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IT Monitoring Buyer’s Guide: How Many Devices Do You Monitor?

IT Monitoring Buyer’s Guide: How Many Devices Do You Monitor? 

In the market for IT monitoring software? You have no shortage of options. There’s a seemingly infinite number of solutions on the market, each of which might suit your operations whether you’re looking to upgrade from an existing platform or monitor a new network from scratch. 

You can choose between open source and proprietary software. You could evaluate options from the big industry players – like CA Technologies, HP or IBM – which churn out monitoring solutions alongside tons of other software products. Or you could pick from a selection of dedicated providers, which focus solely on developing monitoring software 100 percent of the time.

But which tool is the best fit for you?

We asked our own sysadmins to identify some of the biggest considerations in the IT monitoring buying process for our upcoming IT Monitoring Buyer’s Guide eBook. So, whether you’re new to monitoring and need some guidance, or you’re a veteran sysadmin who doesn’t want to miss a detail, you’ve got a single guide that covers the most important factors to look for, how to evaluate solutions and most importantly, exactly where to start.

In this blog series we’ll touch on a few of the top factors, including the scope of your IT environment, security, and product usability. But we’ll start things off by considering the size of your IT estate. We suggest starting with device count purely to get a cost baseline – it definitely shouldn’t be your sole determining factor. Instead, it’s one of many things to consider when trying to answer one question: “What are you trying to get out of your monitoring solution?”    

In the past, many sysadmins have gone awry by thinking of monitoring as a transactional process. As in, “I have 20 devices to monitor, so I need only need a solution that can handle that many.” But this line of thinking – known as “transactional system administration” – leads to more frustration than it’s worth. That’s because it puts you in a reactionary position, forcing you to spend more of your time as “Mr. Fix It” and less time strategically improving the way IT operates in your business. 

So as we evaluate what the monitoring market has to offer, keep in mind your ultimate end goal: finding a solution that brings you closer to being a service provider for your company. When you break down the market by number of devices monitored, you generally find three types of solutions, each of which offer varying features and scalability. Let’s take a look at each:

Starter or Freemium Solutions (Up to 25 devices)

The market is filled with introductory or freemium IT monitoring solutions. You’ll recognize these as the ones that allow you to monitor a small handful of devices (typically up to 25) for free. 

Starter tools are actually a decent option if your environment is small, because some commercial freemium solutions are simply trimmed-down versions of the enterprise product.

As a result, you get some basic functionality – like autodiscovery, SNMP trap processing, and some dashboards, plus an attractive user interface, for no cost. Upgrading to the full product is often fairly simple, and if you never need to scale, you can probably get by just fine on a free tool.

Of course, the drawback comes when your network grows beyond 25 devices – or when those basic features aren’t enough to do what you need. Freemium solutions sometimes don’t offer advanced or even basic reporting, rarely include technical support, and sometimes only provide monitoring coverage for a handful of technologies – say, just Windows servers. You also don’t get high availability and the benefit of advanced features like slave server clustering. Some vendors even strip out features like notifications or alerts.

Best Fit Small offices, very small businesses, test environments

  • Very small offices
  • Home offices
  • Test environments
  • Personal use

Drawbacks:

  • May not have some very essential business functions and features
  • Little to no professional support

Professional-Grade Solutions (25 to 200 devices)

This is probably the largest segment of monitoring solutions, and as a buyer, you really get to be selective in evaluating cost, features and benefits. Professional or business-grade solutions are ideal for growing businesses that want to lean on the insights monitoring can provide to guide the development of their IT. 

Solutions in this range give you a full selection of features but cap you off at the number of devices, typically around 200.

You can find software that offers everything you would expect from IT monitoring – wide technology coverage, notifications and alerts, automation and technical support – for a generally affordable cost that varies depending on vendor. 

And as part of a growing business, your boss will appreciate that this selection of monitoring tools can offer full reporting and dashboards. That can help you manage capacity and plan future IT investments as you scale IT. Business Service Monitoring can also help you group IT resources that support certain parts of your business – like, say, everything that powers your payroll department – for easier management.

The disadvantage here is that, like with freemium solutions, if your environment scales beyond that cap, you’ll need another solution to monitor your additional devices, increasing your overhead and time spent managing multiple solutions. We’ll talk about the challenges of that approach in the next section.

Best Fit: 

  • Businesses that want enterprise-grade features and are planning for high growth
  • Offices where uptime is an absolute priority

Drawbacks

  • May need to continuously upgrade licenses to accommodate growth
  • Some limited support 

Enterprise-Grade Solutions (200 or more)

Enterprise IT monitoring solves the scalability problem. If you apply a rough rule of thumb, you can monitor 250 endpoints from a single monitoring box. So, when you hit 1,000 devices, you need to have four boxes looking after your estate. That contributes to increased overhead costs for patching, powering and managing all of that equipment.

If you have a single enterprise monitoring tool that can scale, you don’t have the problem of having to log in to and manage four separate servers. Instead, you have one master server as the brains of your monitoring operation, allowing you to control all secondary servers and keep an eye on everything at once, no matter how large your operation grows.

Enterprise solutions come with all the bells and whistles you would expect, plus sometimes additional premium features you can’t find in mid-range solutions. Most importantly, these tools also include full support, making installing and implementation easy.  This is important for all levels of system administrators and means that learning curves are a lot flatter, which helps immensely in the future for onboarding. 

The only inhibitor here could be cost. Prices again vary depending on the vendor, with some enterprise suites considered very affordable and others much less so. Of course, the benefits could outweigh the costs depending on your desired functionality. It really depends on exactly what you’re trying to get out of a monitoring solution.

Best Fit: 

  • Large businesses 
  • Large scale or upgrades planned within the year
  • Businesses functions heavily dependent on services and delivery

Drawbacks

  • Monetary cost
  • Implementation time
  • Potential need for more resources

Making the Pick 

Somewhere out there, there’s a right sized monitoring solution for you. Freemium might make sense if expenses are tight, but the cost of a mid-range solution might be worth if you need better functionality and plan to grow. And the differences between a mid-range or enterprise solution might all depend on how comprehensive and integrated you need your monitoring to be. However, it comes at a cost both monetarily, as well as resources (you’re going to need people to manage those slave servers!). As we said from the start, it’s important to consider functionality, support and much more alongside the number of endpoints. 

Device count is only one factor to consider, but it’s a good baseline in helping determining the cost to look for – stay tuned for the next post in our IT monitoring buyer’s guide series, which will cover product design and usability. 

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by Opsview Staff,
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