I'm looking for a tool that can monitor the availability of my company's many commercial Web sites. The tool should monitor HTTP and HTTP over Secure Sockets Layer (HTTPS) and, if possible, SMTP, FTP, and Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP). The tool must be able to work across proxy servers and firewalls so that it monitors from the same environment the customer is using. The tool should also support data analysis (e.g., database, Microsoft Excel) and report errors by email. Do you know of such a tool?

Monitoring Web server uptime is one task that some companies never seem to get around to. If you're finding out from your customers or clients that your servers are down, you need to install a monitoring and alert system. Some systems simply ping the Web server and report whether the server responds. However, this type of system is insufficient to tell you whether your Web site is actually operational. Your Web server might be functioning at the TCP/IP level, but your Web site might not be operating because of an application error. In such a case, a ping will succeed but connecting to HTTP won't. In addition, you might need to go a step further to test whether your Web application will take orders, generate reports, or perform whatever service you're offering.

You can choose from several available tools that range widely in capability and price. I sorted through about a year's worth of mail and found these products mentioned with some regularity. (This list shouldn't be construed as an endorsement of these products but rather a representative sample of what's available.)

Servers Alive. Installations that need an inexpensive but useful monitoring tool can check into Woodstone Computer Consulting's Servers Alive (http:// www.woodstone.nu). I've used this product, and it's surprisingly flexible. Figure 1 shows the protocol configuration screen.

SiteScope. Some large installations use Freshwater Software's SiteScope tool (http://www.freshtech.com). The tool does a nice job with URL transaction monitoring, logs directly to a database, and has automated alerting and reporting through email or XML.

VisualProfile. Visualware's VisualProfile tool (http://www.visualware .com) can measure packet loss and latency on HTTP or HTTPS connections. You can find a review of this product on the Network World Fusion Web site (http://www.nwfusion.com/reviews/2001/0924rev.html).

ipMonitor. DeepMetrix's ipMonitor tool (http://www.mediahouse.com) is also in widespread use. The tool is reasonably priced and offers a decent feature set.

WhatsUp. Ipswitch's WhatsUp tool (http://www.ipswitch.com/products/ whatsup) is regularly mentioned and useful.

Application Center. Microsoft Application Center 2000 includes a health monitor that can monitor online service availability. For more information about Application Center, see Tim Huckaby, "Paving the Way for Application Center 2000," November 2001, InstantDoc ID 22273, and Tim Huckaby and Christopher George, "Managing a Web Farm with Application Center 2000," February 2001, InstantDoc ID 16468.

Microsoft Operations Manager. MOM is Microsoft's premier monitoring solution. It implements monitoring and alert services for your entire network. For more information about MOM, go to the Microsoft Operations Manager Web site (http://www.micro soft.com/mom).