Network Monitoring Keeps Internet-Based Companies From Feeling 'Down'

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Tips for securing an online business through network monitoring.

There are plenty of software solutions out now that are certainly affordable and can be implemented by anyone who uses a computer.

Good things happen to companies that monitor their IT networks -- especially when those companies depend on the Internet, according to IT-industry officials.

Many small- and medium-sized businesses that run e-commerce Websites, Internet-based applications and content-driven dotcoms only begin to consider monitoring their networks after a mission-critical failure halts their operations, said Dirk Paessler, CEO of the German-based network-monitoring company Paessler AG.

Companies with relatively low head counts that rely on the Internet often attribute down or slow Websites to bad luck or to being an immutable part of doing business with any network provider or Web-hosting company.

”Most business owners, unfortunately, just don’t know how easy it is to monitor their IT infrastructures and how easy it is to prevent network-related problems that cost them time and money,” Paessler said. “Companies that depend on the Internet should really take a proactive interest in monitoring their network infrastructures -- it’s simply in their best interests.”

Internet-centric companies, he said, should monitor their Web servers, dedicated IP lines and related hardware such as routers. The monitoring effectively helps companies prevent IT-infrastructure problems from impeding revenue-generating functions and helps ensure their long-term viability.

For instance, an e-commerce company that monitors the status of its Web server would be able to know, via automated alerts, if its Web server is down or not working properly. The company would likely be able to address the problem by either re-booting the server or re-routing the troubled Website to one of the company’s redundant Web servers on or off site. The proactive work would reduce the time the site was down -- or prevent it from going down at all -- and allow customers to resume their online experiences and perhaps re-initiate purchases.

Over time, companies that monitor their networks identify usage trends, regardless of the root cause -- such as seasonal traffic or marketing initiatives -- that create prolonged bottlenecks of user traffic or overload their sites, forcing both new and old customers to leave. The usage data companies compile also allows them to plan for hardware and software upgrades to their IT infrastructures that ensure their sites don’t under perform or fail to meet customer demand.

“Although a number of loyal customers will tolerate a company's unavailable Web site for a limited time, long-term or repeat inefficiencies could prompt frustrated users to migrate toward competitors' sites,” writes Brian Fonseca in an InfoWorld story titled, “Minimizing the impact of downtime.”

Network monitoring also gives companies, particularly Internet-focused ones, the ability to re-visit service-level agreements, or SLAs, from their network providers and Web hosts. Many hosting companies, for instance, don’t have the time or resources to tell customers when their sites are down, and the level of network monitoring each Web host has in place varies widely. Monitoring software that includes intuitive charts and graphs can act as a third-party assessor and allows companies to effectively confront their vendors about not meeting the parameters set in their SLAs. Depending on the contract, vendors may offer companies price breaks or monthly credits for not meeting performance targets such as uptime guarantees.

Yet small-business owners often believe that monitoring their IT networks is a luxury enjoyed only by large companies that have a full-time IT staff or contract with an IT consulting firm. However, there are various companies that offer network-monitoring software for small- and medium-sized companies.

“It’s a common misconception that network-monitoring solutions are purely for enterprise-class customers,” Paessler said. “There are plenty of software solutions out now that are certainly affordable and can be implemented by anyone who uses a computer.”

For example, CA, an Islandia, N.Y.-based software company, offers various network-monitoring products, including its Unicenter line. Unicenter is a comprehensive solution that helps companies monitor their networks and know “a problem exists before it impacts critical business services,” according to the CA Website.

Industry giant IBM also offers several network-monitoring solutions, including the IBM Tivoli Web Management application, which helps businesses ensure peak levels of Web-based performance and availability.

For its part, Paessler AG offers network-conscious businesses IPCheck Server Monitor, a Windows-based application that customers can download and use to monitor their networks within five minutes, Paessler said. The software sends each client’s monitoring staff alerts via email, SMS or pager when anomalies are present in their network.

“If you’re monitoring your network, and you don’t hear anything, you don’t have to wonder if your site is up or working properly,” Paessler said. “You won’t have to wait for customers to complain about your site or its applications -- you’ll already know, because the software will have told you about it, and, more than likely, you’ll have already fixed the problem.”

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Tamarie Johnson
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