Monitoring is an important part—if not the most important part—of any network administrator’s job. The goal is to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that no abnormality such as network congestion goes unnoticed. The popularity of virtualization and cloud-hosting of various services made the need for monitoring tools even greater.
While there is a huge variety of monitoring tools available, some products often stand out. The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM) and the ManageEngine OpManager are two of the most popular. Let’s have a comparative look at these two products to help you determine which of the two is best adapted to your specific needs.
Before we have a look at our two contenders, we’ll first discuss network monitoring in general. This will help better understand the products’ differences and similarities. We’ll then discuss SNMP as it is one of the most-used monitoring technology. Without going too technical, we’ll explain what it is and how it works. Since SNMP is only one of many different technologies used to monitor networks, we’ll also have a look at what other technologies are available. After that, we’ll have an in-depth look at the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor, its main features, its pricing structure, its pros and cons. We will then do the same for ManageEngine OpManager. To finish, we’ll compare both products, trying to give you a better understanding of their similarities and differences.
About Network Monitoring
Monitoring has a different meaning depending on who you ask. Add to that the fact that there are several different types of monitoring and we have the perfect recipe for confusion. The most basic type of monitoring is what we often refer to as ping monitoring, or up-or-down monitoring. The idea is to use ping to verify that each monitored device is responding. Other than the response delay, this type of monitoring records no performance data about the monitored systems.
The next type of monitoring is bandwidth usage monitoring. It typically uses the SNMP protocol to read interface counters from monitored devices and computer the average bandwidth usage of their interfaces. It is particularly useful when monitoring bandwidth-limited segments of a network, such as WAN circuits. This type of monitoring can give you a quantitative view of the traffic at any point of the network but, although it will clearly show any congestion, it won’t help to determine what is causing it.
This is where the next type of monitoring comes in. It is referred to as network traffic analysis. It goes deeper than the previous type and can do some crude traffic analysis to reveal what is consuming bandwidth. It will, for instance, reveal what users, what computers or what applications are using the most bandwidth. It provides more of a qualitative view of network traffic.
Another common type of monitoring which is often present as an added feature on tools from the previous types goes somewhat deeper and reads the operational metrics of the monitored devices. It is typically used to monitor any kind of devices from routers and switches, to servers and databases. It uses various protocols and technologies to connect to devices and gather their operational parameters. Typically, information such as CPU and memory loads, disk space and any other interesting data can be collected and displayed.
SNMP In A Nutshell
Since the Simple Network Management Protocol is the most-used monitoring technology, let’s take a closer look. Despite its name, simple is definitely not an adjective I’d use to describe the protocol. I’ll spare you the complexity and simply explain that the protocol lets a management station—or, in our case, a monitoring tool—read and/or set a number of operational parameters. It is often said that SNMP monitoring is an agentless monitoring technology. In fact, although it rarely requires installing any extra software on the monitored device, there is an SNMP agent running on each monitored equipment. It is usually built into the operating system or firmware which is why it is not referred to as an agent.
Without going too technical, let’s have a look at how SNMP works from a monitoring perspective. Simply put, the monitoring tool sends a request to the device for a specific parameter. The request, which is not encrypted, contains a “community string” which can be compared to a crude password authentication mechanism. The monitored device validates the community string and returns the requested value. This is a highly simplified version of the process so forgive me if I left out important parts of the protocol. Our goal is not to provide an SNMP tutorial but rather an understanding of how SNMP monitoring works.
Let’s pretend that a monitoring tool is configured to monitor the bandwidth usage of a router interface facing a WAN circuit. Two specific SNMP parameters are of interest, the bytes in and bytes out counters of the interface. They are read on a regular basis—a typical value is every five minutes—and stored in some sort of file or database. Then, the monitoring tool subtracts the previous value of the counters from the current one, giving the number of bytes transferred during the interval. It divides these numbers by the number of seconds between the two reading, giving the number of bytes per second and divides this by eight to get the number of bits per second. The resulting values are stored in a database or plotted on a graph showing its evolution over time.
Other Common Monitoring Techniques
As commonplace as SNMP is, it is not the only—or even the best—monitoring technology used. Several other technologies are available, depending on what type of device you are monitoring and what information you are trying to collect from the device. Let’s have a quick look at some of the most common.
The Windows Management Instrumentation, or WMI, is a Windows-specific protocol that can be thought of as an evolution of SNMP. Its purpose is similar—managing and monitoring systems remotely—but its operation is different. It is typically more secure, more flexible and can provide more information. The main drawback of WMI is that it is only available on Windows hosts.
WBEM—which should not be confused with WebM—is an acronym for Web-Based Enterprise Management. It is an open standard for the remote management and monitoring of systems. Sounds familiar? WMI is Microsoft’s proprietary implementation of WBEM. It is typically used for monitoring non-Windows hosts such as Linux servers, for example.
Agent-based monitoring is another popular technique which relies on a local agent running on the monitored system. It differs from the other methods in that the agent is not built into the operating systems but is usually supplied by the monitoring tool’s vendor. It is, therefore, totally adapted to the tool and it will often permit the monitoring of metrics which would not be available using the other methods. The main disadvantages of agent-based monitoring are that it requires that an agent is installed on monitored systems and that running the agent can have an impact of the monitored system by using part of its resources.
SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor
Before we look at the Network Performance Monitor, let’s talk about SolarWinds. The company has been around for about 20 years and it enjoys a solid reputation as the maker of some of the best network and system administration tools. Several of its products have received rave reviews and are considered among the very best in their respective fields. To add icing on the cake, SolarWinds is also famous for its many free tools. They are smaller tools which address a specific need of network administrators. Two good examples of those free tools are the Real-time Bandwidth Monitor and the IP Address Tracker.
- FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/network-performance-monitor/registration
As for the Network Performance Monitor, its primary purpose is SNMP bandwidth monitoring but it can do a whole lot more either through built-in functionalities or by combining it with other SolarWinds tools. At its core, the product offers comprehensive fault monitoring and performance management. The tool primarily uses SNMP for data collection and is thereby compatible with various equipment from most vendors. Its NetPath feature lets you view the critical network path between any two monitored points on your network and the tool can also auto-generate intelligent network maps.
Advanced alerting is another of the products strong suits and so is its PerfStack performance analysis dashboard. Another exclusive feature of the product is the Network Insights functionality which allows for complex device monitoring. Talking about more complex use cases, the tool can monitor Software Defined Networks (SDN) and has built-in Cisco ACI support as well the ability to monitor wireless networks and to generate network performance baselines.
- FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/network-performance-monitor/registration
The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor can be used on any network from the smallest to the largest, thanks to its smart scalability. Optional features include scalability engines, high availability and an enterprise operations console which lets you consolidate the data from multiple NPM instances into one enterprise-grade dashboard.
The pricing structure of the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is rather simple. Licensing is based on the number of monitored elements. Five licensing tiers are available for 100, 250, 500, 2000, and unlimited elements at prices ranging from $2 955 to $32 525, including the first year of maintenance. If you’d rather give the tool a test run before committing to a purchase, a free, element-unlimited 30-day trial version can be obtained.
Pros & Cons
We’ve searched the web for user comments about the Network Performance Monitor to identify the most important pros and cons reported by users of the product. Here’s a summary of our findings.
- The web interface is completely customizable allowing different members of your IT team to use a view that suits them. For instance, system administrators can use a view that focuses on VMware hosts while the network administrator’s view focuses on network switches and traffic.
- NPM has excellent and easily configurable alerts. You could even create an alert to notify you when a device that is supposed to remain disconnected from the network connects. The possibilities are endless.
- You can create device pollers combined with custom metering Which can virtually return any information you need.
- Email configuration, while highly flexible and customizable, could be easier.
- The NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (a qualitative network analysis module) is not built into the product and must be purchased separately, increasing the product’s price.
- Some users have complained about the lack of filtering and searching options on syslogs and alerts.
The ManageEngine OpManager is a powerful all-in-one network monitoring tool which offers comprehensive network monitoring capabilities that help you keep an eye on network performance, detect network faults in real time, troubleshoot errors, and prevent downtime. The tool supports various environments from multiple vendors and can scale to fit your network, regardless of its size. It will let you monitor your devices and network and gain complete visibility and control over your entire network infrastructure. Installation and setup of this product are both quick and easy. You can get it running in under two minutes. It requires no complex installation procedures and comes bundled with databases and web servers.
The ManageEngine OpManager constantly monitors network devices’ performance in real time via live dashboards and graphs. It examines several critical operational metrics such as packet loss, errors and discards, etc. It will also monitor performance metrics like availability, CPU, disk space, and memory utilization across both physical and virtual servers.
The tool can help you detect, identify, and troubleshoot network issues with threshold-based alerts. You can easily set multiple thresholds for every performance metric and get notifications. While alerting is important, reporting is just as much and it is another area where this tool shines. Intelligent reports will let you get detailed insights on network performance. There are more than 100 built-in reports. You can customize, schedule and export these out-of-the-box reports as needed.
ManageEngine claims its OpManager can be installed in less than two minutes. Once installed, the tool will discover your devices and start monitoring them without requiring any complex configuration steps. The system boasts a very intuitive graphical user interface where you’ll easily find the information you need. Reports-wise, this tool has a full complement of excellent pre-built ones and you can also create custom reports to better suit your needs. Alerting in this product is excellent and at par with what you’ll find in competing products.
The ManageEngine OpManager is available in the Essential edition which is better sized for small and medium businesses with up to a thousand devices at prices starting just over $700 for 25 devices. For larger organizations, there’s an Enterprise edition which can scale up to ten thousand devices. Its price starts at under $20k for 500 devices. Prices for either edition vary according to the number of monitored devices and a free 30-day trial is available.
Pros & Cons
Just like we did for the SolarWinds NPM, we’ve compiled user commentaries about the ManageEngine OpManager and here’s a summary of the pros and cons they reported
- The interface is easy enough to use, but you can also get great depth out of the initial dashboards and graphs you’re presented with.
- The vendor’s customer service is outstanding. If you face any issues, you get quick response and feedback to overcome them.
- The automation and notifications go hand-in-hand and keep administrators constantly aware of the state of the network.
- Not all MIB’s are available for creating specialized alerts. Unable to delete SNMP custom trap processor, so in order to test a separate environment is required.
- May need more integration with MIB library when you require more information than what the basic SNMP OIDs provide.
- Former users complained that the latest version of the GUI was making it harder than before to find certain functions which had been relocated.
Comparing The Two
Comparing the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor and the ManageEngine OpManager is not an easy task. They are two quite different tools yet they are somewhat similar, at least in what they offer. If you compare both products on their usability, comments are generally better for the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor but this is often a matter of personal preference.
When comparing the two products on price, the ManageEngine OpManager appears to be cheaper at first sight but the version that best compares to the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is the Enterprise edition which is somewhat more expensive. But in the end, their widely different pricing structures make that kind of comparison even harder. We wouldn’t anyways recommend that anyone base his selection of tools on price alone.
If this is the part where you expect me to tell you to drop everything else and go with this or that product, you might end up disappointed. This is simply not what I’ll do. In fact, I’d be tempted to say that both products are equally interesting.
I, personally, would likely go with the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor but I might be somewhat biased. You see, the NPM is one of the very first monitoring tools I’ve ever used. As such, I know it better than any other product. Making me even more biased is the fact that I’ve never really used the ManageEngine OpManager other than in a demo setting.
In the end, the main deciding factor is the match between your needs and the product features, And the best way to ensure that either product really fits your specific needs is probably to give them a try. This should be relatively easy as both vendors offer a free trial.