Microsoft Exchange is certainly one of the most popular—if not THE most popular—email software there is. Many organizations have adopted it due in part to its quality and perhaps also because it seems to be an obvious choice when running Windows servers and Windows desktops. Furthermore, email has become one of the most important tools for organizations which often use it as their primary mean of communications. What this means to network and system administrators is that the Exchange infrastructure is often one of the most important services. As such, it must be running at all times to the best of its abilities. To ensure that it is, monitoring tools have been created. They can watch your Exchange server’s operational parameters and run tests to ensure that email is correctly handled. There are actually many such tools on the market and picking the right one can be a daunting task. To help you, we’ve assembled this list of the best Exchange server monitoring software.
Before we get to the most interesting part and review the best Exchange server monitoring tools, we’ll begin by having an overview Exchange, what it is, where it’s coming from and how it works. Our goal is not to provide you with an exchange tutorial but rather to give you enough background information to appreciate the rest of this post. We’ll then discuss monitoring tools in general and then concentrate on the specific case of monitoring Exchange environments and try to explain—again, without going too technical—how such monitoring works. Finally, we’ll review some of the best Exchange server monitoring tools we could find and discuss each product’s most important features.
Microsoft Exchange In A Nutshell
Microsoft Exchange Server (that is the product’s official name) is a mail and calendaring server developed by Microsoft. It runs exclusively on Windows Server operating systems. The first version—which, interestingly, was called Exchange Server 4.0 to position it as a successor to the unrelated Microsoft Mail 3.5—was released in April 1993, over 25 years ago.
Exchange initially used the ITU-standard X.400 directory service but eventually switched to Active Directory as the underlying Windows Server architecture evolved. The software used to be bundled with its own email client—called Microsoft Exchange Client—but it was discontinued with version 5.0 in favour of Microsoft Outlook. The Microsoft Exchange Server primarily uses a proprietary protocol called MAPI to talk to email clients. But recent versions add support for POP3, IMAP, and EAS. Also, the standard Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is used to communicate with other Internet mail servers.
Today, Microsoft Exchange Server is available either as an on-premise software that you can install on your servers or as a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS). With the server now supporting industry-standard protocols such as POP3 and IMAP, most any mail client can be used with the server. However, the best experience is often obtained using advanced clients which communicate with the server through the MAPI protocol.
About Monitoring Tools In General
Let’s briefly pause and discuss monitoring tools. The main reason for using them is simple. Environments have become so complex that it can be very difficult to keep a watchful eye on everything and ensure that all is running smoothly at all times. This is a task that is best left to specialized tools which communicate with the systems they monitor to fetch their critical operational parameters and can alert you should anything fall out of its normal range. These tools will also typically store the collected data in a database and use it to build operational dashboards and to generate periodic reports showing the evolution of the monitored parameters.
There are various types of monitoring tools, each providing different visibility on the monitored devices and services. For instance, bandwidth monitoring tools primarily read interface counters from networking equipment and use their values to calculate average interface bandwidth usage. They offer a quantitative view of network utilization. Flow analysis monitoring is different and it relies on more detailed information prepared by the monitored devices themselves and sent to the monitoring tool. These tools don’t only provide quantitative data but qualitative details such as the nature of the traffic, its source and destination as well as the application generating it. And when it comes to monitoring servers, tools go one step further and read all sorts of server health parameters—such as CPU and memory loads or available disk space—in addition to various application parameters.
The Specific Case Of Monitoring Exchange Servers
An Exchange Server is nothing more than a specific piece of software running on a Windows server. As such, monitoring it is not much different from any other Windows server monitoring task. It consists of several monitoring tiers. At the lowest level is the hardware monitoring. Its purpose is to ensure that the underlying hardware is operating normally. The best monitoring tools will monitor several hardware parameters such as power supply voltages, CPU and system temperatures, etc.
The next level of monitoring the operating system monitoring. In the case of Exchange servers, this is Windows Server. Monitoring tools can “talk” to Windows server using various protocols such as SNMP or WMI to fetch various operational metrics from servers. This could include monitoring things such as processor or memory loads or hard disk space utilization. Some tools rely on a locally installed agent to fetch some operational metrics which couldn’t be obtained otherwise. Server monitoring tools will also typically verify that any required service is running and that any IP network port that should be open is.
At the top of the monitoring chain is application monitoring. This is where we can really talk about Exchange monitoring. Specialized monitoring tools can check an almost infinite number of parameters and variables that can range from very generic, such as ensuring that the server process is running, to the very specific, such as checking the size of individual mailboxes.
The Best Tools For Exchange Server Monitoring
As we said, an Exchange server is, first and foremost a Windows server. It will not come as a surprise, then, that many of the tools on our list are in fact server monitoring tools. However, server monitoring tools reviewed here do has an Exchange-specific component that will allow them to monitor some parameters which are exclusive to Microsoft Exchange. Other tools on the list are dedicated Exchange server monitoring tools. While they can only be used to monitor email servers, they can turn out to be good choices due to their potentially lower cost and complexity. No matter which one you choose, you can be assured that all the products on our list will get the job done. Your choice should mostly depend on the different tools feature sets and your specific monitoring needs.
First on our list is a product from SolarWinds, one of the best-known makers of network and system administration software. The company’s flagship product, a bandwidth monitoring tool called the Network Performance Manager, is considered to be among the best of its kind. But it doesn’t stop there, SolarWinds is also famous for making some great free tools. They are smaller tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrators. Two excellent examples of those are the Advanced Subnet Calculator or the Kiwi Syslog Server.
For Exchange server monitoring, the SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor is an excellent choice. As its name implies, this is a generic server monitoring tool. It has, however, some advanced Exchange monitoring features. More about this in a moment. The tool’s primary purpose is to help administrators monitor servers, their operational parameters, their processes, and the applications that are running on them. It can easily scale from very small networks to large ones with hundreds of servers—either physical or virtual—spread over multiple sites. It can also monitor cloud-hosted services like those Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure.
- FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/server-application-monitor/registration
The SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor is easy to set up and its initial configuration is a snap, thanks to its powerful auto-discovery process. This is a two-pass process. A first pass discovers servers while the second finds the applications running on them. Application discovery can take a while but it can be sped up by supplying the tool with a list of specific applications to look for. Once the tool is up and running, the user-friendly GUI makes using it a breeze. You can choose to display information in either a table or a graphic format.
When monitoring Exchange servers, the SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor won’t leave you wishing for more. Here’s how it can help you. The tool can proactively alert you on database usage and free space, transaction log size, and average mailbox size. It will also pinpoint storage performance issues current and past data to pinpoint root cause to IOPS or volume capacity.
Using statistical baseline thresholds, the tool can also alert you on abnormal hub transport messages queued. It is also an excellent tool for troubleshooting mailbox issues. You can use it to view top mailbox offenders and drill down into mail usage patterns, including synced mobile devices. As for the server itself, The tool gives you visibility over the entire Exchange infrastructure and drill down into any component affecting Exchange health.
- FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/server-application-monitor/registration
Prices for the SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor start at $2 995 and vary based on the number of components, nodes, and volumes monitored. A free 30-day trial version is available for download, should you want to try the product before purchasing it.
2. PRTG Network Monitor
The PRTG Network Monitor from Paessler AG is another excellent integrated monitoring system. The company makes only one product leaving them free to concentrate on making it as good as possible. This is enterprise-grade product claims to be the fastest to set up. Of course, the tool has some dedicated Exchange monitoring features. It wouldn’t be listed here otherwise. According to Paessler, the PRTG Network Monitor can be set up in a couple of minutes. It might not really be that fast but it’s still pretty easy and quick to set up, thanks in part to the tool’s auto-discovery process.
The PRTG Network Monitor is a feature-rich product. It boasts multiple user interfaces: a Windows enterprise console, an Ajax-based web interface, and mobile apps for Android and iOS. At its core, this tool is a network monitoring tool that primarily uses SNMP to poll devices and display their interfaces utilization on chronological graphs. However, through the use of additional sensors—which can be thought of as add-ons except that they are included with the product, PRTG can monitor just about anything. There are available sensors for various servers and applications.
For monitoring Exchange, the PRTG Network Monitor proposes not one but eight different sensors, each addressing a different aspect of Exchange monitoring. The main one is called the WMI Exchange Server Sensor. It is a general purpose Exchange sensor that allows you to choose from over a dozen different metrics that report on the health and performance of many of the key components of Exchange. Other sensors are available to monitor specific aspects of Exchange servers. Here’s the list of the remaining available sensors.
- WMI Exchange Transport Queue Sensor
- Exchange Backup (PowerShell) Sensor
- Exchange Database (PowerShell) Sensor
- Exchange Database DAG (PowerShell) Sensor
- Exchange Mail Queue (PowerShell) Sensor
- Exchange Mailbox (PowerShell) Sensor
- Exchange Public Folder (PowerShell) Sensor
The PRTG Network Monitor is available in two versions. The free version is full-featured but it will limit your monitoring ability to 100 sensors. When using SNMP, each monitored parameter counts as one sensor. For example, if you monitor two interfaces on a router, it will count as two sensors. Each instance of a specific monitoring sensor also counts as one. If you need more than 100 sensors, you’ll need to purchase a license which starts at $1 600 for 500 sensors. A free, sensor-unlimited and full-featured 30-day trial version is available.
3. ManageEngine OpManager
Another all-in-one monitoring tool, the ManageEngine OpManager will monitor your servers’ vital signs and alert you as soon as something is out of its normal operating range, thanks to its full complement of alerting features. The tool features an intuitive user interface that lets you easily find the information you need. It also boasts a very complete reporting engine that comes loaded with pre-built reports while also supporting custom ones.
The tool can run on either Windows or Linux and it is loaded with great features. Among them, its auto-discovery feature that can create a map of your network, giving you a uniquely customized dashboard. Talking about the dashboard, it is super easy to use and navigate, thanks to its extensive use of drill-down functionality. And if you are into mobile apps, client apps for tablets and smartphones are available, allowing you to access the tool from anywhere.
The ManageEngine OpManager can help you to stay on top of your Exchange server’s performance. It will check for inactive mailboxes and remove them for better performance and verify mailbox performance counters to ensure that the database storage capacity remains within acceptable limits. You can use it to troubleshoot outlook connectivity and examine parameters such as the number of requests per second and average response time. It will also monitor critical information such as scan time, the number of rejected scan requests, blocked recipients, and more.
The ManageEngine OpManager is available in two versions. The Essential edition targets small and medium organizations with up to a thousand devices at a price starting at around $700 for 25 devices. Larger organizations will prefer the Enterprise edition which can scale up to ten thousand devices. Its price starts at under $20 000 for 500 devices. If you are interested in giving the tool a test run, a free 30-day trial is available.
4. Foglight For Exchange
Quest is another major player in the field of network and system administrations tools. Its Foglight line of monitoring tools includes Foglight for Exchange a dedicated Exchange monitoring platform. This is a feature-rich product that comes with intuitive dashboards allowing you to view critical load areas and abnormal data flows. It also lets you browse through different Exchange components and get a logical flow of data, ensuring optimal health and performance.
Foglight for Exchange offers consolidated views that make it easy to identify issues in both physical and virtual environment. It can also provide insight into cloud-based mailboxes. The tool has the ability to isolates Exchange components running on a virtual server, letting you fix issues directly in the virtualization layer.
Furthermore, this tool can categorize top users, helping to detect load issues. It also offers detailed alert capabilities to notify you of issues. Alerts can be customized according to your specific needs and include best practices, deviations, operational problems and more. The tool’s reporting engine is also very good and will let you create SLA performance and availability reports. You also have the option or scheduling and running diagnostic reports.
Pricing information for Quest’s Foglight for Exchange is not readily available and you’ll have to contact Quest’s sales for a detailed quote adapted to your environment. A free 30-day trial version can be obtained, should you want to test the product.
5. Exoprise CloudReady
Last on our list is Exoprise CloudReady. While Exoprise might not be as famous as other vendors on our list, their product is still very complete. It is a cloud-based solution that will monitor any type of Exchange environment. It could be the Exchange Online from Microsoft or a hosted Exchange service from a third party as well as an on-premise Exchange installation running on either physical or virtual servers. No matter what your setup is, you’re covered.
The tool performs end-to-end synthetic tests of Exchange protocols such as MAPI and ActiveSync, letting you establish baselines before, during and after any changes you make. It can detect issues and optimize your Exchange networking. The tools real-time alerts and workflow will ensure you get notified of errors, slowdowns and any emergency with automatically configured and calibrated alarms.
The CloudReady Exchange Sensors provide insight into the mission-critical mail flow, the dependent SPAM, SMTP, and other mail processing systems that Exchange relies on. No matter what inbound and outbound mail processors you use: IronPort, Barracuda, Proofpoint, Mimecast or others, they are continuously monitored and tested for queue performance.
Pricing for the Exoprise CloudReady service starts at $100/month per sensor. 30 different sensor types are available so you’re not limited to monitoring only Exchange environments. A free trial is also available although its duration is only 15 days as compared to 30 for most other similar products.