Product review: Network monitoring tools stand watch

(08/23/99) - As varied as job descriptions may be, network professionals share a common goal: to discover and fix any problem before users catch wind of it.

We reviewed six products designed to monitor the health and availability of network devices and, in some cases, resolve a problem automatically. The products send alerts by pager, e-mail and pop-up dialogue boxes to notify you of any network outage and produce reports to help you establish baselines, identify trends and spot future problems.

For the most part, the products we tested focus on service and device availability and stop short of really analysing traffic flow and identifying bottlenecks. While no single product won every category we scored, MediaHouse Software's Enterprise Monitor 5.2 won our Blue Ribbon Award on the strength of its monitoring, notification and management features.

Heroix's RoboMon 7.5 placed a close second, thanks to its unmatched reporting features and thorough documentation. RoboMon also stood out for its ability to respond to and correct some device problems through its local agents, which must be installed on each machine to be monitored. Similarly, local agents gave a leg up to Ripple Technologies' LogCaster 2.1, whose corrective features rival those of RoboMon, but for fewer platforms. What hurt LogCaster's score was the product's lack of a Web interface and more involved setup.

Conversely, Dartmouth College's InterMapper 2.1 is a breeze to install and manage, but lacks the strength of the leader's reporting features. Its Mac-centricity may discourage some users. In addition, InterMapper doesn't take much corrective action, nor do the other two products we tested, WhatsUp Gold 4.0 from Ipswitch and the WatchDog 3.6 product line from Tessler's Nifty Tools.

WhatsUp Gold adds autodiscovery features to the mix, but lacks monitoring depth. Composed of individual modules that separately monitor TCP/IP, e-mail, communication and file services, WatchDog is a no-frills, easy-to-use network monitoring toolbox. What it does, it does quite well. But it's basically limited to TCP/IP services and only recently added Windows NT service monitoring.

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