Network management for the masses

PacketTrap, Paglo, and ManageEngine are three tools that let you look inside your network and manage it properly

The old saying that "you can only manage what you can measure" happens to be true, so what can you see inside your network that allows you to manage it properly? If you can't see much, you'll be glad to know network management tools are reinventing themselves constantly. Let's take a look at three options, one traditional (PacketTrap) and two (Paglo and ManageEngine) using the software-as-a-service model.

Why manage? After all, if something breaks on your network the users will let you know, right? Sometimes they'll even yell at you politely.

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But if the network's slow, who's to blame? An old switch that's generating errors or the accounting clerk streaming YouTube videos all day? Is one server running nearly 100 percent CPU utilization while another is idling? How many devices do you have on your network? Wouldn't it be nice to know when a new device shows up? Especially if it's a low-end wireless router installed by someone on the sly that is now broadcasting a welcome mat to the world, or at least the part of the world within 100 feet?

Modern network management tools tell you all those details and hundreds more. Even better, information that used to be cryptically hard to read now appears in color graphics and charts that even managers can understand.

I first met PacketTrap before they had a product, so it's nice to see them convert their vision to software that organizes and controls Open Source Software management tools in a slick modern interface. They're following the traditional network management application route of selling software for users to install on their own servers.

Starting at $1,495 for 50 device licenses, PacketTrap hits the middle-range point. While there are many free tools on the low end, the longest running and most successful program I know at an entry point below PacketTrap is What's Up Gold from Ipswitch, which starts at $595. PacketTrap offers their Publisher program that grabs, reformats and reinterprets data gathered by other management software applications, small and large, for $995.

One of my favorite features of PacketTrap is Perspective, including where the company gets the name, which is from the ability to examine how the world looks from any particular networked device. Click and drill down a little, and you can see what devices a particular server or workstation sends packets to, gets packets from, and the applications it runs. If you see a workstation receiving half its packets from a basketball video replay site, you may not need that bandwidth upgrade after all. Reign in streaming media by bandwidth hogs, and your Internet response for everyone will greatly improve.

PacketTrap folks tell me 80 percent of their customers are looking for traffic flow analysis. Since many of their competitors rely strictly on the Cisco-developed NetFlow protocol, they can't see as many traffic details as PacketTrap can by leveraging other NetFlow-type programs. PacketTrap has the framework, and they plug in other software modules to feed more network information to their dashboard. You can download the software and test it for free.

Paglo, a new player, has the tagline "the search engine for IT." That sounds to me like a database, rather than a description of complete knowledge of your network gathered by Paglo's software crawler. Just like Web crawlers that roam the Web searching for information about Web sites, Paglo's crawler digs out information about your network and sends it to Paglo HQ where you view all through a browser interface.

SaaS philosophy guides Paglo pricing: $1 per monitored device per month. The crawler gathers information on the devices you specify, and you access that information on Paglo's hosted administration software. It has dashboards and interesting graphical traffic flow displays and complete details about software and hardware installed in your devices.

Much like Google gathers unstructured information, indexes it, and reports it in various ways to searchers, Paglo gathers your network information, indexes it, and reports it back. Being SaaS-based, Paglo allows companies to put crawlers in multiple branches, but monitor them from anywhere over the Web. Have three remote offices that need monitoring? No problem, just run a crawler in each one and view the results online.

As you can guess, this is a great model for network resellers and consultants interested in monitoring customers without spending a fortune or installing hardware at each site. The software crawler looks, but doesn't touch, any system, so there's no workstation or client impact, and nothing gets installed on monitored systems.

When Paglo went live late last year, management was surprised how quickly consultants and managed service providers signed up. The sweet spot for Paglo, according to CEO Brian de Haaff, is companies with 50-5,000 devices, and they often only monitor a handful of systems. A few bucks per month for X-ray vision into your servers sounds like a pretty good deal, and de Haaff says they now have more than 500,000 devices being monitored. Yes, there's a free trial.

You probably haven't heard the name ManageEngine, but you probably do know their corporate sibling: Zoho. The same parent company, AdventNet, owns both, and wants to leverage their award-winning SaaS experience with Zoho into the network management arena, where they've had some global success already.

Much like Paglo, ManageEngine's OpManager OnDemand uses local software to scan the network and report the information up to the hosted service. Clients then log in to their administration accounts and see what the crawler found. No hardware or software investment upfront, and the service is easy to get up and running to report useful information.

ManageEngine puts their 90:10 promise at the top of their Web site: 90 percent of the features of the Big 4 at 10 percent of the price. They're aiming at larger companies than Paglo if they're comparing themselves to the big names in network management.

They've been working in enterprise networks for a while, but they're leveraging the SaaS model to go down market. Pricing plans currently are $5 per managed device per month, although they quickly assured me they're flexible and reviewing the pricing all the time. Yes, you can try it free.

One tagline from ManageEngine can be used by all these systems: no ninjas required. Get network monitoring and management systems up fast, get good information, and keep more of your money in your pocket.

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This story, "Network management for the masses" was originally published by Network World.

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