If you administer a number of Windows servers, you know how ensuring that they are all running smoothly and operating at the best of their capacity can be time-consuming. This is where Windows server monitoring tools can come in handy. Today, we’re going to have an in-depth look at a few of the best of these tools.
We’ll begin by exploring Windows server monitoring, what it is and the various types of monitoring and monitoring tools that are available. As you will soon find out, Windows server monitoring is not one thing but rather an array of technologies that combine to offer a complete monitoring solution. We’ll also discuss integrated monitoring tools. These are tools that combine various types of monitoring into one package. We’ll see how this can be a big advantage but also that it can come with some limitations. And finally, we’ll review some of the very best Windows server monitoring tools we could find.
About Windows Server Monitoring
Monitoring Windows servers is not different from monitoring any type of device, And the main reason why anyone needs it is rather simple. There’s just too much to monitor. Given the complexity of a modern Windows server with potentially dozens of critical services running and multiple processing cores, manually monitoring everything to ensure that all is running smoothly would quickly overwhelm any administrator. When I first started as a network administrator, the company where I worked had about half a dozen servers and they were all located right next to me, in the same room where my desk was. It was easy for me and my two colleagues to constantly keep a watchful eye on everything. We just had to turn around to see the servers’ consoles. Whenever something went wrong, it wasn’t long before one of us noticed it.
Fast forward some twenty-something years and things are very different. Many organizations have dozens if not hundreds of servers. And today’s environment is not only made of servers anymore. Between networking equipment, security appliances, and every conceivable type of network-attached devices, modern administrators tend to have their hands full. This is where monitoring tools can come in handy. They sit in the background and become your eyes on every Windows server on your network. Whenever something goes wrong or is out of its normal range of operation, alerting kicks in and sends some type of notification. This allows administrators to concentrate on more useful tasks while ensuring that they’ll be able to quickly react in case of trouble.
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Various Tools For Different Monitoring
There are mainly three different things most Windows administrators need to monitor. First, they need to monitor that all of the Windows servers they are responsible for are up and running but also that they are performing within their normal acceptable range. This can mean many things, in terms of monitoring. At its most basic level, a Windows server monitoring tool will ensure that equipment is up and running and that the IP ports which are supposed to be open are. For instance, a web server should be responding to requests on port 80 and possible 8080. In addition to checking open ports, Windows server monitoring tools also use the Simple Network Management Protocol, or SNMP to read operational parameters from devices. The CPU load for each core or the percentage of available memory could be monitored just as CPU core temperature could. Different devices have different operational parameters available via SNMP. The best tools will let administrators pick which parameter of each Windows server to monitor.
Another important type of monitoring for Windows servers is application monitoring. This one can take many forms and it seems like every developer of application monitoring tool has his own idea of how it should be done. Suffice to say that the basic idea is to ensure that the applications running on the servers are available to end-users when they need them and that they are behaving normally. For example, a tool could be monitoring the Exchange server of the SQL server running on a Windows server. This type of monitoring is most often accomplished through the use of local monitoring agents installed on the application servers.
About Integrated Tools
In order to make Windows server administrators’ lives easier, a few vendors offer integrated monitoring tools. These are tools that combine two or more different types of monitoring tools. For instance, it is not rare to see tools that can monitor Windows servers and the applications running on them. Some even include network bandwidth utilization functionalities.
There are several advantages to these integrated tools, the main one being having all your monitoring data at the same place. Other advantages include an easier installation and not having to learn to install, configure, and use multiple tools. There’s also a definite cost advantage as integrated tools are often less expensive than purchasing individual tools.
But as nice as integrated tools can be, they do have a few drawbacks too. Generally speaking, integrated tools tend to be poorer in terms of available features. They can often do everything OK but not necessarily amazingly. They typically don’t go as deep in their monitoring features. They can also be somewhat cumbersome in large organizations where different teams manage different types of equipment and each team would benefit from having its own dashboard.
The Best Windows Server Monitoring Tools
Let’s have a look at some of the best Windows server monitoring tools. We’ve tried our best to include various types of tools. Our primary goal was to demonstrate the great variety of options available. Some of the tools reviewed below are integrated tools while others are specific server monitoring tools. Others are network monitoring tools with server monitoring features. Picking the best Windows server monitoring tool for you need can be intimidating. Have a look at the reviews below to find which tool best matches your specific needs and give it a try.
Who doesn’t know SolarWinds, a publisher of some of the very best network and system administration tools? The twenty-year-old company enjoys a solid reputation and its flagship product, the Network Performance Monitor, consistently scores among the top SNMP monitoring tools. And as if that wasn’t enough, SolarWinds also makes a handful of free tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrator. The Advanced Subnet Calculator and the Kiwi Syslog Server are two examples of those free tools.
With a rather large product portfolio, it’s no surprise that SolarWinds does offer an integrated monitoring solution that goes by the name of ipMonitor. It is a relatively simple integrated tool that offers essential up/down and performance monitoring for servers, applications, and networks.
- FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds ipMonitor
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/ip-monitor/registration
This tool will quickly discover infrastructure and will recommend SmartMonitor settings which are designed to make setup simpler and faster. It also provides an easy-to-use web interface and network maps for clear, at-a-glance views of your environment. The tool can send customizable alerts and reports to help ensure you are the first to know about issues or application failures. In addition to alerts, it also has automated remediation capabilities to minimize downtime.
On the application monitoring front, the system can simulate the end-user experience for web and other applications and it uses standard protocols such as SNMP and WMI for agentless, monitoring of applications and systems. The system includes its own embedded web server and database and it is designed for a simple, integrated installation experience without the need for installing separate components.
The ipMonitor web-based interface offers centralized and customizable summary views. It helps provide visibility into the health of your IT infrastructure. The tool supports drag and drop, and is designed to make it easy to add and remove elements from the view and help ensure you have the reports, statistics, and gauges you need—right at your fingertips. ipMonitor’s dashboards make it easy to identify problem areas at a glance, letting you resolve issues quickly.
Prices for ipMonitor start at $1 495 for up to 500 monitors. This one-time cost includes the first year of maintenance. For those who’d prefer to try the tool before purchasing it, a free 14-day trial is available.
Not as integrated as ipMonitor, the SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor is a great example of a smaller integrated tool. But since it shares the same Orion platform as the Network Performance Monitor, together they form a truly integrated tool with many more features that can be found on ipMonitor.
This tool was designed to help administrators monitor servers, their operational parameters, their processes, and the applications which are running on them. It can easily scale from very small networks to large ones with hundreds of servers—both physical and virtual—spread over multiple sites. The tool can also monitor cloud-hosted services like those from Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
- FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/server-application-monitor/registration
The SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor is very easy to set up and its initial configuration is just as easily done with the help of its auto-discovery process. It is a two-pass process. The first pass will discover servers, and the second one will find applications. This can take time but 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.
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.
Next on our list is yet another tool from SolarWinds. This one is very specific in what it monitors, though. Its primary purpose is monitoring and auditing server configurations and it is called the SolarWinds Server Configuration Monitor or SCM. But despite its rather descriptive name, there’s more to this tool. It is a powerful and easy-to-use product that was designed to provide tracking of server and application changes in your network. As a troubleshooting tool, it can give you the necessary information about configuration changes and their correlations with performance slowdown. This can help you find the root cause of some performance problems caused by configuration changes.
- FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds Server Configuration Monitor
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/server-configuration-monitor/registration
The SolarWinds Server Configuration Monitor is an agent-based tool, with the agent deployed on each Windows server being monitored. The advantage of this architecture is that the agent can keep gathering data even when the server is disconnected from the network. The data is then sent to the tool as soon as the server is back online.
Feature-wise, this product leaves nothing to be desired. In addition to what’s already been mentioned, this tool will automatically detect servers that are eligible for monitoring. It comes with out-of-the-box configuration profiles for the most common servers. The tool will also let you view hardware and software inventories and report on them too. This is a great tool that can be used to monitor your on-premises physical and virtual server as well as your cloud-based environment.
Prices for the SolarWinds Server Configuration Monitor are not readily available. You’ll need to request a formal quote from SolarWinds. However, a 30-day evaluation version is available for download.
4. ManageEngine OpManager
The ManageEngine OpManager is another all-in-one package that will monitor your servers’ (physical and virtual) vital signs as well as those of your networking equipment and alert you as soon as something is out of its normal operating range. The tool benefits from an intuitive user interface that will let you easily find the information you need. There is also an excellent reporting engine that comes loaded with pre-built reports while still supporting custom ones. The product’s alerting features are also very complete.
The tool runs on either Windows or Linux and is loaded with great features. One worth mentioning is its auto-discovery feature that can map your network, giving you a uniquely customized dashboard. The ManageEngine OpManager dashboard is super easy to use and navigate, thanks to its drill-down functionality. For those of you who are into mobile apps, client apps for tablets and smartphones are available, allowing you to access the tool from anywhere.
The ManageEngine OpManager is available in two versions. The Essential edition is intended for small and medium organizations with up to a thousand devices with prices starting at around $700 for 25 devices. For larger organizations, the Enterprise edition 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 try, a free 30-day trial is also available.
5. PRTG Network Monitor
The PRTG Network Monitor or, more simply, just PRTG from Paessler AG, is another excellent integrated monitoring system. The enterprise-grade product claims to be the fastest to set up. According to Paessler, the tool can be set up in a couple of minutes. While our experience shows that it can take a bit more than that, it’s still pretty easy and quick to set up. Its auto-discovery process is one of the main reasons for the speed of installation.
The PRTG Network Monitor is a feature-rich product. It comes with a choice of user interfaces. There’s a Windows enterprise console, an Ajax-based web interface, and mobile apps for Android and iOS. In the background, this tool mainly uses SNMP to poll devices and display interface utilization on chronological graphs. But it doesn’t stop there. Through the use of additional sensors, PRTG can monitor servers and applications. In fact, there aren’t many monitoring tasks that it won’t handle.
The PRTG Network Monitor is available in two versions. There’s a free version that is full-featured but 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 need to purchase a license that starts at $1 600 for 500 sensors. A free, sensor-unlimited and full-featured 30-day trial version is available.
Zabbix is known as one of the best free and open-source system monitoring platforms. This enterprise-grade system can scale from small to very big networks. This tool can monitor networks, both local and cloud-based servers, and the services running on them, making it a true integrated monitoring platform. Don’t let the fact that it’s free and open-source put you off, though. It would be a mistake as this tool has a lot to offer.
Zabbix uses SNMP as well as the Intelligent Platform Monitoring Interface (IMPI) for monitoring devices. You can use the software to monitor bandwidth, device CPU and memory utilization, general device health as well as configuration changes. The product also features an impressive and completely customizable alerting system. It will not only send email or SMS alerts but also run local scripts which could be used to fix some issues automatically.
Although Zabbix is free, ancillary services can be purchased. For instance, you can purchase support services. Five levels of technical support are available. There is also a complete certification training program that can be purchased. This is totally optional, though, as community support is available for free and it is very good. Finally, this product’s alerting features are up to par with other products on our list and so is its reporting engine.
Zabbix has all you can expect in an enterprise-grade integrated monitoring tool except the high price tag. And the only thing you’ll need to spend to put it through a test run is your time.