We recently reviewed Spiceworks 7.1, a product that helps you monitor and manage the myriad PCs, printers, and other devices that reside on a small business network. Managing devices on a LAN is certainly important, but it’s just as important—if not more so—to keep close tabs on the customer-facing pieces of your IT infrastructure to make sure they’re working properly and responding sufficiently to visitors.
This kind of network monitoring represents a different kind of challenge, but it’s one that Anturis, an eponymously-named, cloud-based monitoring service, can handle. It tracks the status of things such as company websites and applications plus the hardware, software, and networks that underpin them. If something goes awry, Anturis sounds the alarm and points you in the direction of the problem.
Systems Monitoring and Notification
Components and monitors comprise the two building blocks of Anturis’ service. Components are the sites, servers, or services that you can monitor—Anturis’ standard components include websites, interactive Web applications, email, Apache, MySQL, or general servers (i.e. the actual physical hardware). The component you choose dictates the monitors available for it. For example, you can monitor HTTP response and ping time on a website, CPU, RAM, and disk utilization on a server, various performance metrics and vital statistics of an Apache or MySQL installation, etc.
Figure 1: In the event of trouble, Anturis helps you more quickly pinpoint the culpability in a chain of components.
For items that don’t fit into any of the above component categories, Anturis offers a "Custom" component that you can outfit with any of 20 available monitors, including one that essentially runs any shell command you choose, and compare the output against whatever parameters you specify.
Getting started with Anturis is easy thanks to a well-designed and surprisingly user-friendly UI console, which lets you create basic components and monitors —for example, monitoring connectivity to a URL or IP address—in just a handful of clicks. Anturis maintains a number of "Public Agents" (two in North America, three in Europe) to perform this kind of testing.
To monitor the internals of a server, you install the Anturis Private Agent, which is available for Windows or Linux, 32- or 64-bit. After we put the Private Agent on a Windows Server 2012 box and entered our Anturis account information to link it to the service, we could create a component with monitors for that server’s CPU usage, free RAM, and free disk space.
One minor complaint is that Anturis doesn’t let you specify all disks when setting up a free disk space monitor. Instead, it makes you choose a particular disk, and while you can subsequently edit the component to add additional disk monitors, this is needless extra work. Anturis says this shortcoming will be addressed in an update. We weren’t running Apache or MySQL on our test server, so we didn’t test those components.
Reducing Needless Notifications
One feature we especially like is that you can link different components together; Anturis lets you define links between the components to indicate when there are dependencies between them. This serves dual purposes; first, it helps you more easily identify the problematic component in a chain of them. Second, it ensures that you don’t get bombarded with pointless notifications from each and every component that’s downstream of the one that failed.
Figure 2: The Anturis console lets you link components to illustrate relationships and dependencies among them.
Case in point: we triggered a server failure by pulling the plug on its network connection. Within a minute Anturis sent us notification about the "incident" via email, text, and voice call. A quick look at the Anturis console showed that the issue was in fact with the server, not with the WAN connection, so we knew where to concentrate our troubleshooting effort. We then restored the server’s connection and killed the WAN connection instead. This time around, we received a notification about the WAN being down, but not any redundant alerts about the server losing its connectivity.
Anturis’ email notifications contain helpful links to the console, as well as to the specific components and monitors involved. On the other hand, those links are somewhat less helpful when you’re receiving the notification on a mobile device because Anturis doesn’t currently offer any mobile apps, nor is the console formatted for mobile browsers. Suffice it to say that attempting to navigate the full-size console on the cramped screen of a smartphone or tablet isn’t particularly efficient or enjoyable. For its part, Anturis says that mobile apps are on its road map.
Knowing how long it takes a Web server to respond to HTTP requests is a useful statistic, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect the total user experience when visiting a website. To paint a more complete picture, Anturis’ provides a Transaction Recorder to simulate actual tasks a person might perform against a site.
Its embedded Web browser lets you record a series of site interactions—searching for information, purchasing a product, filling a form, etc., and then save and upload the recording as a monitor so Anturis can keep tabs on the process as a whole. We used the Transaction Recorder to record a few basic site interactions against our test server and, within a minute of finishing, the resulting monitor was loaded and running successfully in the console.
Anturis offers several ways to view the data it collects over time. You can view graphs going back one hour, a day, one month, or a year, and multiple dashboards let you display related monitors together for easier access (e.g. a dashboard for each location, or separate dashboards for WAN links and websites). Anturis also offers daily, weekly, or monthly reports via email that show uptime and errors expressed in terms of both percentage and time. One thing that’s missing, however, is an export option—there’s no way to save reports as an Excel or PDF file.
Anturis’ pricing scheme is extremely simple, if somewhat inflexible. It’s all based on the number of monitors you need, and they cost roughly a buck a month each. If you can get by with five or fewer monitors, the price is free and includes unlimited alerts via email. If you need 10 or more monitors, pricing starts at just under $10 a month and adds a fixed number of SMS and voice (phone) alerts.
Figure 3: You can view past data going back an hour, day, month, or a year.
But if you need, say, 25 monitors, you can’t just pay for 25, because Anturis offers only three fixed plans—for 10, 40, or 100 monitors; plans it refers to as Small, Medium, and Large. To its credit, Anturis doesn’t water down the capabilities of the free offering—it offers the same 1-minute polling time as the top-end, 100-monitor, $82.50/mo. plan.
Anturis 1.4 provides tons of customization capability if you need it, without sacrificing ease of use if you don’t. It’s a compelling monitoring service as is, but will be even more so with mobile apps and more flexible pricing options.
Price: Free for 5 or fewer monitors; $7.50 per month and up for 10+ monitors and enhanced notification
Pros: Pinpoints problems to focus troubleshooting and limit redundant alerts; transaction recorder simulates multi-step site interactions; good free offering
Cons: Doesn’t currently offer mobile app; limited pricing tiers
Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.
|Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!|