As one of the nation's first completely online universities, Columbia Southern University (CSU) provides a challenging, rewarding and flexible education to more than 20,000 active students each year. Uncompromising network reliability and round-the-clock access are crucial to CSU's ability to deliver its highly-sought-after associate, bachelor and postgraduate programs. The recent acquisition of Waldorf College has expanded the CSU networking landscape by not only adding a physical campus-based system to the mix, but also another 500-600 students.

With all the changes in IT demand over the last year, Travis Foschini, manager of information technology at CSU, says Paessler AG's PRTG Network Monitor has become a key component in his team's efforts to keep track of network activity and resources to ensure reliable access and delivery of the university's curriculum.

A large percentage of the students CSU serves are military or emergency personnel, such as fire fighters, police and first responders. By the nature of their work, they access course materials around the clock. In fact, the busiest hours at CSU occur outside the typical 9-5 work day, and the system must be up and running 24/7/365.

Flexible, Adaptable, Easy to Use

Already familiar with Paessler's IP Check, an earlier version of PRTG, Foschini and his team test drove both PRTG and Ipswitch's WhatsUp Gold to compare the two. Foschini found PRTG to be the most flexible, adaptable and easy to use solution to meet his needs. CSU began by monitoring availability and performance of 30 physical servers; that has now grown to include 150 virtual servers, 20 physical servers, switches, routers, network load balancers, storage area networks, network attached storage, uninterruptible power supplies, power distribution hardware and "all things in between," with more than 3,000 sensors deployed across the network, monitoring resources from Dell, HP, Cisco, VMware, APC and others.

In addition to ensuring high availability for external customers-CSU students-PRTG provides monitoring for a variety of services required to support internal staff and faculty, including application servers, web servers, file shares and databases.

"PRTG is a key to maximizing productivity in a tough economy," Foschini said. "It ensures that we're always providing the best service to students, but also positions each resource for maximum benefit to the traditional employees, yielding higher results and less wait time throughout."

 

Travis Foschini, Manager of Information Technology at CSU

PRTG Works Second Shift

Foschini says PRTG's instant alerts and historical performance tracking are among the primary features he and his team rely on for more efficient troubleshooting, monitoring and management. PRTG tracks historical performance for each monitored component, making it easy to establish "baseline" metrics and identify deviations. PRTG can be configured to send customized automatic alerts via SMS, email or telephone to key personnel when out-of-threshold activities occur. When hardware fails, server demand spikes or bandwidth usage skyrockets, team members know within seconds. These anomalous events can be easily spotted on user-friendly graphical charts, which also provide drill-down capabilities to help troubleshoot the source of the problem.

"PRTG is like our second shift, working after hours, on weekends and holidays to make sure our network is up and running," Foschini said. "We rely on it heavily 24/7, because we don't have 24/7 staff."

Easy to Learn, Saves Time and Money

Foschini says that PRTG has proven to be not only very reliable, but also extremely user-friendly. Easy to implement and maintain, PRTG also scales elegantly to handle anywhere from a few sensors to thousands without missing a beat.

"For a small staff like ours, that's the real value in this product," he said. "The learning curve is minimal, it's very easy to use and our least experienced team member has become the PRTG expert. The program is extremely robust and has loads of native sensors to track key indicators on a variety of devices and applications. The database and footprint are compact, making for a quick and responsive interface, even with the large number of sensors we have running."

In addition to keeping tabs on the network, providing peace of mind that everything is running as expected, Foschini and his team also routinely use PRTG Network Monitor for resource planning to help keep their IT budget in check. By monitoring for bandwidth usage and quality of service, PRTG has helped CSU better determine if/when to buy more capacity-and when to save their money by optimizing their current resources. It's also used to properly provision VMware and SAN resources by indicating when CSU is nearing capacity of utilization in these resources.

"I really can't imagine being with out it," Foschini said. "Unless you have PRTG or a similar product, you simply don't know if things are really working or how well they are performing. Not a day goes by that we don't use PRTG to analyze what's happening."

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