Paessler tackles increasingly complex IT infrastructure with PRTG

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The IT infrastructure monitoring solution PRTG Network Monitor faces the task of evolving with the increasingly complex network environments of companies. More and more devices are being attached to the company network, in every way you can imagine. However, if these new devices do not work, there is a risk that business operations will stagnate. Paessler has been responding to such issues for years. PRTG monitors the entire IT environment to keep it running.

Over the past period, we have followed Paessler and PRTG closely here at Techzine. For example, we previously gave extensive consideration to what exactly you can do with the monitoring solution. A little later, we noticed that the German company has the ambition to monitor everything: IT, the Internet of Things and the cloud. Paessler still has that ambition, as we noticed during our visit to the recent ‘User event’. At the event for PRTG users, Paessler especially wanted to make tangible what you can do with the tool in unique situations. After all, the user application can sometimes be different from what you originally think of with IT, IoT and the cloud.

Growing business environments

At Paessler, the path taken is also described as ‘monitor beyond IT’, which is a good description of the increasingly complex infrastructure. The company refers to having traditional things like servers and switches under control in combination with newer technologies. This includes hybrid environments, for example, in which PRTG is used to monitor on-premise and cloud-based solutions. For the latter category, there are a number of standard PRTG sensors that users can deploy, such as for Salesforce and Office 365. Paessler has already built sensors for the frequently used Software as a Service (SaaS) tools.

In addition, the IoT is something Paessler is working on and looking at. In the business world, more and more devices will communicate. Sensors in agriculture will have to improve the quality of the harvest, new endpoints will have to make a warehouse work better, in hospitals the equipment will talk to improve patient care, and we can go on like this for a while. The IoT thus creates new challenges, which Paessler wants to address by further developing PRTG. Ultimately, the idea is that IoT applications will be implemented everywhere, although there is still not much to say about a possible broad adoption after years of talking about it.

Development of new sensors

Paessler also has the necessary ideas on the shelf for supporting newer scenarios. PRTG collects data on availability and performance of IT devices, services and applications. For such sensors, Paessler has developed communication protocols so that they are tailored to the devices using the protocols. All standard protocols are supported, such as Ping, SNMP, WMI, HTTP, xFlow and REST APIs returning XML or JSON.

It is expected that the communication of newer devices will also make a number of protocols more important than they are now. Paessler expects that the current market can be covered with SNMP, but that more appropriate protocols will be developed due to hardware changes. According to Paessler, SNMP will remain, but it will be less dominant than it is now.

Instead, devices will adopt more REST API and OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA), Paessler believes. Compared to SNMP, more data can be collected with REST APIs, while communication is also better. The adoption of REST APIs is getting broadened, and Paessler already has sensors available for it. According to Paessler, tailor-made REST Custom sensors will play a decisive role in this. For the other protocol, OPC UA, a sensor still needs to be built. This protocol should improve communication between industrial devices, which fits in well with Paessler’s idea to further support the IoT.

Tailor-made sensors

According to Paessler, it is ultimately important to continue to introduce such targeted sensors within his software. Of course, Paessler will continue to work on introducing sensors for well-known IT suppliers such as Nutanix and Fujitsu, which are all custom made, but it becomes even more interesting when companies make so-called Custom Sensors themselves. As a company, you will first ask yourself what you want to monitor and then write your own sensor.

During the ‘User event’, several customers showed how this works out for them. The Dutch regional broadcaster RTV Noord, for example, told us that it received complaints from users about a too weak FM signal. At a central point in the province, the FM distributor sends the FM signal, which in theory means that it can cover a large area. However, RTV Noord doubted whether the signal reached the places the FM distributor promised to reach. To test this, an IT employee living in a small village in the Netherlands installed an FM receiver, and then read it out with PRTG. In this way, the signal of the FM distribution can be measured exactly. At the moment RTV Noord is working on finding out exactly what value the FM distributor’s signal is too weak so that the sensor really proves its added value in practice.

Ultimately, Custom Sensors are capable of tackling very specific problems. For example, another company mentioned that end-users were experiencing problems with certain Internet services. After some research, they found out that the routing protocol BGP had chosen a different route for the delivery of data traffic, which caused the delay. To prevent this in the future, a Custom Sensor was devised to monitor the routing table on routers. Data about the route can be found in these route tables. When PRTG looks at this data, deviations from the primary route can be detected. In case of an anomaly, the Custom Sensor immediately sends a signal to the network administrator.

Growth you can’t ignore

In general, PRTG users agree that the application of the software will expand further, whether through Custom Sensors or existing sensors. Just about every visitor will get a larger network infrastructure, which they want to monitor with more sensors.

RTV Noord, for example, sees the need to expand the number of sensors to make it possible to monitor non-IT solutions too. These include critical video equipment. This will stimulate the use of Custom Sensors. So the broadcaster has adopted the monitoring solution really widely and is satisfied with it. Partly, this is because of the PRTG app, which makes monitoring at the end of the ride a matter of getting a notification of the malfunction via the app. The infrastructure manager can then take immediate action and does not need to monitor dashboards or email 24/7 for the status of the IT environment.

As far as we are concerned, Paessler has shown that it is on the right track to tackle the increasingly complex network infrastructure. We are therefore curious to see what this will mean for PRTG.