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IT Monitoring Buyer’s Guide: Factor in Product Design and Usability

<p>Sometimes, looks matter. If you’re a system administrator in the market for a new IT monitoring platform, you need to give some consideration to the product’s graphical user interface, commonly referred to as the GUI. &nbsp;</p>

<p>In our ongoing blog post series, we’re leaning on the expertise of our own sysadmins to evaluate the top factors that come into play during the IT monitoring buying process. Our<a href="http://www.opsview.com/about-us/blog/it-monitoring-buyers-guide-how-many... last pos</a>t explained that knowing the number of devices you need to monitor can provide a cost baseline to get you started. This week, we want to talk about the look and feel of your software. It may seem superficial at first, but a product’s user interface can actually be pretty important, depending on your experience and skill level.&nbsp;</p>

<p>If monitoring software is hard to use and not simple to learn, it could slow down productivity, complicate new sysadmin training and make it harder to scale your monitoring capabilities as your business grows. On the other hand, experienced sysadmins might be just as comfortable working with command-line applications as they are with fully designed products, so looks could be a less important factor. On top of that, skilled sysadmins might prefer to see all the “gears” of their monitoring solution as a matter of trust – you want to know that application inside and out.</p>

<p>As we said in our last post, it’s all about determining what you’re trying to get out of your monitoring solution. Are you just looking to check the box on a much-needed IT capability? Or do you want your next monitoring solution to drive a strategic shift in the way you, as the sysadmin, support overall business objectives?</p>

<p>Here are a few questions to ask yourself when evaluating the design and usability of IT monitoring solutions:</p>

<h2>How &nbsp;Experienced is Your Team?</h2>

<p>If you’re an expert sysadmin, then almost the entire scope of IT monitoring solutions is open to you. However, you may add less experienced team members later on, or your most talented administrator may leave the company and take all that knowledge right out the door.&nbsp;</p>

<p><strong>Open Source Tools</strong><br>
There are plenty of open source tools with attractive interfaces that anyone can read, but depending on the vendor, you may need to know how to work within command line. Nagios-based tools, for example, sometimes require command line for tasks like adding a new server or service check. Other open source software is a bit easier to configure, but the learning curve remains steeper compared to commercial tools.<br>
<br>
<strong>Off-the-Shelf Solutions</strong><br>
Most commercial solutions allow you to administer entirely within a robust GUI, so the learning curve is shorter. If your best sysadmin leaves the company, a trainee can easily pick up the slack. Plus, if you ever need help, you can call up technical support to get all the answers you need in a snap. The disadvantage is often in flexibility, as some proprietary tools include strict licensing that makes customization difficult or impossible.<br>
<br>
<strong>Features to Keep in Mind</strong><br>
•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Documentation – A knowledge center or user community can help solve your problems<br>
•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Technical Support ¬– Can you call a lifeline if something goes wrong?</p>

<h2>How Much Time Do You Have For Administration?</h2>

<p>There’s only so much time in the day, so how much of it can you afford to spend messing around with your monitoring software? Most sysadmins would prefer to treat monitoring as a “set it and forget it” IT function, but there will always be times when you need to sit down and add a new device or create some service checks. How long do you want these processes to take?</p>

<p><strong>Open Source Tools</strong><br>
Open source monitoring software really allows you to get into the finer details of network administration and service customization. Some of it takes no time at all – if you can quickly add a plugin or if the tool includes features like Autodiscovery, administration is nearly effortless.&nbsp;</p>

<p>The disadvantage of all that customization is that your open source monitoring solution may be designed specifically to the whims of one or two skilled sysadmins, and if anyone else needs to make a change, it could take a while to figure out how. That also impacts scalability – how is your monitoring solution supposed to grow if it’s fit for a single user’s very specific purposes?</p>

<p><strong>Off-the-Shelf Solutions</strong><br>
Again, most commercial solutions rely on a user-friendly GUI for administration, and might even include drag-and-drop configuration to shorten setup time. You also get out-of-the-box integrations designed to connect the monitoring function to other parts of your IT estate – like your service desk.</p>

<p>That saves additional maintenance and management time. For future time savings, you can use features like Business Service Monitoring, which group together all the services that serve a particular part of your business for easier, higher-level monitoring. Cost can be the biggest downside, as some monitoring vendors make you pay for all that pre-packaged convenience.&nbsp;</p>

<p><strong>Features to Keep in Mind</strong><br>
•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Templates – Predefined packages of service checks for quick implementation<br>
•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Autodiscovery – Find and monitor all devices on your network in minutes</p>

<h2>Will Non-IT Users Need to See The Interface?</h2>

<p>If you need to expose whatever you're monitoring to management, customers or clients, you’ll need to think about how that person will perceive the interface. Clean graphics and easy-to-read dashboards and reports improve the perception of your company, while a confusing or overly technical display could make your business look low-rent or dated.&nbsp;</p>

<p>Of course, if no one outside of the developer’s room will ever see it, you probably don’t need to worry about cosmetics, but clean graphics can also make it easier to visualize your network and plan.&nbsp;</p>

<p><strong>Open Source Tools</strong><br>
A lot of open source tools emphasize function over form, and as a result, they’re not much to look at. That’s not universal though – you can find open source monitoring software that’s as eye-catching as any off-the-shelf platform. However, you may have to roll up your sleeves and do some work to get the types of attractive reports that you can show to your boss.</p>

<p><strong>Off-the-Shelf Solutions</strong><br>
Design isn’t so cut-and-dried down the open source/proprietary line – there are plenty of commercial solutions that are ugly and non-intuitive, so it could take some shopping around to find something that looks sharp. At the same time, many off-the-shelf solutions include dashboards and reports out-of-the-box, so you can easily pull up something to show your boss the next time he asks about the state of your network.&nbsp;</p>

<p><strong>Features to Keep in Mind</strong><br>
•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Dashboards - Visually represents your network for easier problem identification&nbsp;<br>
•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Reporting – Automatically produces network status and health reports</p>

<h2>Making the Pick</h2>

<p>A really expensive and ineffective monitoring tool that just happens to look great won’t do you much good, so you shouldn’t prioritize cosmetics above all. But at the same time, a feature-rich solution that takes forever to learn and administer could hurt much more than it helps. Your final decision here will once again require a balance between functionality, cost and team experience.</p>

<p><strong>Don’t forget to check out the <a href="http://www.opsview.com/about-us/blog/it-monitoring-buyers-guide-how-many... post in our IT monitoring buyer’s guide blog series</a>, which covered device count. And stay tuned for the next post, where we’ll dive into security considerations.&nbsp;</strong></p>

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by Opsview Staff,
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