IT departments great and small seek server-monitoring tools

Windows administrators at big and small companies alike are looking for ways to monitor their servers, but not just any way. Cost and simplicity constitute a key combination. IpMonitor, a 6-year-old application, is the front-runner for a couple of admins -- one from a huge firm, the other from a small shop.

Before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Pegasus Aviation had 100 employees and seven full-time IT staffers. Now the IT department is one person -- Blaine Busse. He's in charge of servers, WAN and LAN security and day-to-day help calls.

"I don't have enough time in the day to check all my servers," Busse said. This one-man-IT-band is looking for a third-party application that can monitor Pegasus' 20 servers, including six in a Tucson, Ariz., office. All the servers run Windows 2000.

Busse's title is IT director, but he does almost everything. He's so hands-on because there are no other hands, although a part-time administrator helps out in the Tucson office. Busse has looked at products such as DeepMetrix Corp.'s IpMonitor and Woodstone's Servers Alive, as well as Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) for help. Others in the server-monitoring field are SiteScope and VisualPulse.

Keep it simple

Busse is looking for software that doesn't come with an asterisk. He wants one program, one fee, and no add-on costs, which can bring the total price tag up, depending on how many machines or processors are on the network. Such is the case with MOM and VisualPulse. Right now, Busse is leaning toward IpMonitor for four reasons: it works, is cross-platform and Web-based, and can be obtained for a modest, one-time charge of about $700.

Administrators say IpMonitor scales well, and large companies already have bought into it.

Russell Havens, a systems engineer in Novell Corp.'s 200-person IT department, already has IpMonitor checking 200 servers around the world every three minutes.

He's moving all Novell servers to IpMonitor because it's cost effective, and two installed programs -- AlertPage Enterprise and Visual eWatcher -- are no longer supported by their respective vendors. Novell's IT department dropped Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView three years ago because it required too much time to maintain, Havens said.

He uses IpMonitor for what he called "lightweight checks," such as HTTP and DNS connectivity and responsiveness. When IpMonitor detects trouble, a Novell-written script transmits the data to the company headquarters portal, a 10-foot-by-10-foot screen that displays Novell servers on a map of the world.

Havens began migrating Novell servers, which run NetWare, Windows 2000, Unix and Linux, to IpMonitor about 18 months ago. By June, he hopes to be using three or four copies of IpMonitor to track 900 or so servers. Novell employs 7,000 people, he said.

Money top concern

Pegasus, a private company based in San Francisco, leases airplanes to carriers. The terrorist attacks and subsequent drop in air travel knocked Pegasus pretty good.

Important IT projects at the company are stalled thanks to the slowdown in business. A Great Plains ERP rollout is half done; it's usable but lacks customization. Busse intended to migrate the e-mail network to Exchange 2000, but he's still using Exchange 5.5.

"I can't walk up to the CEO and ask for thousands of dollars," he said. "I keep things to a bare minimum."

This year's budget? Busse doesn't have one. He must go to the CFO about once a month to ask for project money. Tricky pricing structures make the budget process even more complicated for Busse.

Added Novell's Havens: "It's much easier to go to my boss and ask for $695, versus $35,000."

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