Affordable network monitoring

At a fraction of the cost of high-end network management applications, Ipswitch’s WhatsUp Gold 6.02 provides a powerful, easy-to-use, comprehensive network-monitoring suite. The product’s mapping utility discovers network devices and services and creates a network map. From the network map UI, you can configure various notifications to alert administrators when monitored devices or services aren’t responding. WhatsUp Gold also produces detailed historical reports that help you keep tabs on performance.

Installation
Ipswitch ships WhatsUp Gold 6.0 on CD-ROM. The product package also includes a manual that provides thorough descriptions of application features and step-by-step guides to configuring program tasks.

After a straightforward installation, you need to download the WhatsUp Gold 6.02 patch (a 1.8MB file) from the Ipswitch Web site (http://www.ipswitch.com). The program upgrades quickly, and neither the upgrade nor the installation requires a reboot.

I installed and upgraded the product on two machines in my test network: a Windows 2000 Professional Service Pack 1 (SP1) PC with 128MB of RAM and a Windows 98 Second Edition (Win98SE) PC, also with 128MB of RAM. WhatsUp Gold also runs on Windows NT. The product worked well with each OS (although you can’t run WhatsUp Gold as a service on Win9x systems).

Discovery and Mapping
Discovering your network’s devices and services and creating a network map are the first steps to using WhatsUp Gold to monitor your network. The File menu’s New Map Wizard offers several discovery methods to identify the TCP/IP, NetBIOS, and IPX devices on your network. These methods include using Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) to scan an IP subnet, importing and searching a HOSTS file or the local Windows registry, searching Network Neighborhood, and reading a network SNMP device to discover and map devices according to the network’s hierarchy.

I tested two discovery methods. First, I defined my network’s range of IP addresses and used ICMP to scan the local subnet. Second, I used the SNMP SmartScan option. Both methods quickly and accurately discovered my test network’s devices: nine Win2K SP1 and NT 4.0 SP6a servers, a core Cisco Systems’ Cisco 3640 router, several Cisco 1720 routers, several network switches, and a firewall.

When you scan an IP subnet, WhatsUp Gold creates and displays a flat network map, in which icons represent the discovered devices. When you run SmartScan, the product can identify multiple subnets and create a network map that links device icons hierarchically. SmartScan identified my top-level network and created links to six remote subnets.

To make changes to the map, select Edit Mode. For example, you can choose alternative icons and use the program’s drawing tools to modify the map into a more accurate representation of your network architecture.

Whenever a network map is open, the program automatically and continuously polls the mapped devices. You can configure polling intervals or right-click a device’s icon and select Check Now to poll a device immediately. The product color-codes a device icon according to its polling response. Devices that respond have green icons. Devices that fail to respond to two successive polls have yellow icons. Devices that fail to respond to eight polls have red starburst icons that indicate downed links.

A particularly useful feature is the product’s ability to set dependencies (i.e., to poll a device only when another specified device is running or unreachable). For example, you can configure WhatsUp Gold to poll intermediate routers only when an endpoint fails to respond. Setting dependencies helps you reduce false alarms and perform basic cause analyses.

The product’s SmartScan option also discovers services. When you initiate a SmartScan, a dialog box asks you to select the services—such as HTTP, DNS, and POP3—for which you’d like the product to search. WhatsUp Gold monitors services’ default ports and begins working immediately after the SmartScan.

Although you can also monitor custom services (e.g., those that use nonstandard ports), configuring this function requires some research. In the Configure menu’s Custom Services dialog box, you need to enter the command that the remote service will send to WhatsUp Gold upon connection with the product. The vendor or custom application’s developer should be able to give you this information. As Figure 1 shows, you can also write a command for WhatsUp Gold to send back to the service. For example, you can enter a rules-expression command to search the service’s response for text strings that include the word fail.

Alerts and Notifications
To take full advantage of WhatsUp Gold’s monitoring capabilities, you need to configure notifications and enable alerts. Administrators can select how particular devices are monitored (e.g., polling frequency) and the actions the program will perform when a device isn’t responding to polls, a monitored service fails, or an SNMP device sends an SNMP trap (i.e., a device warning message).

WhatsUp Gold offers several notification types, including pager, beeper, audio, email, and WinPopup alerts. You can also configure a Group option, which I like. This option lets you specify more than one alert type and recipient and whether the program executes these alerts simultaneously or in an order you specify. For example, you can configure WhatsUp Gold to send an alert to Joe’s beeper when a device fails and email an alert to Stephanie if Joe doesn’t acknowledge the beeper alert.

I configured several notifications, including the audio, WinPopup, and SMTP email notifications. Email notifications require you to specify the IP address of an SMTP server and the email address that you want to receive the alerts. If you want to use pager notifications, your WhatsUp Gold system needs a modem.

Next, I enabled alerting for and assigned notifications to the devices I wanted to monitor. Assigned notifications also apply to the monitored services that a device runs. To enable alerting for a device, right-click the device’s icon in the network map, select its Properties tab, click Alerts, and select Enable Alerts. Click Add to open the Add Notification dialog box. Select the notification type you want the product to send in case of a failure. If you want notification about SNMP traps for that device, also select the Enable Logging check box on the device’s Properties tab, and select and configure the On SNMP Trap option in the Add Notification dialog box. You can also select groups of devices and assign alerts to that group.

I experienced a few snags in the product’s alerting process, but I used the Ipswitch Knowledge Base (http://support.ipswitch.com/kb) to work through my troubles. I expected to hear an audio alert and receive an email alert after I unplugged a monitored server’s network cable to induce a downed link, but neither alert came. WhatsUp Gold’s event log said that "due to console response," the program hadn’t processed the audio alert. According to the Ipswitch Knowledge Base, the program won’t execute alerts if it detects user activity in the WhatsUp Gold application—unless you select the Send alert even if console response option from the device’s Add Notification dialog box. After I selected this option, the audio alert sounded. The Ipswitch Knowledge Base also informed me that to process email alerts, the WhatsUp Gold console machine needs to have a static IP address and be DNS-enabled. After I gave my console machine a static IP address, the program successfully sent the email alert.

Tools and Reports
WhatsUp Gold also includes 15 network tools that help administrators perform basic troubleshooting. These tools include Ping, TraceRoute, Whois, SNMP, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), and Throughput utilities. The SNMP tool lets administrators view any port on a router and, for example, examine information from the MIB II (i.e., the second version MIB for use with network management protocols in TCP/IP-based Internets). Although you can’t use the SNMP tool to change SNMP devices’ configurations, you can use it to monitor CPU utilization and memory status. (I didn’t test these capabilities.)

WhatsUp Gold 6.02 enhances WhatsUp Gold 6.0 to let you filter, print, save, and copy the program’s logs. The product also includes a limited version of Crystal Decisions’ Crystal Reports. The preconfigured reports include data on system availability and response time. You can customize the dates that the reports include, as Figure 2 shows, but you must create and launch reports manually. Scheduler functionalities, for launching reports automatically and emailing them to the administrator, would be a useful addition.

Flexible Administration
To permit distributed administration, WhatsUp Gold offers Web-based access. You assign access privileges to users, as Figure 3 shows, whom you can also require to enter passwords to access the Web UI. For example, you can give network administrators privileges to view and edit existing maps and give executives read-only rights to maps. You can also configure a list of trusted IP addresses so that only a particular group of computers can access the Web UI. This UI isn’t pretty, but it’s functional. From the Web UI, you can acknowledge alerts and configure reports, maps, user access, and device monitoring.

WhatsUp Gold is a flexible and powerful alert management tool. The product is a great help for keeping networks running at optimal availability levels. Its low cost, simple deployment, and ease of use make the purchase a no-brainer for small and midsized networks. Large enterprises might even consider purchasing the product for use at the departmental level.

WhatsUp Gold 6.02
Contact: Ipswitch * 781-676-5700
Web: http://www.ipswitch.com
Price: $795; a 1-year service agreement with unlimited technical support and free upgrades costs an additional $295
Decision Summary:
Pros: Powerful and diverse mapping, monitoring, alerting, troubleshooting, and reporting features; low cost; secure Web-based access
Cons: Reports lack scheduling capabilities