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Buyer's Guide: Network Monitoring on Mobile Devices

Use your smartphone to monitor your company's network devices

Have you left for work recently and accidently forgotten your smartphone? No doubt you turned back to retrieve it. Our smartphones are no longer just devices that we use to make phone calls; they've become extensions of our daily lives. If you already have this mobile computing platform attached to your hip, why not add the capability to monitor your company's network devices?

This month's Buyer's Guide lists network monitoring solutions that include a mobile component. Before evaluating these solutions, though, you should determine your monitoring needs and the mobile-specific features you want.

Determining Monitoring Needs

Some network monitoring solutions are installed and managed exclusively on a platform, whereas others are platform independent. So, before you begin looking at network monitoring solutions, it's helpful to identify the OSs you need to monitor. For example, will you be monitoring only Windows OSs or a mix of OSs? You should also identify other elements you need to monitor, such databases, applications, and websites.

Besides identifying what you need to monitor, you should consider the type of monitoring that's needed. For example, do you simply need to monitor a website service to make sure it's running, or do you need to make sure that the web page has a specific word or phrase published at all times? Do you want to keep track of disk utilization, CPU utilization, memory utilization, server uptime, and/or packet loss? Knowing these types of details ahead of time can help you narrow down the number of solutions to evaluate.

Another consideration is how the monitoring solution keeps track of what's going on within the network. There are two main approaches:

  • Remote monitoring with SNMP, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), or another technology
  • Local monitoring, where an agent is installed onto each host or device
Remote and local monitoring have advantages and disadvantages, but the best solutions typically support a hybrid of both.

With the popularity of the cloud (i.e., someone else's data center over which you have limited control), some network monitoring vendors now offer a Software as a Service (SaaS) model for their products. The biggest advantage to SaaS is that you can quickly add services without adding more overhead to your data center. At the same time, you also have to consider the security implications and reliability of your Internet connection. Make sure you're comfortable with the ports that will need to be opened on your network firewall. Finally, check regulatory compliances before considering an SaaS solution for any service.

Over the past 12 years, Active Directory (AD) has helped us consolidate the number of username and password combinations that we need to remember. Make sure that your new monitoring solution takes advantage of this authentication mechanism. Some monitoring solutions will integrate directly with AD, whereas others might require a third-party helper, such as Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS). Make sure that the product you choose won't require you to memorize yet another username and password.

Determining Mobile-Specific Features

Each of the vendors listed in the Buyer's Guide table will most likely be able to satisfy one or more of the aforementioned criteria for your particular environment. Now let's look at the mobile-specific features that you might find valuable.

If your company uses one of the more popular mobile smartphones, such as Apple iPhone, Google Android, or Windows Mobile, there might be a platform-specific application for your phone. However, if you're using a less popular smartphone such as Palm or Research in Motion BlackBerry, your options might be limited. Another option is to choose a product that uses a special "mobile version" of the network monitoring solution's website. This can "future proof" the solution, because these products usually work with any mobile browser. Some of these mini-websites work just as well as or better than a native smartphone application.

The functionality of the smartphone application or mobile website can vary greatly from vendor to vendor. Some are customizable, whereas others are simply "status pages." Having a customizable mobile application can be a very important feature if you're monitoring hundreds of devices. A hundred devices won't fit on a mobile screen, so take into account how the UI is laid out and if it can be changed to suite your requirements.

In addition to simply monitoring whether a server or service is running, some of these network monitoring solutions are actually mini-troubleshooting tools. For example, you can acknowledge the alert, dive down through the UI to find the exact service that's down, or connect to the server using remote-desktop or command-prompt functionality for further troubleshooting.

Carefully Consider Your Options

Monitoring the network services that your company relies on isn't a new task. Using your powerful mobile device to augment this capability just makes sense. Carefully consider your options as you use the Buyer's Guide table to evaluate each vendor.

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