Product Review: IPSWITCH WhatsUp Gold

by [Published on 5 Dec. 2012 / Last Updated on 5 Dec. 2012]

A review of WhatsUp Gold v16, a comprehensive IT and network management and monitoring solution from Ipswitch.

Product: IPSWITCH WhatsUp Gold

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Introduction

Managing an enterprise-level network can be challenging. You've got systems and network hardware from different vendors, different types and versions of operating systems, multiple geographical sites, wireless networks, mobile devices, and other features that can often make centralized, single-pane-of-glass monitoring, management and troubleshooting elusive goals.

WhatsUp Gold v16 from Ipswitch helps you realize such goals by allowing you to automatically discover network devices and resources, create layer 2/3 maps of your wired, wireless, physical and virtual network topology, and monitor network, system and application health and availability. WhatsUp Gold can alert you when performance bottlenecks or network congestion happen, and can generate detailed reports of system and network resources across a wide variety of devices and platforms. Regardless of whether you need to manage a business that spans a floor, a building, a campus, a datacenter, or a large distributed enterprise, WhatsUp Gold can help you get control over what's happening within your network infrastructure.

Installation and Configuration

To test the product, I downloaded and installed the evaluation version of WhatsUp Gold v16 Premium Edition on a member server running Windows Server 2008 SP2. I actually tried installing it first on Windows Server 2012 but ran into some problems and found out later from my contact at Ipswitch that WhatsUp Gold is not supported yet for installation on Windows Server 2012. The installation process was smooth and intuitive, and provided helpful feedback at certain stages. For example, I was initially using Remote Desktop to connect to the server but WhatsUp Gold setup warned me that certain components might not install properly that way and that I should instead log on directly to the server to perform the install. The setup program installed the IIS role on the server, which is needed for the WhatsUp Gold web interface, and Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Express for application and data file storage.

Once the installation process is finished, the WhatsUp Gold web interface opens in Internet Explorer and if Javascript is not enabled you'll have to enable it at this point. You're then prompted to specify a password for the Admin account used for accessing the WhatsUp Gold web interface as shown in Figure 1:


Figure 1: Specifying a password for the WhatsUp Gold web interface.

The web interface leads you through some additional configuration steps that include configuring SNMP credentials, email notifications, and network discovery parameters. For initial network discovery you can specify either an IP address range of use SNMP Smart Scan (which uses SNMP-enabled devices) for discovering managed devices in your network environment. I had previously made sure that SNMP was enabled and configured on the systems in my lab network so that WhatsUp Gold could poll devices for performance and resource usage information.

Web Interface

WhatsUp Gold includes both an admin console and web interface, and I quickly decided that the web interface was more powerful and useful. Figure 2 shows the Dashboard view which functions as a single-pane-of-glass into the operation of your network environment. The other views available from the menu along the top include:

  • Devices - Lets you find and add devices, create device groups and layer 2 groups, monitor device status, and access the Discovery Console
  • Reports - Lets you generate over 200 kinds of built-in reports on things like resource utilization, device reachability, device health, and device uptime
  • Logs - Provides quick access to Windows event logs, error logs, syslogs, activity logs, and other types of logs
  • Inventory - Lets you generate layer 2 reports on things like switch port utilization, device connectivity, installed software, and network views (VLAN and subnet)
  • Mapping – Generates intuitive and detailed layer 2 network maps of wired, wireless, physical and virtual
  • Flow Monitor - Performs traffic analysis such as bandwidth usage, interface usage, and host traffic by user, device, application and more
  • Alert Center - Lets you configure alert thresholds and notification policies
  • Wireless - Generates maps of wireless controllers, access points and connected clients, and also lets you tracks users and their BYODs, monitor wireless performance and help detect rogues
  • Virtual - Generates maps of your VMware virtual infrastructure (Hyper-V is not yet supported for this feature)
  • Configured - Lets you configure tasks, policies, templates, for example to configure a task to back up configuration files of specified network devices, compare running vs. stored configurations
  • Other Plugins - Provides access to event log management (ELM) systems
  • Admin - Lets you configure monitors, actions, credentials, and other aspects governing how WhatsUp Gold works
  • AlertFox - Provides access to the AlertFox Control Panel for end-user web-based monitoring


Figure 2: Dashboard view of the WhatsUp Gold v16 web interface

The capabilities of WhatsUp Gold are both broad and deep, and include far more functionality than I was able to test in my lab environment in the time I had allocated for evaluating the product. As a simple example, I used the Discovery Console as shown in Figure 3 to scan an IP subnet that had several physical and virtual Windows servers running in it:


Figure 3: Using the Discovery Console to scan an IP address range.

After discovering the available devices and adding them to WhatsUp Gold, I was able to collect performance utilization information over time for these devices and generate reports with this information once I had made sure the device properties had proper SNMP credentials specified and performance counters enabled as shown in Figure 4.


Figure 4: Configuring device properties

New Features and Capabilities in v16

The v16 version of WhatsUp Gold includes a number of new features and enhancements over previous versions. One key addition is the new wireless infrastructure management capability, which allows you to track the performance and bandwidth consumption of Cisco and Aruba wireless networks. Because our own wireless network is isolated from our lab environment, I was unable to test this capability, but the Community Management Manager for WhatsUp Gold walked me through a live web-based session to demonstrate the capabilities of this feature and I must say I was impressed. I haven't seen any other network management product that can provide such detailed live mapping of the distributed wireless networking infrastructure for a large enterprise. Wireless controllers, access points and clients are displayed with color coding and other labels that help you quickly determine client counts, track BYODs, find oversaturated access points, view received signal strength, Identify rogues and see a history of each client's wireless connectivity.

Also new in v16 is built-in layer 2 discovery, mapping, inventory and asset tracking. This means you won't need a separate network mapping tool or asset tracking platform, which can translate into saved money for large organizations that have complex network infrastructures or use VLANs. There are other new features and capabilities in v16 but these are the two that impressed me the most.

Evaluation Summary

As an administrator who has worked mainly with Windows servers managed using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and Windows PowerShell, I found the learning curve for WhatsUp Gold fairly steep. Administrators who are used to managing network infrastructure devices using SNMP will likely find it easier to configure and use WhatsUp Gold in their environments than I did. I was also somewhat intimidated at first by the toolbars of the web interface which remembered the context you selected and only displayed options relevant for that context, but once I figured out what was happening I found this to be a helpful feature of the product.

Because of the breadth and depth of the capabilities of WhatsUp Gold, I recommend that you don't simply start playing around with it but instead begin by downloading and reading the PDF Getting Started Guide available from http://www.whatsupgold.com/wuggsg. Because the Getting Started Guide recommends using SMNP over WMI for gathering information from devices, I used this approach when evaluating the product. But organizations that rely heavily on Windows servers should take note that Microsoft recently announced that the SNMP service is being deprecated as of the release of Windows Server 2012, see http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh831568.aspx for details.

I also recommend that you start by watching some of the tutorial videos available on YouTube, which can be accessed from http://www.whatsupgold.com/wugyoutube. Unfortunately some of these videos are older and use Windows Server 2003 for demonstration purposes, but administrators familiar with the Windows Server platform should have few problems adapting what they learn from them for managing more recent versions of Windows Server.

Ipswitch also has online help available for WhatsUp Gold v16 at http://docs.ipswitch.com/NM/74_WhatsUpGoldv16/03_Help/1033. This help was invaluable for me to help get SNMP configured on my Windows servers so I could use the product to monitor them. However, the online help does seem outdated at some points. For example, the Troubleshooting SNMP and WMI Connections page mentions problems associated with establishing WMI connections with Windows Vista, and searching help for "Windows 7" and "Windows Server 2008 R2" resulted in no hits.

As someone who has worked a lot with Hyper-V virtualization, I was disappointed that WhatsUp Gold could generate live maps of VMware virtual infrastructure but not for Hyper-V virtual infrastructure. This especially surprised me because Hyper-V has been around for some time now, but then given the preponderance of VMware hosts in large enterprises this omission is probably understandable, though in my view the balance is beginning to shift away from VMware as Hyper-V makes inroads into the enterprise space. I was also surprised that WhatsUp Gold v16 wouldn't install on Windows Server 2012 given the fact that Windows Server 2012 is now generally available.

All in all, while I am quite impressed with the capabilities of the product and wished I had more time (and a broader range of hardware in my testing lab) to evaluate it, the product is probably not for everyone. Large organizations with complex, heterogeneous environments will likely benefit most from deploying WhatsUp Gold. Smaller organizations with mostly Windows servers and less complex network infrastructures could benefit a lot from certain features of the product (such as the new wireless network mapping capabilities) but they should first weigh the benefits of implementing the product against the challenges of learning how to use it effectively.

Despite its fairly steep learning curve and the shortcomings I've described concerning the documentation, my rating for WhatsUp Gold v16 is 4.5 out of 5 earning the product WindowsNetworking.com Gold Award. I can recommend WhatsUp Gold v16 for mid- to large-sized organizations that have one or more of the following: heterogeneous operating system environments, multiple subnets or VLANs, wireless networks, and VMware ESX hosts. Organizations that have already deployed previous versions of WhatsUp Gold will definitely want to upgrade to v16 to take advantage of its powerful new capabilities.

WindowsNetworking.com Rating 4.5/5

Learn More about WhatsUp Gold v16 or Download a free 30-Day Trial

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