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As a network grows in size and complexity, monitoring becomes ever more important. Windows includes tools such as the Event Viewer and the Performance Monitor that can be used for system monitoring, but those tools are geared toward monitoring individual systems and it can sometimes be difficult to interpret the results. As such, a number of third party vendors have begun offering supplementary monitoring solutions. One such vendor is GridVision (http://www.grid-vision.com/), who offers a cloud based system for monitoring the PCs and servers on your network.
GridVision offers a Community Edition and a Professional Edition. These editions are very similar to one another aside from pricing (more on that later), support, and multi-tenant capabilities. For the purposes of this review, I chose to use the Community plan.
The initial sign in process couldn’t have been any easier. GridVision asks you to log on using your existing Microsoft account (in my case it was a Hotmail account). I gave a little bit of personal information such as my name and address and the sign in process was complete. Since I signed up for the Community plan I did not have to provide a credit card number.
One thing that I especially liked about GridVision was that the software does a lot of hand holding. I couldn’t tell you how many products I have reviewed that leave you wondering what to do next after the installation process completes. GridVision didn’t do that. For one thing, GridVision is cloud based, so there was nothing to install. More importantly however, GridVision provides a Getting Started screen, which you can see in Figure A. This screen walks you through the initial configuration process.
Figure A: GridVision walks you through the initial configuration process.
Working with GridVision
I decided to get started by choosing the Express Setup option. This caused GridVision to bring up a wizard like interface that stepped me through the process of collecting inventory, setting up maintenance tasks, performance monitoring, and event monitoring. You can see what this screen looks like in Figure B.
Figure B: This is the GridVision Express Setup screen.
The Express Setup process was really quick and easy. The interface walks you through tasks such as specifying inventory items to collect and collection times. There are also a number of maintenance tasks that are scheduled as a part of the setup process. These tasks include things like making sure that the Windows Firewall is enabled, setting the power plan and defragmenting the hard disk. Each of these tasks can be enabled or disabled individually. The entire setup process took me about two minutes to complete.
Once the initial configuration process was complete, I moved on to deploying the agents onto each of the monitored systems. Admittedly, I have never been a big fan of using agents. Agent deployment can be a tedious process and I am always paranoid that an agent is going to interfere with some other process. In cases like this however, I think that the use of agents is probably warranted. There are limits to what an agentless monitoring system can do.
The GridVision portal provides a link to download an agent that has been custom created for your own environment. The agents are lightweight and can be installed very quickly. I did however, run into a weird problem with the agent deployment process.
Initially the agents appeared to deploy without any problems. However, the GridVision portal wasn’t recognizing any of my monitored systems and I couldn’t find any evidence that the agent had actually been installed even though the MSI based installer seemed to have run successfully. I contacted technical support regarding the issue and found the technical support staff to be friendly, knowledgeable, and responsive. It only took about five minutes to resolve the problem, although I really don’t understand why the problem occurred.
The problem was that I was running the agent installation from a network share. Technically, that should not have been a problem. For whatever reason though, installations from that particular network share were silently failing. As soon as I moved the installer to the system on which I wanted to install the agent onto, my problem went away. GridVision is investigating the problem, but I suspect that the problem is something unique to my system rather than actually being a problem with the GridVision agent.
The GridVision Portal
Once the agents were all deployed, it took a little bit of time for the portal to begin accumulating data from the monitored systems. I wish that GridVision featured a “synchronize now” button, but there doesn’t seem to be one. I was able to make my own instant synchronization function by going into the portal’s Policy Scheduling section and building a custom schedule. Making a custom schedule was easy enough to do, but I do wish that the dashboard screen has a pre-existing button that I could click to perform an on demand synchronization.
You can see what the GridVision dashboard looks like in Figure C. I found the dashboard to be very clean and well laid out. One of the things that you will notice about the figure is that the dashboard picked up on the fact that I installed an agent onto a machine running Windows 10 Enterprise Technical Preview. Windows 10 is still being beta tested and isn’t officially supported by GridVision, but I was curious what would happen if I put an agent onto a Windows 10 box. I was very happy to see that GridVision seems to have no trouble with the Windows 10 technical preview.
Figure C: This is the GridVision dashboard.
Incidentally, the dashboard displays more data than what is shown in the figure above. When I scrolled down, the dashboard displayed the latest events from my monitored systems and the latest policies to have been executed.
At this point in the review process, I decided to check out the Alerts. As you can see in Figure D, the software displays a variety of Performance Monitor alerts from across the monitored systems. I was able to click on individual alerts for more information.
Figure D: This is the GridVision Alerts screen.
One thing that I really liked about the Alerts screen is that you can filter the alerts by date range and by active group. For example, you can display alerts related only to Exchange Server, or only to the Active Directory. There are a number of different active groups to choose from, and the Alerts screen does an exceptionally good job of showing you exactly the performance data that you are interested in, without being cumbersome.
The next thing that I decided to check out was the Views option. As the name implies, the Views option allows you to choose what information you want to see. There are plenty of built-in views covering various aspects of devices, Active Directory, and Exchange Server. For instance, if you look at Figure E, you can see a view of all of the missing patches across my organization. As you can see, GridVision provides a link to the corresponding KB article and tells how many systems are missing the patch. Again, the list can be filtered by active group. It is also worth noting that GridVision allows for the creation of custom views.
Figure E: GridVision allows you to view missing patches.
GridVision’s best feature might be its reporting engine. There are built in reports for Active Directory, Devices, Events, Office 365, and Policies. You can see the available Active Directory reports in Figure F. In addition to the reports, GridVision provides analysis and insights via device or enterprise level pivot grids, and there is also a system audit feature.
Figure F: GridVision offers a lot of built-in reports.
GridVision’s pricing scheme really surprised me – in a good way. I write a lot of reviews for this site, and it seems to be the norm for large software vendors to force customers to call for pricing rather than clearly displaying the pricing on their Web site. Of course such products typically also come with a really high price tag.
GridVision was different. Not only was the price clearly displayed on the GridVision Web site, but the price was also quite reasonable.
The Professional edition costs fifty cents per asset per month and twenty five cents per user per month. If you want virtual and cloud support that costs fifty dollars per month. Obviously if you have a large network then the cost of the Professional edition can add up, but remember that GridVision is geared more to smaller organizations.
Speaking of smaller organizations, GridVision also offers a free Community plan that is valid for up to 100 assets. The Community plan is nearly identical to the Professional plan except that you don’t get multi-tenant capacity, premium support, virtual and cloud support, or any other support aside from community support.
All in all, I really like GridVision. Yes, I did have some trouble with the agents early on, but I am willing to accept the idea that the problems could be related to a permissions issue on my network. I seriously doubt that the agent itself was buggy.
I think that the thing that I liked best about GridVision was that it felt useful. I have worked in IT for a really long time and during that time I have seen a lot of products that are so jam packed with unimportant features that the product becomes over complicated and tedious to use as a result. GridVision was just the opposite. Yes, GridVision has more features than the ones that I talked about in this review (I have to adhere to content length restrictions), but all of the features seemed useful. None of GridVision’s features struck me as being fluff. Furthermore, I found GridVision to be super intuitive to use and the software itself seems rock solid. I didn’t run into any glitches aside from the agent deployment issue that I mentioned earlier.
When I write a review for this site, it has become customary to rate the product on a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 being the best. I am going to give GridVision a score of 4.8, which is a WindowsNetworking.com Gold Award. The software was inexpensive, easy to use, and it worked flawlessly. If GridVision had included a Synchronize Now button on the dashboard I would have given them a 4.9.