When “ants” help
secure the wireless network

 

About Bechtle

With 80 system houses as well as e-commerce companies in 14 European countries, we are close to our customers. The combination of direct sales of IT products with comprehensive system house services makes Bechtle a strong IT partner for medium-sized businesses, corporations, and public-sector clients. Regionally on site, in Europe and worldwide through IT alliance partners on all continents. Around 40,000 hardware and software products are available via online stores, customer-specific e-procurement platforms, and telesales. Across the Group, experts in 96 competence centers provide support for a wide range of complex IT issues.

 

PRTG as a strategic monitoring solution

For Bechtle IT-Systemhaus in Bielefeld, the use of tools to monitor the services of customers is nothing new. However, these tools were often open-source solutions or software that was already in use by their customers. With each new project, the Bechtle team was required to become familiar with the respective tool, losing much precious (and costly) time in the process. Initially, Bechtle introduced PRTG to its Bielefeld office to monitor its internal systems. The trial was so promising that the company decided to use PRTG as its standard monitoring solution. 

Sven Pöttner, Service Manager at Bechtle IT-Systemhaus in Bielefeld, has been familiar with the freeware edition of PRTG from Nuremberg-based Paessler AG for quite some time. In fact, he uses PRTG to monitor the IP cameras (and their connections) via a 60 GHz wireless bridge in the barn of his farm: “With the freeware edition of PRTG, I get all the same features as the licensed edition, including 100 free sensors. PRTG is extremely easy to set up and use. It makes monitoring fun and has increased the value of my private network. When it came to choosing a monitoring tool for the projects of our customers, it was clear that PRTG belonged on the short list of contenders,” explains Pöttner. 

After testing PRTG along with other software, the company overwhelmingly opted for the Paessler tool. PRTG is entirely agentless software. It is easy to install and operate in Windows, and offers straightforward (and relatively inexpensive) pricing and licensing models. PRTG also comes with technical support from Paessler, a service that continually receives rave reviews from customers. Remote probes, another standout feature, allow for the secure, professional, and straightforward monitoring of customer networks.

The diagram illustrates the various possibilities offered by PRTG when setting up remote monitoring with remote probes

The diagram illustrates the various possibilities offered by PRTG when setting up remote monitoring with remote probes

 


The PRTG core server runs in the private cloud of Bechtle. Option 1 (orange) is the classic configuration, using a VPN to connect to the customer’s network. In this configuration, the local probe (which runs on the same system as the PRTG server) collects the monitoring data via the VPN. In larger environments, it can also be helpful to use a remote probe on the customer side to bundle the data traffic or relieve the local probe.

Option 2 (blue) involves installing a remote probe on the customer‘s network, i.e., a Windows service that collects the monitoring data from the customer‘s network using common protocols and sends this data to the server in the cloud where it is analyzed. The data is sent in encrypted form (TLS) directly to the server through an opened port in the firewall. This has two main advantages: 

  • No need to set up a VPN – saving time, money, and (often) hassle.
  • Increased security: The remote probe is installed directly by the PRTG server, and a clearly specified port is opened for the communication between the probe and the server (instead of a VPN tunnel, which often cannot be clearly specified and is therefore more prone to risk).

Monitoring with or without agents?

In monitoring, agents refer to services that are installed on the device to be monitored. Many monitoring tools do not work without agents – or use agents for many of their functions. Agentless systems use standard protocols such as SNMP, WMI, and FTP to monitor devices and applications. There are pros and cons to both methods – during the comparison of tools by Bechtle in Bielefeld, the agentless nature of PRTG was one of the reasons for choosing the software. Agents are not only costly, but also – as in the case of Bechtle – can create problems for service providers. After all, these external services must be installed and operated on the hardware of customers. For customers, this can be a hard pill to swallow. Agents generate extra load on devices and require the opening of communication channels, which in turn jeopardizes the security standards established by many customers.

 

Pöttner continues: “Thanks to remote probes, PRTG allows us to set up remote monitoring scenarios in no time at all – a vital factor for us as an IT service provider. But that’s not all. We were immediately struck by the comprehensive monitoring features of PRTG during our very first customer projects with the tool.” One of these projects involved setting up a wireless service for STIEBEL ELTRON.

 

STIEBEL ELTRON: Wireless service with “ants” to boot

Bechtle customer STIEBEL ELTRON is a worldwide leader in home automation and green technologies. The company has come a long way since 1924, when it invented the very first coil immersion heater. Today, it offers water heaters, heat pumps, and ventilation systems, providing customers with the very best in innovation, quality,
and expertise.

At its headquarters in Holzminden, Germany, all the latest technology goes into making its products. To optimize this production, STIEBEL ELTRON needs a comprehensive wireless network that is always available. The company therefore relies on the professional IT services provided by the experts at Bechtle IT-Systemhaus in Bielefeld. In particular, Sven Pöttner, Service Manager at Bechtle, makes use of Cisco wireless controllers. When setting up the wireless system, Bechtle worked closely with Stiebel to ensure critical parts of the building received reinforced coverage while less critical areas received more basic coverage. But even those areas with reinforced coverage require continuous monitoring: undetected anomalies or failures in the functionality of individual components can quickly add up and lead to Bechtle no longer meeting the conditions of the SLA for its wireless service. But with the right monitoring tool, these malfunctions can be detected and remedied at once.

 

PRTG stores all monitoring data in its original interval for any given period of time. This allows Bechtle to demonstrate its compliance with its SLA with STIEBEL ELTRON as needed. Thanks to predefined Cisco sensors in PRTG, it was quick and easy to integrate the wireless setup in the monitoring environment. Other components that might influence the availability and stability of the wireless services were also integrated into PRTG with ease.

As mentioned above, malfunctions require the immediate intervention of the respective Bechtle employees. PRTG was therefore linked to the Bechtle ticket system. Here we can see another advantage of PRTG: notifications are sent as plain text, allowing service technicians to immediately understand the problem without having to decipher error codes. In addition, PRTG allows for the creation of so-called “maps,” or dashboards that show exactly where the faulty devices are located in the building so they can be repaired at once.

 

poettner web


„PRTG Enterprise Monitor is an all-in-one monitoring tool that lets us monitor every aspect of our customers’ systems. It provides our customers (or us) with an overview of all the relevant monitoring data on a single dashboard.“

Sven Pöttner, Service Manager, Bechtle

 

Bechtle also monitors “ants” in the wireless network

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AGVs (automated guided vehicles) play a special role at the STIEBEL ELTRON production site. These so-called “ants” are largely autonomous, i.e., they are not continuously controlled by a specific service but merely receive orders via Wi-Fi at defined checkpoints.

The “ants” use a guidance system to make their way between the various checkpoints. If an “ant” does not receive a command at a checkpoint, it simply stops and generates downtime. This missing command may be caused by a problem with the wireless coverage.

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Bechtle in Bielefeld uses this hypothesis to improve its monitoring: it monitors the “ants” with PRTG via a simple ping. If no response is received, then this might be an indication that something is wrong with the wireless network. The Bechtle team is immediately alerted by PRTG and can therefore quickly check the WLAN for errors – and if necessary, fix the problem directly.

An unexpected benefit of this creative trick is that Bechtle is continuously updated on the status of the “ants.” Upon request, Bechtle sends this information to STIEBEL ELTRON, even if the “ant” issue has nothing to do with the wireless network. Bechtle not only secures the WLAN for STIEBEL ELTRON, but also monitors the status of the AGVs.

 

More monitoring

After successfully deploying PRTG during its first customer projects, Bechtle IT-Systemhaus in Bielefeld plans to increase its use of the monitoring tool in the future. Subscription-based, its current PRTG Enterprise Monitor license is entirely flexible and can easily be adapted to each individual project. With a PRTG Enterprise Monitor license, any number of PRTG servers can be used. With PRTG, Bechtle can customize the monitoring of its customers without having to worry about ballooning costs or license-related restrictions.

But Sven Pöttner also sees the potential technical benefits of using PRTG: “The maps function in PRTG is extremely handy for creating personalized HTML dashboards for each of our customers. These dashboards provide our customers with overviews of all the information their administrators need, including management-related overviews displaying the status and availability of the most important processes and services, and dashboards for help desks and technicians who need a detailed overview or in-depth information on just a few components.” 

One reason Bechtle went with an all-in-one monitoring tool was to create a standard and thereby keep training costs to a minimum. By deploying PRTG for its internal systems, Bechtle immediately familiarizes its technical trainees with the monitoring software and thus ensures they have no trouble using the tool during customer projects. More often than not, customers already have their own monitoring software and want (or need) to keep these tools for various reasons. PRTG comes with an API and an ITOps Board to seamlessly integrate these tools into the centralized monitoring environment. “PRTG Enterprise Monitor is an all-in-one monitoring tool that lets us monitor every aspect of our customers’ systems. It provides our customers (or us) with an overview of all the relevant monitoring data on a single dashboard,” says Pöttner. “Bechtle in Darmstadt also uses PRTG, and in the future, we‘ll join forces to enhance our know-how, reduce costs, and ultimately provide a better service for our customers.”

As Service Manager at Bechtle IT-Systemhaus in Bielefeld, Sven Pöttner oversees the STIEBEL ELTRON project (among others).

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