on my Windows XP SP3 management station. After a clean setup, the initial configuration tasks wizard began. The configuration wizard walked me through adding an administrator account, adding alert settings for the administrator, including an email address that can be used to alert the administrator when an event is triggered.

Then the device detection screen appeared and gave me the option to scan the network using an IP range, Network Neighborhood, a DNS zone or a HOSTS file. Since I was interested to see what network devices I had on my home office network, I decided to scan the entire class C range I’m using on my network. I was then offered the opportunity to enter a user account that could be used to connect to machines on my network, but I decided not to use that option since the machines belong to multiple domains and workgroups and don’t have common user account names and passwords.

The initial scan was lightening fast! ipMonitor found 27 devices on my network in about 3 minutes. During this lightening quick discovery process, ipMonitor found all the running network services on the devices it discovered. What I found interesting was that there were some devices discovered that I wasn’t even aware of. It turned out that some of the unknown devices were virtual machines running on virtual servers that I had forgot to turn off. This was an important finding, since unknown machines with listening network services could easily be used to launch an attack against my network.

After the discovery was complete, I was presented with the dashboard. The dashboard is very intuitive and easy to use. The Dashboard page provides you would sections that make it easy to find the status of all the machines on your network, or groups of machines. Quick summaries included Devices with Down Monitors, Summary Counts for Devices & Monitors, Devices, Group by Properties, Monitor, Group by Properties, My Reports, Top 10 Devices by CPU Utilization, Top 10 Devices by Ping and Top 10 devices by Disk Utilization.

The NOC view of device groups is very cool. You can immediately see if there’s a problem because the device “card” turns red. Of course, we always want to see green in our NOC views!

One of the coolest features is the network map. There are many types of maps to select from. Some of the maps include All Managed Devices, Down Devices, Routers, Servers, Warn Devices, Warn Monitors, Workstations and many more. Another thing you can do with the network map is edit it so that you can create connections between the devices. For example, you can model data connections between devices such as network switches or firewalls.

The Alerting feature was easy to discovery and configure, and alerts can be configure to apply do individual devices, default groups, or “smart” groups that you can create on your own, based on Properties of the devices, which can be populated based on RegEx expressions run against discovered properties of those devices (which is a very cool feature and significant speeds up populating smart groups). Alerts can be configured to be sent to cell phone, email, SMS, text pager, numeric pager, or simple beeper.

All in all, I found ipMonitor to be easy to install, configure and customize. I didn’t run into anything unexpected or arcane, something I really appreciate in a software product. For anyone who’s interested in a flexible, powerful, yet easy to use and cost effective network monitoring solution, I highly recommend SolarWinds ipMonitor.

Download a fully functional 21-day trial version of SolarWinds ipMonitor, WindowsNetworking.com Readers’ Choice Award Winner for Network Monitoring in 2008!

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