WhatsUp Gold: A solid new version with minor flaws

WhatsUp Gold from Ipswitch is a highly capable and cost effective network management solution that could replace far more expensive enterprise management suites for less than the cost of their annual maintenance. A few minor flaws mar an otherwise excellent product.

I last looked at WhatsUp Gold, a network management tool from Ipswitch, about six years ago and the latest release — version 12 — builds on a good product and makes it better.

WUG is not what one might think of as enterprise class in so far as it doesn't cost a gazillion dollars or take the human resources of Bulgaria to deploy it. On the other hand, it can do much of what you need a network management system to do.

The edition I looked at was WhatsUp Gold Premium which, for $3,415, can monitor as many as 300 devices — that's only about $11 per device! Other versions support monitoring of as many as 100, 500, 1,000 or 2,500 devices.

The core features of WUG are device discovery and mapping (you can use SNMP testing, IP address pinging and SMB Network Neighborhood scanning), real-time monitoring and management, customizable status change notification, reporting, an AJAX-enabled Web interface that provides monitoring and reporting, and a product edition – WhatsUp Gold Distributed — that supports multiple site network management.

The premium edition I tested includes all of the basic WhatsUp Gold features and adds monitoring of MS SQL Server, MS Exchange, and lets you use any Windows Management Interface counters to make custom performance monitors. As you might have guessed, WUG is designed primarily for Windows, although with its SNMP support it can monitor any SNMP-enabled device.

WUG is really straightforward to set up so I won't waste time detailing the process. What does take time and effort is the usual stuff of network management systems: Running the discovery and mapping process and then organizing the devices and configuring them so they send SNMP traps and Syslog messages to the management system, configuring actions to be executed on network events, and so on.

WUG has a Windows console as well as a Web interface that provides more or less the same functionality. The Web interface is good but has its rough edges. For example, if you click on a device name in the "breadcrumb trail" at the top of a device status display, you get a list that doesn't look at all like the main device list. Also while the Web UI has been AJAX-enabled there's a lot more that Ipswitch could do to reduce the need for whole screen refreshes.

WUG's reporting is completely handed off to the local Web browser and, while WUG offers a range of predefined reports, creating your own custom reports could be easier. And supported export formats are limited to just text and Excel (what about HTML, Word, and PDF?).

Another aspect of WUG's reporting I find clumsy: to run a recurring report and have it e-mailed, you need to copy the URL of the report from the Web interface and then paste that into a field when you set up the reporting schedule. When a report is sent the entire HTML content (which is actually forms with various fields to select report options) is grabbed and e-mailed. The report looked fine under Outlook with Internet Explorer rendering the HTML (the form fields are hidden), but under OS X Mail the images were corrupted and with Gmail under Firefox 3 the layout was a complete mess and even displayed the form fields.

These flaws in the bigger picture certainly aren't show stoppers and WhatsUp Gold is excellent as a network management system. The polish that has been put on the user interface is a big improvement and overall WUG is one of the best products in the network management market.

So, if you are about to cough up $20,000 for annual maintenance on your enterprise network management system, maybe now is the time to consider a solution that will give you most of what you expect from a serious network management system — except the cost.

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