Ever hear of a company called Paessler AG? No? Neither have I. Ever hear of a product called PRTG? Of course?! Me too! Call me crazy, but I never knew this was the same company! Paessler AG presented for Tech Field Day at VMworld in Barcelona yesterday, demonstrating their product PRTG and making legitimate points in support of their competitive edge in the monitoring industry. In this blog I’ll be doing a personal Q&A about PRTG, running queries against the DB (Dave Brain), hoping it doesn’t fail on me. If it fails, I’m not too concerned, for I’ve installed the appropriate SNMP MIBs used to alert my right hand that coffee needs to be delivered to my mouth. PRTG, save me!
What is PRTG?
Paessler Router Traffic Grapher (PRTG) is a network monitoring solution that’s widely adopted in the industry, and does much more than just network monitoring. If I were to wait a few more months I could rightfully say Paessler AG has been around for 20 years. It’s surprising it’s been that long. I personally recall using PRTG back in 2006 at an effort to make sense of MRTG. I’m sure I’m not alone with this endeavor. Well, times have changed, and so has PRTG.
Paessler’s slogan is “The Network Monitoring Company”, which, in my opinion, is an oversight. Yes, “router” is in the acronym, but this is only because they originally focused on network availability and performance. However, networking is just a fraction of what you can monitor with PRTG. Routers, switches, servers, hardware, software, operating systems, applications, virtualized environments, websites, email servers, databases, VoIP and QoS, IPSLA, logs, events, performance, NetFlow/IPFIX, sFlow, and jFlow, packet sniffing, SNMP, WMI, temperature, humidity, and many more can be monitored. Some customers use PRTG solely for system monitoring (Windows, VMware, HP, Dell, IBM, etc.), without touching the networking components. That said, it might behove Paessler to modify their slogan to something along the lines of “The Holistic Monitoring Company”.
How does it work?
While most competitive products license by device, PRTG is instead licensed by sensors. What’s a sensor, you ask? This happens to be the top question in their FAQ. A sensor is essentially anything you use to retrieve a metric or status on any individual device you monitor. For example, you may have a device that you want to ping, probe for URL reachability, retrieve CPU status via SNMP, and network conversations via xFlow. This means you’d need to attach 4 sensors to this single monitored device. This may sound like a money-thieving trick, but it’s not! The licensing model is very attractive from a cost perspective, and Paessler does not gouge it’s customers when new features are released. All costs are purely based on sensors.
This idea of sensors is critical for understanding the PRTG architectural hierarchy. I’m more comfortable and familiar with a device-focused monitoring approach rather than a sensor-focused approach, which is the precise paradigm shift prevalent with PRTG.
Another important element of the ecosystem is Paessler’s purpose-built database for PRTG. All monitoring data is stored in raw formats within their own built-in database; no SQL required! Multiple benefits can be measured by not using SQL.
- No SQL license required!
- Up to 100x performance increase, as their database is optimized for large amounts of small data at short intervals.
- No additional configuration or maintenance needed as databased updates are deployed automatically with the product updates.
- All data is retrievable via their integrated API.
Paessler offers a few options to get started. You can download their freeware, or start a free trial of the full product for 30 days.
What do I like most about PRTG?
A challenge with many network monitoring solutions out there is proper sizing, and proper architecture to adapt with rapidly changing environments. Paessler has done a phenomenal job on their approach for scalable monitoring. I mean this in multiple ways.
Back to the sensor architecture — instead of building everything out from the perspective of the devices, Paessler adopted an incredibly powerful approach by instead focus on what you want to see and how you consume the information. One of the first things you notice when using PRTG is the hierarchy is completely sensor-driven, rather than device-centric. They find this to be a more practical approach for network monitoring, and I’m beginning to think they’re right.
Scaling out is also simplified. Once you reach maximum sensors on a PRTG engine, simply add another to your environment, manage it centrally with an Enterprise console, and securely grow your monitoring landscape with remote probes communicating via SSL to your core server(s).
And, bashfully, I adore their Apple Watch app. So cool!
Any room for improvement with PRTG?
This is a tough question, as I haven’t extensively used the product, and there is nothing I can find so far that is a deal-breaker for me. I just want to remind you that these are opinions I’m making without fully using the product, and subject to change with more experience.
First, the dashboard needs serious customization to make it valuable. The default dashboard is basic, blocky, and essentially useless. In fact, PRTG calls this a “sample dashboard”. I installed Paessler to dive deeper and compare it to other products I’m more familiar with. This is a screenshot of the default dashboard:
It is expected that you change this for your environment. To give you an example of this, you can login to Paessler’s public instance of PRTG here, and see such an example. You’ll notice it’s drastically different, but I’m still not terribly fond of it. I’m sure if I spent more time I’d eventually get it to suit my needs, so this is definitely not a deal-breaker.
As much as I’ve built up the sensor-focused approach and think it’s a good thing, I fear that it’s organizationally awkward from a business perspective. I like to have a global view of my entire network and all of the systems that reside within it. I tend to organize by business units, criticality, device types and owner/operators. Instead, PRTG really pushes the sensor view. This is the first page you come to when launching the application, and speaking with the folks at PRTG, this is the recommended approach and how they expect most people to view their network.
In my opinion, it’s cluttered and awkwardly organized. I’d rather see overall status of my sites, devices and applications, organized in another fashion, with baselined status that I can drill into if curious. After all, this is the Devices tab I’m on. I’ve poked around the interface for quite some time now, and I just don’t see precisely what I’m looking for.
How does it compare to competing products?
The two largest competitors to Paessler are SolarWinds and WhatsUp Gold.
Paessler wins when it comes to speed of deployment, quick visibility of global alarms, licensing and overall application responsiveness. PRTG is wickedly fast!
If you’re looking for a consolidated, single vendor platform that includes IP Address management, device configuration management, compliance, firewall management, patch management, and so on, you won’t find these options with Paessler. Their focus is purely on monitoring, which I can absolutely respect. If you like Paessler’s monitoring approach, you’ll want to have a strategy for your other network management needs.
Most importantly – would I use PRTG?
I just started getting my feet wet with PRTG. I’m up to my ankles now and I don’t have any plans to dry off any time soon. Yes, I’d absolutely use PRTG. Like any monitoring solution, you’ll only get out of it what you put in. The interface is a little intimidating at first, but now that I’ve gone through numerous tabs and options, I’m exceedingly optimistic about it. It’s almost like the first time I used a Mac and I couldn’t figure it out, so I resented it. Then I spent a day or two and realized it’s the greatest end-user OS of our time, and I had no idea how I lived without it. Ok, maybe I’m lamenting a bit. Seriously, I know some people that use PRTG and love it, so I’d absolutely use it, and you should try it out too. If you do try it out, be careful, as it literally starts scanning your network right away!
*Please see my disclosure regarding the conference I attended on behalf of Tech Field Day, and rest assured this is honest, uninfluenced commentary which I am writing simply because I want to. Absolutely no compensations for such a blog, which I hope has been made evidently obvious.