Recently I have been made aware of a network management package from Packettrap.com. The idea behind the software is it will provide you a central interface and reporting service for all your network management and diagnostic needs. The free version includes the following services:
- Overview dashboard
- An enhanced ping
- Graphical ping (it shows the info on a graph)
- Trace route
- TFTP server
- MAC address scan
- WHOIS tool
- Various other features, see them on their site
The main idea behind the software is that you can do all of your normal networking tasks from one place. A fine idea, but how well does it work?
When you first open (after registering it) Packettrap, you will be presented with the tools window, like below
Some of the tools you will probably already use (ping, trace route) and some you might not of seen before (WMI scan, MAC scan). Most of the tools are just graphical versions of the ones you probably already use at the command line.
The scanning tools have some useful extras you dont get in the inbuilt Windows ones, such as the ability to ping over a range of machines, and its good to have them all these tools in the same place.
The inclusion of the tool to help manage Cisco network devices is also a good touch, it lets you open device config files and do things like compare two, very useful if the configs have altered and you want to know what has changed.
There are a couple of drawbacks with it though.
When you download it, after 30 days a couple of the tools stop working unless you register for the full product. This includes the syslog server (you can get one for free as i mentioned in my article about account lockouts), and the Cisco tools (you can use another product from Kiwi Enterprise called CatTools).
You don’t seem to be able to customize the tools in the window. It would be nice if you could add/remove ones, so you could be up a collection of applications that are relevant to you.
One of the main parts of the software is a dashboard. It lets you monitor various states of individual network devices, or groups of devices. As with most monitoring software, you will need to be running SNMP on the devices if you want to get the more detailed information out of them.
The dashboard lets you add various tab, and on each tab you can customise the what you want to see, so for instance you could have a tab with reachability tests, and on another you could be monitoring server disk space. This is a very good feature but you only get one tab in the free version.
Again, there are a couple of drawbacks to the dashboard. The most obvious one is that if one of the services you are monitoring goes down (or reaches a certain threshold) , you only know by looking at the software. There does not seem to be the option to send you an email alert, pager alert etc. This I think is quite a big deal, as you probably wont sit there looking at the dashboard all day.
Another drawback is the lack of ability to create your own ‘gadgets’ as they call them. You are stuck with the pre-configured ones. While it might be quite complex to add your own, I think it is a necessary feature.
You also cant monitor individual applications and services, this would be a very useful tool if you could (for instance) see if the IIS worker process has died on a server.
Is it worth using?
Good question. The tools are useful if you are going to live with the application open all the time, although as I mentioned before not being able to add your own tools probably means you wont. And most of the tools you will probably already own, or use the built in windows ones.
The dashboard is quite cool, but again the lack of ability to customize it with your own ‘gadgets’, or have it send you email alerts is a bit of a let down.
Its certainly worth a download though, as some of its tools might be new to you, and if you haven’t already got something in place the dashboard is a good idea. Get it at http://www.packettrap.com/product/index.aspx?pid=free
What else is there?
By far the best (in my opinion) similar tool to this goes by the strange name of Just for fun network monitoring system(JFFNMS). You can download it from http://www.jffnms.org and see a demo at http://jffnms.enc.com.au
While it is extremely powerful software, it is a bit painful to get working (you’ll probably need a *nix guru) and there hasn’t been an update to it in quite a long time. That said there is an active community and the developer is very helpful.
It has very good alert management, will talk to any device you can think of, is very good for monitoring and reporting trends, and has a web interface (until you have to get your hands dirty with a bit of code). It would also look very cool if you put the hosts and events page on a big TV on the wall of your office!