If your job requires you to be on call, then you probably carry a beeper or pager, or you have a phone that receives text messages when a mission-critical server or service goes down. But this is only part of the picture—you really need to know what the entire network is doing to be able to properly diagnose the problem. If you were at the office, you would fire up your network monitoring system and zero in on the problem. But if you’re like me, these things usually happen when you’re on the 14th hole of a disastrous golf game. It sure would be nice to know what the real problem was, and to know without a doubt if the problem were truly serious.
Several products let you monitor your network’s status from your smartphone. Two of the products I reviewed, Paessler’s iPRTG and GroundWork Open Source’s Brooklyn For Nagios, work exclusively on Apple devices (iPod, iPhone, and iPad). The third product, ManageEngine’s OpManager Smartphone GUI, can be used on most mobile browsers, including Apple products. I used an Apple iPhone 3GS to test each product. The two iPhone-ready apps point to a demo back-end monitoring system by default, so I could easily put the applications through the paces. But the OpManager Smartphone browser-based application is exactly that: a browser-based application. Therefore, I had to set up a complete ManageEngine OpManager server to test the application.
Installing the Apple-only products (iPRTG and Brooklyn For Nagios) involved using the Apple iTunes Store to redeem a coupon that you receive after purchasing the software. For more information about redeeming this coupon, see the iTunes article “How to redeem an iTunes Gift Card”.
OpManager Smartphone GUI is accessed through your favorite mobile browser. Therefore, you don’t have to install any software on your phone.
Each product is written for a specific company’s back-end monitoring solution. In other words, iPRTG is designed to work with PRTG Network Monitor, Brooklyn For Nagios is designed to work with Nagios, and OpManager Smartphone GUI is designed to work with OpManager. You can’t use one company’s iPhone app and hook up to another company’s solution. Therefore, these mobile monitoring solutions should be part of your overall evaluation when you select a network monitoring solution.
All three products were very intuitive and easy to navigate. I never became lost in a maze of options or menus. Although there were clear differences between what the products could do, I found them to be very similar in overall function.
Each of the iPhone and mobile web browser applications I reviewed is designed to consume the content of back-end network monitoring solutions. You can’t set up a new server or service to be monitored, nor can you add new users to the back-end monitoring system. Think of these tools as read-only.
Each product connects to its back-end monitoring system over the Internet, either on port 80 or port 443, and requires a username and password. Just as for any service that you use over the Internet, you need to take precautions to keep your company data secure, such as using SSL (port 443) and a strong username/password policy.
iPRTG was designed to work with PRTG Network Monitor and uses a simple interface that packs in an abundance of information. For example, if you’re monitoring a website, iPRTG shows you the website’s address, the loading time of the website (in milliseconds), how long it has been up, when it was down last, and the overall uptime statistics.
As Figure 1 shows, the home page shows a list of favorites, which keeps your most important servers’ information at your fingertips. If a server indicates a problem, iPRTG shows you exactly what the problem is and can even display the same graph as the full GUI product shows. In addition to the simple up/down indicators, iPRTG has live graphs and snapshots of data from 2 days, 30 days, and 1 year ago.
Figure 1: iPRTG home page
In case you support more than one company or location, iPRTG supports multiple accounts. These accounts can be saved so that you don’t have to log on to each one. For networks with a lot of systems, iPRTG includes a handy search feature that lets you zero in on the specific device you’re looking for.
When you do have a problem with a server, you can acknowledge the error on your iPhone. If you need to dive in further, the iPhone app has a link to the main PRTG web interface that’s similar to the desktop interface, allowing you to perform advanced functions.
Brooklyn For Nagios
Brooklyn For Nagios has the simplest interface by far—mainly because it lacks the other two products’ rich features. Instead of the other products’ deep details, Brooklyn displays whether the host is up or down and when it was last checked, as Figure 2 shows.
Figure 2: Brooklyn For Nagios interface
Just about the only feature Brooklyn has is the ability to acknowledge an outage. After you do this, it’s time to break out the laptop, connect the phone for Internet access, and fire up the VPN. This is the only way you can dig deeper into the problem, because Brooklyn lacks any other tools to help you. It doesn’t have graphs or any other troubleshooting tools to help you narrow down the problem.
Does this mean Brooklyn For Nagios is a bad product? No, and here’s why: Brooklyn’s back end is Nagios, which is an open-source platform. This fact might make Brooklyn the ideal choice if you’re looking for a mobile view of an inexpensive monitoring solution. Although Brooklyn itself isn’t free, Nagios is.
Brooklyn For Nagios
OpManager Smartphone GUI
I was worried about reviewing OpManager Smartphone GUI, which is OpManager’s mobile front end. How could an HTML product compete with a native iPhone app? The truth is, it competes well—and in many cases, it’s actually better.
The product’s home page has six simple icons. Two of the icons, Down Devices and All Alarms, immediately indicate whether there’s a problem. The list of devices includes indicators for the kind of device (e.g., Microsoft, Dell), as well as CPU and memory utilization.
When a device does go down, OpManager Smartphone GUI gives you two real troubleshooting tools, Ping and Trace Route, that you can use to help narrow down the actual problem. These aren’t last-result ping results, but on-the-fly pings that give you an immediate response.
Figure 3: OpManager Smartphone GUI interface
OpManager Smartphone GUI lacks the cool graphs that the full product includes, instead replacing them with simple number indicators, as Figure 3 shows. This tradeoff is likely because of a mobile phone screen’s obvious lack of space.
OpManager Smartphone GUI
This review is less focused on which product is better than the others and more focused on simply letting you know what’s available. After all, if you’re already using a particular product for network monitoring, your choices for an iPhone app are pretty much limited to the solutions that vendor offers. However, of the products I reviewed, OpManager Smartphone GUI gets the Editor’s Choice award for smartphone-capable network monitoring.