Servers Alive Case Study: Alerts and Status

In any high-availability environment, timely alerts to the responsible IT staff are an integral part of the server monitoring solution. In fact, most solutions do a poor job of providing an adequate range of notification methods and very rarely provide the flexibility of using on-call schedules and groups to correctly notify the responsible person or team in the event of an alert condition.

The company in our case study has been using software that provided alerts through email and paging. When the company switched most personnel from pagers to cell phones, this necessitated staff watching the status display and manually calling personnel in the event of a problem. This results in confusion due to out-of-date posted on-call schedules, team members not knowing who is responsible for specific systems, and garbled messages concerning the problem.

Servers Alive provides the ability to send alerts through pages and email, but also provides SMS to cell phones and connectivity to AIM, ICQ and MSN instant messaging services. In addition, alerts can be customized to provide accurate and relevant information immediately to the on-call staff. Servers Alive also allows for the configuration of teams of staff members, allowing the company to differentiate it's telecom support staff from it's systems administration staff. It is also possible to enter on-call schedule information for each individual, assuring that the proper person is notified of system problems on the first try.

Scheduling in Servers Alive also allows maintenance windows to be specified for each system, helping to prevent false alerts during normal scheduled tasks such as reboots or system upgrades. Servers Alive can also be set up to send periodic notifications of it's own status, so that staff will be aware if the Servers Alive server becomes unavailable for any reason.

Servers Alive also includes the ability to send a Win PopUp alert message over the LAN. While that is not particularly valuable for off-hours support, it can drastically decrease the response time of IT staff to system issues if they are immediately aware of the problem, rather than first becoming informed of the issue when users begin to report problems. In addition, Servers Alive can be configured to sound audio alerts.

While paging is no longer relevant to the company in our case study, Servers Alive does provide multiple methods of sending alerts by paging. The software can send numeric pages directly using a modem and dial-up networking. It can send alphanumeric pages as well. It can also integrate with the NotePager product from PageGate to send alerts using NotePager supported protocols. Plenty of IT departments still use pagers, particularly for rotating on-call staff.

In addition to the included notification methods, there are plug-ins available for download on the Woodstone site that can provide connectivity to a Microsoft Exchange or MS Mail system for emailing notifications and alerts. If you want a fixed subject line sent, there is an enhanced SMTP plug-in also available.

The current monitoring solution provides status viewing only from within the software interface on the server. The company wishes to have a system that will be able to update a web page with the current status returned during system checks.

Servers Alive can provide a scheduled upload of an HTML status report to a web server where it can be viewable to not just staff at the console, but to remote personnel, management, and from other locations during off-hours, if necessary. In addition to providing FTP transfer, Servers Alive has several more secure options available for the upload process as well.

HTML reports can also be generated, either manually as needed or automatically. Even more important, Servers Alive is able to log to a network syslog server, providing storage of historical information, which can be particularly useful when trying to track recurring issues.

The flexibility of Servers Alive allows the correct personnel to be notified quickly and directly via a variety of methods. It also provides easily accessible and up-to-date information in a web based format, making it instantly available not only to local staff, but anyone, anywhere, who needs access. Often it takes several software packages (or expensive add-ons) to provide the same features in other products.

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