As corporate networks get larger and more complex, monitoring them gets uglier and the tools to rein them in grow more costly.
StatScout's StatScout 2.02 -- similar to Platinum ProVision Network Monitor (formerly GenevaSoft's AlertPage) and LANQuest's NetClarity -- provides affordable WAN monitoring, although you must do without some bells and whistles. This low-cost solution has its charm, but your environment will be key in deciding whether it meets your needs.
Developed in Australia, StatScout uses a three-level client/server architecture that employs "probe" machines to monitor remote sites and forward data to "server" machines, which in turn make data available to any HTML-frames-compatible Web browser. StatScout's probe and server software run on FreeBSD, a free Unix clone based on BSD Unix. Although Linux has received a lot of attention recently for both its price and reliability compared to Windows NT, many ISPs use FreeBSD because they see it as more stable as a network server.
The server requires a minimum 200MHz Pentium Pro with 64Mbytes of RAM, but the probe machines can be modest 486s -- allowing the overall hardware cost to be quite reasonable. Once FreeBSD (which is not included with StatScout) is installed, you'll need to install a customised FreeBSD kernel to support StatScout, then install StatScout and configure the package.
If you already have FreeBSD installed, adding StatScout is a five-minute job. However, the manual's coverage of configuration was unclear in places. StatScout's technical support was able to bail me out and take notes for the next revision.
Once StatScout's configuration problems were ironed out, I was pleased by the results. StatScout uses the highly regarded freeware, Apache Web server, to provide access to the data it gathers. The Web page presentation was very good, offering help on practically every screen. StatScout let me view traffic levels and which machines were communicating with each other; track protocol usage; monitor SNMP traps; track service levels; trigger pings; and trace routes to monitored systems. Plus StatScout performed speedily on my Fast Ethernet segment.
However, there were some holes. Although I could monitor SNMP traps, I could not view SNMP data on other systems. And although StatScout will monitor SNMP and set up alerts when monitored systems vanish, it has no e-mail or paging notification. The company said these features are in the works, but it is a glaring omission.
Finally, I'd love to see "friendly names" instead of Media Access Control layer addresses, through DNS lookup or a table that the system manager creates.
StatScout's price may seem high in contrast to similar solutions, such as GenevaSoft's AlertPage (approximately $US8000) and LANQuest's NetClarity (about $US10,000 for eight network segments). But FreeBSD should scale better -- on more modest hardware -- than the two Windows NT-based solutions, so the total system price could be far less than the competition's. Furthermore, the FreeBSD platform should be more robust than NT.
A network-monitoring system is a significant investment, so I suggest cautious decision-making. StatScout is worth a look, despite rough roads with its initial installation.
Mike Avery (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a networking consultant in Beaumont, TexasThe bottom line: GOODStatScout 2.02StatScout offers suitable distributed network monitoring at an affordable price.
Pros: Minimal network impact, low startup costCons: Paging and alerting functions missing; difficult setupStatScout Software: www.statscout.comPrice: Starter (one server, three probes): $US13,000; Enterprise starter (one server, 19 probes): $US25,000Platforms: Server/probes: FreeBSD 2.2.6 or later; Clients: browser-supporting frames.