The PRTG Network Monitor is an impressive product. We don’t often see a product with such a broad feature set. And when we do, that breadth is often provided at the expense of depth. This is not the case with the PRTG Network Monitor. As you’re about to see, this tool has a wide array of monitoring features, each offering a deep experience.
There are not many monitorable elements of a network infrastructure that cannot be monitored by PRTG. If you’re looking for an all-in-one monitoring solution, one that could be your sole monitoring tool, this could be the one.
In this review, we’ll do our best to explore the most important and interesting parts of this product. We won’t be able to cover all of its features—there are simply too many—but we’ll do our best to provide as much information about the product as possible.
We’ll start off with a brief overview of the PRTG Network Monitor. Our idea is to whet your appetite and then briefly describe the product’s sensor-based architecture. Next, we’ll have a somewhat more detailed look at some PRTG’s best features, concentrating on its user interface, the main types of monitoring it offers and its alerting and reporting features. We’ll then discuss the product’s installation and configuration as well as the auto-discovery process. The pros and cons of the products, as reported by users and reviewers alike will be our next order of business. And before we conclude, we’ll discuss the system requirements for installing the product as well as its licensing and pricing structure.
PRTG In A Nutshell
In a few words, the PRTG Network Monitor is an agentless network monitoring system. Agentless means that it doesn’t require any proprietary software to be running on the monitored devices and systems. The tool has been around for almost 15 years and was brought to us by Germany-based Paessler AG. The PRTG Network Monitor lets you monitor almost any network device, including access points, routers, and switches, as well as software and cloud-deployed infrastructures, including applications, servers, services, storage, and even workstations. There are not many tools which offer a similar blend of visibility, ease of use, and scalability.
PRTG is rumoured to be the fastest monitoring tool to set up. According to Paessler AG, it can be set up in a couple of minutes. Our experience, however, shows that it can take a bit more time than that but it is still very quick and easy to set up, thanks in part to its auto-discovery feature that will scan your network to find devices and automatically add them to the tool. Once the auto-discovery completes, deeper details on each detected devices can be retrieved using various communication protocols. The system uses a combination of Ping, SNMP, WMI, NetFlow, jFlow, sFlow, and it can also communicate via DICOM or the RESTful API.
The PRTG Network Monitor is different from most other monitoring tools in that it is sensor-based. Various monitoring capabilities can be added to the tool by configuring extra sensors. You can think of sensors as add-ons or plugins except that they are not external modules but are, instead, included with the product. PRTG includes over 200 such sensors that cover different monitoring needs, There are, for example, HTTP sensors or SMTP/POP3 (e-mail) application sensors. There are also hardware-specific sensors for switches, routers, and servers. Other sensors can retrieve metrics such as response times, processor or memory load, database information, temperature or system status
Main Features Of PRTG
As we’ve said, the PRTG Network Monitor is a feature-rich product. It has, in fact, too many features to review them all. With over 200 available sensors, it would make for a rather boring read. Instead, let’s concentrate on some of the most important or significant aspects of the platform. Just keep in mind that there is not much that this tool can’t handle.
The User Interface(s)
The user interface is what we use to interact with tools and software. In the case of PRTG. You have a choice of them. The main user interface is an Ajax-based web interface. It can be accessed from any platform using an Ajax-compatible browser. There’s also a Windows-based enterprise console. And last but not least are mobile apps for Android and iOS. They allow you to access the tool while on the go, no matter where you are from your smartphone or tablet. The mobile apps can use push notification for any alerts triggered by PRTG, which can often be more efficient than the usual SMS or email notifications which, of course, are also available.
Paessler AG recently revamped the PRTG Network Monitor user interface. The product now boasts a modern dashboard with analytics-style displays such as the starburst graphic shown above. The user interface’s performance was also improved in the process. The main menu has been streamlined, and the vendor has somehow managed to put more information on the screen without adding clutter. The tool’s user interface is responsive. This means that it will optimize itself for whatever device you’re using (desktop, tablet, smartphone). The vendor has even changed the interface’s icons to vector graphics so they’ll render better on high-resolution displays.
Basic network monitoring is at the core of the PRTG Network Monitor and it is where it excels. The tool uses a combination of SNMP, WMI, and other protocols to poll your device’s for their critical metrics and bandwidth usage. In addition to this base capability, several key sensors let it perform more advanced monitoring. They include sensors such as the Cisco IP SLA Sensor and the QoS One Way Sensor. Another example is the Packet Sniffer Sensor which allows you to view live and historical network data by means of gauges and pie charts. In a matter of seconds, you could, for instance, display pie charts of the Top Talkers, Top Connections, and Top Protocols.
Flow analysis is another area where the PRTG Network Monitor excels. Unlike network monitoring which polls devices for their operational parameters, flow analysis relies on the device themselves to collect data about every data flow they handle. That collected data is then sent to a tool such as PRTG for collection and analysis. While traditional network monitoring provides more of a quantitative look at the status of your network, Flow analysis offers a qualitative view. You’ll be able to not only know how much data goes by but what data goes by.
Several different flow analysis protocols exist. The original one is Cisco System’s NetFlow. It has been copied or licensed by other manufacturers who refer to it by different names such as J-flow on Juniper devices or NetStream on Huawei’s. The IPFIX protocol is an IETF-standardized version of the latest version of NetFlow. A similar yet very different protocol called sFLow also exists. Despite its difference, it serves a similar purpose. PRTG has various sensors available for most flow analysis technologies.
Virtualization occupies an ever-growing space within many organization and with it are specific monitoring challenges. The PRTG Network Monitor can be used to monitor key metrics of your virtual infrastructures such as memory usage, CPU load, and disk speed. Several Vmware-specific sensors are available for this. For instance, the VMWare Virtual Machine Sensor uses Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) to monitor virtual machines. Likewise, the VMWare Host Hardware Sensor monitors the performance of your VMware ESX/ESXi servers. Other useful virtualization-oriented sensors include the VMWare Host Hardware Status Sensor which you can use to monitor the performance of your host system and the VMWare Datastore Sensor that monitors hard drive usage and data store status.
Just like virtualization, cloud-hosting is another technology that has been rapidly gaining in popularity. And since cloud hosting is often nothing more than virtualization in a remote location, many of the sensors that are available for virtualization monitoring can also be used for cloud monitoring.
And if you’re using Amazon’s AWS, PRTG has a few CloudWatch sensors that are incredibly useful. With no less than seven CloudWatch sensors, you’ll be able to monitor the performance of Amazon’s EBS, ECS, ELB, RDS, SNS, and SQS, just to name a few.
But cloud monitoring can also refer to the monitoring of various cloud services. And here again, PRTG has got you covered. In addition to Amazon CloudWatch monitoring, it includes sensors for Mail Server Monitoring, Microsoft OneDrive Monitoring, Dropbox Monitoring, Google Analytics Monitoring, and Google Drive Monitoring.
The PRTG Network Monitor also database monitoring capabilities that can monitor popular databases such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, and PostgreSQL. The database monitoring sensors have all been designed to minimize query and return times. This means that you have a continually up-to-date view of your database. In all, there are dozens of database monitoring sensors that will cover almost every single database engine there is. The amount of data each sensor provides is impressive and will let you continuously monitor your database’s performance.
Its one thing to have an all-in-one monitoring solution like the PRTG Network Monitor in place but what good is it you need to constantly keep an eye on its console to ensure all is running smoothly? This is where alerting come in. This tool offers a full complement of threshold-based alerts. Most sensors come with pre-configured alerts that will notify you should any monitored metric veer out of its normal operating range. You can, of course, adjust the alerting thresholds to your exact needs. You can also define your own custom alerts based on any of the monitored parameters.
Once alerts are triggered, you need to be notified. The tool has the basic form of email and SMS notifications but also push notifications. If you’re using one of the PRTG mobile apps or Windows, iOS, or Android, you can have notifications pop up right on your favourite device. Furthermore, the alerting system also features an API that you can use to write custom notification scripts.
Just about as necessary as alerting, reporting is another key feature of monitoring tools. Reports can be used, for example, to see the evolution of a network’s utilization. They can also be instrumental in demonstrating compliance to various regulatory frameworks. And when it comes to reporting, The PRTG Network Monitor leaves nothing to be desired.
The tool will let you build historic reports covering a time span of your choosing. You can choose between displaying a day, a month, or an entire year of data. Several useful reports are pre-built and you also have the option of modifying them to better suit your needs. And if what you need doesn’t already exist, custom reports can also be built. Reports can be generated in HTML, PDF, CSV, and XML formats. You can also schedule report generation and have them automatically run daily or monthly without having to manually run them each time you need them. But if you ever do need to run them manually, the process is super simple.
Setting Up PRTG
Setting up the PRTG Network Monitor is said to be the easiest part of using it. It is true that the installer makes it a piece of cake. A typical PRTG installation will have one core server but it could also have remote probes installed throughout your network. This is particularly useful if you need to monitor distributed networks or multiple data centers.
By virtue of being an agentless monitoring system, a great advantage of this tool is that it won’t require you to install anything on the monitored devices. You will, however, need to configure their SNMP parameters of whatever method is used to access them. Ideally, you should configure each device with identical access credentials as it will make the auto-discovery process—which we are just about to discuss—much more efficient. Other than that, there is really not much more to installing the PRTG Network Monitor than downloading it and running its installer.
Once the tool is installed, the next order of business is the auto-discovery of your network. This is where the PRTG Network Monitor shines. Contrary to some competing products—although auto-discovery is a more and more common feature—you won’t have to manually add your devices to the tool. It will scan your network and look for anything it can monitor. The only input it requires from you is the IP ranges or subnets to scan. The rest is automatic. It will find and identify devices and add the appropriate monitoring metrics for each device.
The process is not perfect and some advanced sensors will require some manual configuration but overall, the auto-discovery process that is built into this product is a real time saver.
Pros And Cons Of The PRTG Network Monitor
We’ve searched the Internet for user opinions about the PRTG Network Monitor and we’ve assembled these lists of the pros and cons that have been reported by various PRTG users and reviewers.
- Many built-in network sensors for most brands of infrastructure equipment and network servers.
- Clean, sleek interface.
- Customizing sensors for specific thresholds or items to monitor is easy and quick.
- Easy to understand from a user perspective.
- Good permission functionality, able to provide ‘ringed-fence’ logins for external users.
- Tree interface allows settings and permissions to inherit their way down the tre.e
- Flexible notification/threshold functionality.
- Lots of monitoring options to deploy.
- Very easy to update, deploy new probes, move and clone sensors.
- QR codes corresponding to a particular device or sensor can be printed out and attached to physical hardware for quick monitoring from a mobile app while in the data center.
- Some functionality in enterprise console redirects you to the web console.
- Some users have complained of the tool’s steep learning curve but it is to be expected of such a broad product.
- Alerts configuration is a little tricky to fine tune and could be easier. It can be very granular(good), but that adds to the complexity.
- Missing some integration with existing ticketing systems. It would be nice if it were able to create trouble tickets in third-party applications.
- While PRTG allows you to create maps of your network, it doesn’t seem to automatically link devices together.
It is recommended by Paessler AG that the PRTG core server is installed on a dedicated x64 server. The server should be a recent one, not older than two years. It should be running Windows Server 2012 R2 or a newer operating system with the .NET Framework 4.5 or later installed.
The number of required processor cores, the amount of RAM and the disk space required varies according to the number of sensors. On average, each monitored devices uses about 10 sensors. For up to 1000 sensors, you will need 2 CPU cores, 3 GB of RAM, and 250 GB of disk space—assuming you want to keep a year’s worth of data. From 1000 to 2500 sensors, you will need 3 CPU cores, 5 GB of RAM, and 500 GB of disk space. For 2500 to 5000 sensors, you will need 5 CPU cores, 8 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of disk space and for 5000 to 10 000 sensors, you will need 8 CPU cores, 16 GB of RAM, and 2 TB of disk space. More than 10 000 sensors can be supported with additional core servers.
Licensing and Pricing
The pricing structure of the PRTG Network Monitor quite simple. Both on-premise and cloud-based installations are available and offer essentially the same capabilities. Prices for both the locally installed and the hosted versions are based on the number of sensors you need. As we indicated, a typical device takes, on average, 10 sensors. Some devices, though, will need much more. For instance, monitoring each interface of a 48-port switch will require over 50 sensors as one is required for each port.
For the cloud-based service, four sizing tiers are available for up to 500, 1000, 2500, and 5000 sensors at prices varying between $149 to $899 per month. If you want to give the product a test run, you can monitor up to 500 sensors free for ten days. The on-premise installation has the same four sizing tiers plus an unlimited sensor option at prices ranging from $1 600 to $14 500. For testing purposes, the tool will let you monitor up to 100 sensors for free with no time limit.
The PRTG Network Monitor enjoys a well-deserved reputation. It offers a cost-effective and highly scalable solution for all your monitoring needs. If you are looking for an all-in-one product to monitor a multitude of different systems and devices, this might be just the product you need. No matter what you’re trying to do with the product, it seems like its never much complicated. From setting up the product to configuring alerts and reports, everything is relatively self-explanatory. Whether you’re a seasoned network administrator or a new-comer, you’ll certainly find what you’re looking for in this excellent product. And with the possibility of trying the product for free, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try it and see for yourself how it meets your needs.