Top Five Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Bandwidth-Monitoring Solution

PORTLAND, Ore, and FUERTH, Germany, Dec. 13, 2006 – There comes a time in the life of even the busiest IT departments when finding the right monitoring solution is simply all that matters.

Yet many IT departments may, in the interest of all-important time, overlook several key considerations in researching and selecting a monitoring solution that will sustain mission-critical operations and help drive company-wide revenues, according to Dirk Paessler, founder of Paessler AG, the network monitoring company.

“Every IT team is implicitly charged to manage and improve the networked environments that are the backbone of their entire company,” Paessler said. “But, as with any decision, it’s hard to know what really matters when you’re looking at a sea of monitoring options that, on the face of it, appear similar. The reality, of course, is that they’re not.”

Paessler added that both enterprise operations and small businesses - whether they faithfully monitor their networks every day or on a periodic/reactive basis - stand to benefit from performing their due diligence as they select a network monitoring solution.

For instance, Paessler said, the right monitoring solution will help an IT team reduce server and bandwidth bottlenecks, identify which applications or servers hog bandwidth, strategically plan infrastructure upgrades, deliver better service to both external and internal customers and reduce network costs by matching expenditures with actual bandwidth needs.

“The right monitoring solution will certainly reveal itself if you know exactly what to look for from the beginning,” Paessler said.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Monitoring Solution:

1. Is It Easy to Install and Deploy?

Good monitoring solutions don’t require users to embark on a multi-step process to get up and running. If the solution you’re considering requires you to buy several new servers to support it, you may want to re-assess your choice. And if the first step in the deployment process calls for you to participate in vendor-guided classes on how to use the product, keep looking. Essentially, if it seems like merely deploying a solution will sap valuable staff time and resources, consider it something of a red flag, trust your instincts and move on to the next solution.

Put another way, if a monitoring solution is, in any way, difficult to install, it almost assuredly won’t be fully integrated into your organization. In a software market full of network monitoring solutions, it’s entirely unnecessary for you or your team to engage in complex or confusing installations. The bottom line is if you have adequate network equipment, you shouldn’t need extra hardware or outside help to support a robust monitoring solution.

2. Does It Offer Secure Remote Access?

Ideally, the GUI of your preferred monitoring solution will be Web-based. In a truly global economy and in an era of increased telecommuting and flex schedules, your monitoring solution should be available to your entire team at any time - no matter where they perform their work on any given day. Finding a Web-based solution becomes essential if your team isn’t centralized in one office and is, instead, comprised of members in various far-flung offices. The more your staff can access the monitoring solution, the more they’ll use it and the more they’ll pre-empt problems linked to performance and availability. Simply put, your monitoring solution shouldn’t be anchored at a single location and hamstrung by basic geographic or logistical constraints when various Web-based applications exist.

3. Does It Have an Intuitive Interface That Can be Customized?

It’s critical that your solution allows users to create customized dashboards with graphs and tables that meet their specific departmental or project-based needs. Without customization, your monitoring tool may initially be well-received by team members, but, over time, it will likely become an under-used resource and be seen as something of a generic and predictable tool with limited practical functionality. Without customization, monitoring solutions become part of the operational status quo and, quite naturally, less of a staff priority. By comparison, customizable solutions prompt managers and team members to be engaged in the process, focus their monitoring efforts and take action to improve overall efficiencies. Monitoring bandwidth shouldn’t become a static procedure, but, rather, an interactive one that complements constantly changing operational goals.

4. Is the Price Right?

Cost, of course, is a major part of any procurement, but it should never be the sole or even leading variable in your evaluation of a monitoring solution. Bandwidth monitoring is simply too important to the overall success and viability of your operation for your team to be blinded - one way or the other - by price. Occasionally, cost can give you insight into how effective a solution may be, but it’s certainly not a fail-proof predictor of efficacy.

Frankly speaking, it’s both impractical and imprudent for your team to purchase solutions based almost entirely on price. As one can imagine, networking vendors weigh a complicated and unique set of internal and external variables to arrive at their various price points. In other words, price isn’t necessarily linked to a product’s functionality or features. And, as with any purchase, you shouldn’t use cost as a justification to bypass the due-diligence or research process that precedes any major procurement.

5. Does It Support the Three Common Methods for Acquiring Network-Usage Data?

A comprehensive bandwidth-monitoring solution should support Packet Sniffer applications, as well as SNMP and NetFlow protocols.

Each data-acquisition method has pros and cons - depending on your network configuration and your monitoring needs. That said, your bandwidth-monitoring solution should support all three methods and allow you to effectively monitor your traffic regardless of your current or future network configuration.

Decision-makers should keep in mind that only Packet Sniffer- and NetFlow-based monitoring methods allow you to measure traffic by IP address, MAC address and/or protocol. SNMP-based measurements are strictly port-based.

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