Tip: Automate your network monitoring process

As your network starts to grow, you need a way to automate the tedious process of monitoring your servers and network. Luckily, there are plenty of solutions out there, from freeware to commercial enterprise packages.

Monitoring the health and status of network components is a big part of any network administrator's job, and itís a constantly ongoing process. There are many devices that make up a network: workstations, servers, routers, switches, firewalls, WAPs, cables, UPSs and other components that are more or less critical to the operation of the network.

Even in a small network, manually checking each of these on a daily (or more frequent) basis can be tedious and time consuming. In the enterprise environment, automating the monitoring process is essential.

Why you should monitor

The purpose of monitoring is to catch problems -- or potential problems -- which theyíre small and rectify them before damage is done. The consequences of a downed mail server or file server or a bandwidth bottleneck can be hours or even days of lost productivity. A hardware problem such as a disk failure could result in data loss (if appropriate backup measures arenít in place or donít work properly). The more quickly you know whatís going on, the more quickly you can fix it.

What to monitor

The first decision in creating an effective monitoring strategy, which will be crucial in determining what methods and software package(s) to use, is exactly what aspects of the network you want to monitor. At the least, youíll probably want to monitor some or all of the following:

Selecting a monitoring solution

If your network is small and youíre on a tight budget, you can use tools built into the operating system and/or free utilities to keep tabs on your systems and network. A comprehensive monitoring strategy on a shoestring may require that you implement a combination of several software solutions to cover all bases.

Built-in and free monitoring tools

For example, you can use the System Monitor/Performance Monitor thatís included with the Windows server operating systems to identify any performance bottlenecks that may spell trouble now or in the future. You can select from a huge number of counters to measure the performance of many of the serverís services as well as processor, memory, network interface(s), physical disk and so forth. And you can monitor counters from remote computers as well as the local one. The Performance Logs and Alerts feature can be used to log events and to send a network message when a specified threshold value is reached.

The Windows event logs are also useful tools for monitoring system and application activities, as well as security-related events. Warnings and error messages can indicate brewing or extant problems.

You can view the event logs on remote Windows computers using WMI or with third-party software products such as the (free) Event Log Explorer.

There are many free network and server monitoring tools available. Some of these include:

Some examples of enterprise level monitoring tools include: