Network device management with PRTG
- The network infrastructure
- How does intelligent network device management help?
- Management with the Simple Network Management Protocol
- When does network device management make sense?
- How does a network work?
- The network landscape
- Monitoring as the basis of network device management
- How can PRTG monitoring software help?
- PRTG is an all-in-one monitoring solution
- 11 good reasons to choose PRTG for your network device management
- Practical management of network devices
The network infrastructure
At the heart of every company lies its network
The company network is part of the basic infrastructure of any business. It is also an essential component, for it enables teamwork and provides access to the Internet. It also allows for all members of staff (including management) to share a company’s hardware, printers, servers, and services, and thus communicate and exchange data with one another.
Makeup of the network
A variety of devices are needed to build a network. The router connects the company’s local network (LAN/WLAN) to the wide area network (WAN), the Internet, and the outside world. Switches, hubs, cables, wireless technology, and power supplies connect computers, VoIP phones, printers, and servers to the router - and to each other.
The above-mentioned network devices make up the network infrastructure. To keep these devices up and running as smoothly as possible, a few basic conditions are required. Companies must determine how data is exchanged between these devices and invest in clear-cut network device management. When met, these conditions make troubleshooting more effective than ever. By spending less time sniffing out problems, companies not only keep downtime to a minimum, but they also save money and prevent losses in sales.
How does intelligent network device management help?
Optimizing device management
One way to optimize network device management is by using a tool that automatically searches the network for current data and new devices. Instead of having to create laborious Excel sheets for devices or enter information into device management software manually, users receive an up-to-date display of available network devices and status information automatically.
This overview also shows the current version of the firmware and specifies if devices are in need of an update or patch. Ideally, the update will be delivered from one central location or the sysadmin informed that action is required.
Dashboards, maps, and reports make network information both succinct and easy to understand. When management is performed remotely from one central location, companies can save big on unnecessary travel costs.
Service and maintenance
Network device management is vital to successful device service and maintenance. Status overviews and real-time database information allow for maintenance to be planned from one central location, and device swaps to be prepared in advance.
In the event of a problem, you can troubleshoot all devices remotely. When information is centralized, error management becomes a whole lot easier.
Prompt error notifications
If a device malfunctions, an error message appears on the dashboard or is sent by email or SMS. This saves you the hassle of having to check your devices manually. Network device management software runs in the background and keeps a constant eye on all your devices.
You won’t have to wait until a frantic coworker calls to let you know their device is down and needed at once, but can immediately intervene when the software detects a bug - before anyone in the company notices something is wrong.
Security and stability
Network device management software allows sysadmins to determine if ports are open or firmware is out of date. It can also identify bandwidth bottlenecks, network congestion, and suspicious traffic.
Alternative paths are important for the stability of a network. The mapping of network devices and their connections is helpful for establishing such paths. Without redundancy, device malfunctions or connection problems can lead to costly losses in productivity.
Side note: Management with the Simple Network Management Protocol
To manage a network, you need information; information that can be delivered by SNMP sensors. SNMP stands for Simple Network Management Protocol. It is a set of standards for communication with devices in a TCP/IP network. SNMP is useful for the monitoring of servers and network devices such as hosts, routers, hubs, and switches.
Monitoring tools use SNMP to collect and compare network management data. This information is required to fix errors, make fact-based decisions, and effectively manage processes and devices.
Each device has several parameters which can be measured and retrieved. Each device parameter – e.g. the level of ink in a printer – has an OID, or “object identifier.” Network device manufacturers deliver MIBs (management information bases) for their devices which include all the OIDs that are available on the device. Sysadmins incorporate these MIBs into their network management, thereby allowing the required information to arrive.
When does network device management make sense?
Network device management is a must for small businesses or enterprises, offices, building, campuses, individual or distributed locations, and single or multiple server rooms. The same goes for the networks of (even) smaller companies. Network device management allows these companies, after a period of growth, to avoid having to start over from scratch because their network architecture and device configurations have become too complex to understand.
Tip: Another reason for incorporating potential growth into your network device management lies in your network’s cabling. In many cases, this cabling can no longer be undone or re-laid at a later time.
Designing the networks of startups... all the way to big corporations
For small companies or startups, a simple setup including a compact server rack, routers, switches, cables, workstations, printers, and VoIP phones is often sufficient. When wireless access points and repeaters are added to the routers and switches, LAN and WLAN networks no longer suffice.
Next come VPNs for the sales team and employees who work from home, along with extensive WAN networks. One server room is usually enough for SMEs, while larger corporations will need several such rooms as well as work spaces for their locations in cities and countries around the world.
Monitoring and network device management should be scaled in accordance with the network infrastructure. Companies should already be in possession of tools that can respond to such changes and expansions, and which are not limited in scope from the start. In a nutshell, companies must be prepared for the future.
Managing distributed locations
Network device management is recommended for handling the increased complexity of distributed locations. Communication between locations, external customers, and partners should be as free from disruptions as possible.
The best way to monitor your various locations is from one central location, where a map of each respective network architecture can be created remotely. Constant monitoring provides sysadmins with information regarding the bandwidth and availability of networks and network devices, and automatically sounds the alarm when critical conditions are reached.
Remote probes are used to manage distributed sites and separate LANs from one central location. These probes gather LAN monitoring data and send it to a core server, where it is analyzed.
Wide area networks and virtual private networks (WANs, VPNs)
Wide area networks (WANs) are often prone to failure as they stretch across a larger area which can include several countries or even continents. Nevertheless, WAN data is just as crucial – if not more critical – for companies and organizations as data from a LAN. Applications, services, and databases must always be accessible. The same goes for VPN networks, which are vital to sales reps and employees who work from home. In general, it is recommended that WANs and VPNs be managed from one central location.
Managing multiple server rooms
One of the biggest challenges for sysadmins lies in the management of multiple server rooms. The separate server architectures must be configured individually, and simultaneously be able to be managed from one central location. Without professional network device management software, such intricate management is next to impossible.
How does a network work?
Cables form the basis of almost every company network. These cables should be arranged in a standardized manner. Quality and stability are two key factors which are taken into consideration to maximize data transmission speeds and thus make it easier for employees to work.
Most of the time, cables are arranged in accordance with Ethernet cabling specifications, otherwise known as the “LAN technique.” These specifications apply to both software (protocols) and hardware (network cards, cables, distributors), and involve the use of data frames for exchanging data between the local network and end devices (e.g. a computer or printer).
Other variations include WLAN networks and the power line (PowerLAN).
A network structure is described by way of its topology, or the configuration of the interconnected devices that exchange data in the network. There are several types of network topologies, including rings, meshes, stars, buses, and trees.
Some topologies are physical, while others are logical. Cables are laid at the physical level, while at the logical level, data is exchanged between the individual elements of the network. Topologies are depicted graphically by nodes and edges, aka “maps.”
A network’s topology contributes to its degree of stability. It is therefore vital that alternative paths exist between the network’s nodes. The topology can also help to assess performance and choose appropriate hardware.
Documentation and network management tools
Sysadmins need a constant overview of their company network, both to keep network structures running and to quickly get to the root of problems. Precise network documentation is therefore essential. It also makes sense to create a map of the network architecture. Network management tools with automatic discovery functions are useful for providing an overview of network devices, finding new devices, and obtaining statuses.
Without documentation, a network based on simple but (now) forgotten ideas is bound to deteriorate into fragments. When troubleshooting or expansion is required down the road, it is often no longer clear why certain measures were taken. In many cases, the person who was responsible for introducing the measures has already left the company. Even small problems can thus turn into insolvable tasks that require countless hours of work.
The network landscape
Network devices can be divided into two groups
Generally speaking, network devices are the devices that are necessary to build a network and to keep communication flowing. Network devices include hubs, routers, switches, repeaters, and wireless access points. These devices must be configured, and include firmware which must be updated.
In a broader sense, network devices are the end devices that are connected to each other via the network, i.e. the devices for which the network is used: computers, printers, media servers, VoIP phones, etc. These devices require sufficient bandwidth and stable connections, and ideally redundant connections in the event that individual devices or connections fail.
Network devices in the general sense
Modems are used to exchange digital signals between two digital end devices via vast transmission channels. For such an exchange to work, the signals must first be modulated. Modems are connected to the network to provide the latter with access to the Internet. Common types of modems include leased-line modems, DSL modems, fiber optic modems, and cable modems.
Hubs connect the computers in a network, so these computers can communicate with one another. Hubs operate exclusively at layer 1 of the OSI model, or the physical layer. The drawback of hubs is that information can only be sent to all connected machines (and not individual ones), and messages only sent or received.
Today, most networks use switches instead of hubs. As “intelligent” hubs, switches verify where information should be sent (i.e. to which computer). Once this is determined, other computers do not come into play. Switches can send and receive messages at the same time. They operate at layer 2 of the OSI model (data link layer) and thus decide, by way of a MAC address, which computer is to receive the message.
Routers connect separate networks having different architectures and protocols. They usually connect the internal network (LAN) to the Internet (WAN). Routers allow several computers to use the same connection (gateway). They recognize when a certain computer visits a certain URL and return the requested information to the corresponding computer. To translate the various protocols, routers operate at layer 3 of the OSI model, or the network layer.
Wireless access points
Wireless access points interface wireless communication devices with fixed data networks (LAN, telephone, cable, power supply, etc.). Examples of wireless access points include laptops and mobile end devices, as well as desktop computers, printers, and projectors with wireless adapters. Wireless access points allow for network coverage (and therefore network access) to be as widespread as possible.
Repeaters are used to amplify network signals so the maximum cable length in LANs with bus topologies can be increased and the network made more stable. WLAN repeaters are used to increase the range of a wireless network. Almost all modern, commercial wireless access points offer repeater modules to provide larger buildings, properties, and sites with sufficient network coverage.
Network devices in the broader sense
In the broader sense, network devices are any devices that are connected to the network in order to be accessed by users.
These include so-called “end devices,” such as computers, printers, and projectors.
Other types of end devices include NAS (network-attached storage), media servers, etc.
Monitoring as the basis of network device management
When the connection is down, performance suffers, or network or end devices malfunction, employees are quick to press the panic button. What’s more, these issues seem to always occur just before an important deadline. When glitches arise, the IT department must race to fix the problem. To do so, it must be armed with the right information about the network and its devices.
For companies, work interruptions mean higher labor costs, losses in sales, and lost orders. It is therefore a good idea to take precautionary measures instead of chasing problems as they arise. With centralized monitoring software, companies can often recognize and be notified of problems with network devices before such problems affect the flow of work.
When it comes to network device management, monitoring helps to determine individual parameters, to automatically find network devices, and to keep network device data up to date. It also allows for the creation of alerts which can notify the user of critical situations, such as when a device is about to overload. Sysadmins are alerted automatically whenever an error occurs, or the software’s sensors recognize that a customized threshold value has been reached.
How can PRTG monitoring software help?
PRTG provides for out-of-the-box network monitoring. Upon installation, it immediately displays initial monitoring results, and deploys its Auto Discovery feature to detect all available network devices. Because PRTG uses the standard protocol of the hardware manufacture, no additional installation is necessary
PRTG works with (almost) all SNMP-compatible devices, including managed switches, routers, and firewalls. PRTG is a simple and intuitive web-based front-end monitoring tool that boasts custom dashboards, maps, alerts, and reports.
When used as a network management tool, PRTG can monitor the availability and activity of network devices. It gathers real-time data and makes it easy to monitor and manage all the devices in your network. PRTG collects and analyzes SNMP traps and the Syslog messages of your network devices from one central location.
PRTG monitors all the devices and servers in the LAN. PRTG is an all-in-one monitoring solution that takes every aspect of your network architecture into consideration. Errors can therefore also be detected when they arise in other parts of your IT infrastructure. By managing network devices proactively, companies can keep work stoppages to a minimum and ensure their workers stay happy.
PRTG is an all-in-one monitoring solution
How PRTG defines sensors
In PRTG, “sensors” are the basic monitoring elements. One sensor usually monitors one measured value in your network, e.g. the traffic of a switch port, the CPU load of a server, the free space of a disk drive. On average you need about 5-10 sensors per device or one sensor per switch port.
PRTG Maps make it easy to see how network devices are related to one another. Maps offer a graphical representation of your network’s topology. They allow you to visualize the arrangement of all the network and end devices connected by and exchanging data via the network.
Faulty devices and nodes can be spotted at a glance by way of network cards, which include status icons for each and every device. In some cases, these maps allow for correlations to be identified which cannot be determined by a simple device list.
You can also use maps to check the stability of your network or whether alternative internodal paths exist along with the usual ones, and thus ensure the network remains operational even if an individual connection fails.
Finally, network topology knowledge can be used to evaluate the performance of investments and select the right hardware when it comes time to expand.
PRTG comes with a variety of dashboards that display network devices as lists or hierarchical trees. Among other things, dashboards let you see which devices consume the most or least amount of bandwidth, and the devices that cannot be reached via ping. Dashboards prepare information in a way that is easy to understand by all.
Dashboards are simple yet extremely powerful. Complex scenarios can be displayed by combining various data sources with external data sources and individual HTML code. Example: before an important product launch, you can have all the key data displayed on a dashboard, including the weather forecast for the day of the presentation.
Find out more in the Map Designer Manual.
PRTG creates custom reports that are perfect for sending monitoring information to your coworkers or managers. These reports can also be generated automatically. You can, for example, configure the maps feature such that sensor data is sent to your higher-ups on a monthly basis. You can also provide other administrators (as well as yourself) with a periodic overview of the company network’s performance, or figures which have resulted in problems in the past.
PRTG comes with a large selection of sensors designed especially for device management. If the required sensor is not preconfigured, then PRTG lets you create your own custom sensors for the job. Thanks to a powerful API, all sensor data is extremely easy to retrieve. You can also incorporate data from external sources into your monitoring, and thus make your data analysis all the more efficient.
More information on sensors:
Special: Remote probes
The PRTG Network Monitor Tool lets you monitor and manage networks and network devices in several different locations. This is made possible by remote probes. Remote probes can be used in a number of ways, in particular for the centralized monitoring of distributed locations.
Remote probes are small programs that can run on any computer in the network. They remain in constant contact with the machine that runs PRTG, providing the latter with a steady flow of monitoring information.
Remote probes can be installed in the same network as your core server, or else in other networks. If the physical connection between the remote probe and core server is lost, the probe will temporarily store the monitoring data and send it as soon as the connection has been reestablished.
What are the benefits of this technology?
Remote probes can be used by any company with distributed locations, VPNs, or network segments that are separated by a firewall, but which should be part of the centralized network monitoring.
Remote probes are also a practical and effective solution for IT service providers who wish to offer a higher level of service by monitoring and managing networks within the infrastructures of their customers directly.
This technology is also extremely useful for providing specific technical solutions, such as:
- Distributing monitoring tasks to various different computers
- Securing connections for the transferring of monitoring data
- Monitoring isolated services such as mail or web servers
- Measuring the quality of service (QoS) of a network (in particular, VoIP)
Find out more in our whitepaper on remote probes.
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11 good reasons to choose PRTG for your network device management
1. Minimize downtime
Fast-acting error detectors and overload indicators help keep the downtime of network devices to a minimum.
2. Alternative paths keep communication channels secure
PRTG Maps let you determine if a regular work channel is down, and use or create an alternative path to fill the gap.
3. Manage printers, projectors, and coffeemakers
PRTG provides you with key data on all SNMP-compatible devices, including printers, projectors, and even coffeemakers. As a result, you'll immediately know if a printer’s ink is low or a projector lamp needs replacing.
4. Identify bandwidth bottlenecks
Professional network device management software makes it possible to detect bandwidth bottlenecks directly on the router.
5. Optimize device management
Network device management software lets you manage updates from one central location, and provides for centralized data collection which facilitates the establishment of maintenance plans. With remote probes, these management features also work for distributed locations.
6. Network devices at a glance
An intuitive dashboard provides for an overview of the monitoring data of the network and network device. Sysadmins can combine data onto one dashboard to identify correlations.
7. Custom sensors and alerts
The powerful PRTG API provides for monitoring that is tailormade for individual network devices. Additional sensors can be added with a few quick clicks. And thanks to PRTG alerts, sysadmins are prepared for potential threats to the company network.
8. All-in-one software for high-performance monitoring
PRTG effectively monitors all the parameters in your monitoring environment. As a result, problems can be found faster, and prevented in the future proactively. This saves both time and money.
9. Reduce risks and complexity with centralized monitoring
When it comes to monitoring network traffic and network devices, PRTG is more effective at reducing risks and complexity than a variety of individual tools working together. And thanks to remote probes, several locations can be monitored at the same time.
10. Monitoring improves the security of your networks
PRTG makes it easy to spot security loopholes (such as open ports) and anomalies in network traffic. Unencrypted connections between devices can also be secured.
11. Future-driven performance
Growth means more employees, more devices, and more traffic – with PRTG, devices can be monitored comprehensively with one central tool, while bottlenecks and other performance problems can be prevented by using a special PRTG sensor, such as the SNMP Hardware Status Sensor.
“The greatest advantage of PRTG? You get to rest easy.“
Steffen Ille, Bauhaus-University of Weimar, Germany
Practical management of network devices
Printers must remain functional, and work processes as interruption-free as possible. In the same vein, employees should not have to worry about whether the printer is online or has enough ink. Nevertheless, sysadmins are not always able to control such factors locally. With PRTG, sysadmins can use remote monitoring to learn the status of every printer in the network and be promptly notified if something is wrong.
PRTG automatically finds all the printers in the company network, even those in remote locations. With PRTG, printer monitoring is a breeze. Printer management is conducted via the use of the SNMP Printer Sensor as well as a generic sensor for monitoring the various types of printers.
The PRTG Printer Monitoring Tool runs in the background, and promptly sends an alert if a printer’s ink or paper is running short, or if, after a certain number of printed pages, a printer should be replaced.
All network data passes via the routers. As the hubs of your LAN, routers incorporate hardware such as printers and servers and therefore absolutely must be monitored. The sooner sysadmins see their routers overloading, the quicker they’ll be able to intervene. PRTG provides a constant stream of information on routers. It also allows for multiple routers in remote locations to be monitored simultaneously.
If a router switches itself off during the night, no one usually knows until the next day. Not so with PRTG. The PRTG SNMP System Uptime Sensor monitors network availability at all hours of the day and night.
And thanks to the PRTG Auto Discovery feature and the software’s numerous device templates, network devices are immediately incorporated into your monitoring. PRTG monitors the routers of all the top manufacturers, including Cisco, Dell, Linksys, and NetGear.
Most bandwidth monitoring software only checks the Internet traffic on a single device. But to measure data traffic in a network, data must be monitored on the routers directly. The PRTG Network Monitor informs you of all the data traffic that flows through a router.
With monitoring-based router management, you will also immediately see if the security of your network is at risk, e.g. because of an open port.
Switch management with PRTG
As distribution nodes, switches are under great strain. It takes just one switch to overload and your entire LAN can suffer. With PRTG, sysadmins never lose sight of switches. If a switch overloads, they’ll know so at once.
PRTG is compatible with any switch manufacturer that offers SNMP, including Cisco, HP, Huawei, Dell, and others. PRTG also comes with preconfigured SNMP sensors for many leading switch manufacturers, which speeds up the setup process.
The Packet Sniffer Sensor monitors traffic, and filters according to IP addresses, protocols, and data types. sFlow, jFlow, and NetFlow sensors monitor the traffic and bandwidth of Cisco and Juniper switches.
If a switch port is open, PRTG notifies you immediately. As a result, you can close gateways and improve the security of your network.
Managing Cisco network devices
Paessler is a member of the Cisco Developer Network. PRTG comes with sensors that provide the data required for Cisco device management, whether you’re monitoring a Cisco router, switch, access point, or VoIP solution. Along with sensors for Cisco systems (such as NetFlow sensors), PRTG comes with seven SNMP sensors which have been specifically configured for Cisco devices.
SNMP is a simple standard. NetFlow is particularly well-suited for high traffic networks, as the router makes data loads bearable by consolidating bandwidth data before it is sent. NetFlow is also important if you wish to sort traffic by network protocols or IP addresses.
Creating an encrypted connection between network devices
The encryption standard SNMP v3 is still relatively unknown. SNMP v1, which is used by many devices, only offers simple data authentication and is not very safe for sending plain text. While SNMP v1 is fine for conveying the ink level of printers, it is not suitable for more sensitive router data. With this standard, you run the risk of having the surfing behavior of coworkers and managers disclosed and subsequently used for hacking attacks.
Often, however, there is no viable alternative to SNMP v1. With PRTG remote probes, you get a solution that compensates for these security risks. As a sysadmin, it’s your job to ensure that sensitive data is not intercepted as it makes its way to the central server. By installing a remote probe in the network of these devices, data can be transmitted via an SSL-encrypted connection between the probe and the server, and thus safely arrive at its destination.
Open ports put your network at risk. They are used, among other things, for introducing Trojan horses. While it is true that many sysadmins prioritize security when it comes to network device management, it takes a superhuman effort to constantly check which ports are open and which are closed.
Often ports are opened temporarily for individual applications, and then forgotten. Network device management software gives you control over your ports. It improves the security of your network (and in turn of the company) and allows for ports to be configured properly. In such cases, PRTG uses the TCP protocol and keeps administrators up-to-date by way of a built-in, customizable alarm system.
Update the firmware of network devices
When network devices malfunction, the problem can also lie in the company’s firmware. Is your firmware out of date? If so, then a patch may be required to close the security loopholes or fix the bugs. Do you have the most recent version of the firmware? If so, then the latest update may still be prone to errors.
While updates provide new network management features, they can also create problems within the network architecture. Before installing an update, you must therefore know exactly what has changed. As a general rule of thumb, however, if you wish to prevent security loopholes, you should regularly be on the lookout for new updates.
Other more specific ideas:
- Find the IP address of network devices
- Import proprietary network device configurations
Practical tip: Hey Daniel... happen to have any port monitoring tips up your sleeve?
“With its routers, switches, hubs, and bridges, your network has a great many ports which potentially need monitoring. I would recommend creating at least one active sensor per port on each of your main network components. By doing so, you can monitor all the active ports of your network device, as well as the device’s CPU and RAM. On the other hand, for those network components which are not so important, you can usually get by with using paused sensors instead of actively monitoring each and every port.”
Daniel Elsner, PRTG Product Development
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“Easy to implement and configure with good technical support.”
R. v. S., ICT Manager at Heinen & Hopman Eng BV
PRTG makes your job easier
Our monitoring software frees you to focus on other tasks by promptly notifying you of potential issues.
PRTG gives you one central monitoring tool for your servers and entire network. Enjoy a quick overview of your whole infrastructure via our dashboard and app.
Getting started with PRTG is a breeze. Setting up or switching from another network monitoring tool is easy thanks to the auto-discovery and pre-configured device templates.
Your network security at a glance – even while on the go
PRTG is set up in a matter of minutes and can be used on a wide variety of mobile devices.
PRTG: The multi-tool for sysadminsAdapt PRTG individually and dynamically to your needs and rely on a strong API:
- HTTP API: Access monitoring data and manipulate monitoring objects via HTTP requests
- Custom sensors: Create your own PRTG sensors for customized monitoring
- Custom notifications: Create your own notifications and send action triggers to external systems
- REST Custom sensor: Monitor almost everything that provides data in XML or JSON format
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Paessler PRTG is used by companies of all sizes. Sysadmins love PRTG because it makes their job a whole lot easier.
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