Coming Home to Windows Home Server Part 36

Monitoring your home network 2/07/2011 6:22 AM Eastern

Coming Home to Windows Home Server Part 36

Feb 7, 2011 11:22 AM, By Eric B. Rux

Monitoring your home network

It's no secret that the "network" has become the central mechanism for transferring data in our homes. Besides the Home Server that this column is dedicated to, many homes have networked gaming consoles (Xbox 360, PS3, etc.), IP-based security cameras, shared printers, and of course, desktop and laptop computers. Just like in a business network, it sure would be nice to know when a network device is not functioning properly before you need to rely on it. For example, if your printer is out of ink, a network monitor might be able to notify you before the night your daughter's term paper is due. Or, if you have a security camera, you would want to know that it was unplugged before your house was broken into.

Network monitoring systems like these can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars. But when a company can lose thousands of dollars each minute their systems are down, network monitoring suddenly becomes quite economical.

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Coming Home to Windows Home Server Series
Welcome Home! In this series, Eric B. Rux—Windows Home Server MVP—breaks down the Windows Home Server (WHS) with useful tips, new add-ins, problems solvers, and the latest news. ...

Home users, on the other hand, do not need to spend thousands of dollars to monitor their home network. In fact, they do not need to spend anything. There are many network monitoring solutions that have free editions available for home use. Because we already have a Home Server that is powered on 24/7, this makes a great platform to host our monitor.

Note that Microsoft does not support adding network monitoring software onto your Home Server. There shouldn't be a reason why it will not work, but just be aware that it will not help you if you call.

These three network monitor solutions allow a home user to monitor up to 10 devices for free:

The first network monitor is called Servers Alive. I have used this product for many, many years, and it is a faithful friend. Whenever I need to quickly set up a monitor, I turn to this free product. For example, I recently need to monitor a website and have Servers Alive email me when it went down. In less than 10 minutes, I had Servers Alive downloaded, installed, and set up to email me when it didn't see the website.

Servers Alive can monitor devices by pinging them. If they do not answer, then you will receive an alert. This simple product can also monitor Windows services, DNS servers, databases, email, or a script. If you can't find the monitor that you're looking for, check out the free add-ons that the other Servers Alive customers have written—you just might find what you're looking for there.

Configuring Servers Alive is extremely easy, and it is done via a simple interface that walks you through each step. If you want a very simple, no fuss network monitor, then Servers Alive should be your first stop.

Coming Home to Windows Home Server Part 36

Feb 7, 2011 11:22 AM, By Eric B. Rux

Monitoring your home network

The next two network monitors can be considered commercial-class monitors and require a bit more set up to get working correctly.

OpManager is extremely robust and requires a backend database to function. You can use the free MySQL database (included and set up during the installation). You can also use Microsoft SQL Server, but because you will be monitoring 10 or fewer devices, this free database will be more than sufficient.

After OpManager has been installed, point your browser to the server and log in as "admin." The first screen that greets you is the Discovery Wizard. This allows you to configure OpManager to find all of the devices on your network. OpManager can find Exchange, FTP, finger, HTTPS, IMAP, LDAP, NNTP, POP, telnet, DNS, MSSQL, MySQL, Oracle, SMTP, or Web. Most home networks will not have all of these services running, but as I mentioned before, OpManager is very robust.

Depending on the size of your network, the network scan could take a few minutes or a few hours (but probably just a few seconds on a typical home network).

My test network was quickly scanned and all of my devices (two wireless routers, one ESXi server, a PIX firewall, Apple Server, Domain Controller, and Exchange email server) were found.

The final product, PRTG is similar to OpManager, but it does not have any prerequisites, such as a backend database. Because we are running this on our Windows Home Server (again, something that is not supported by Microsoft), this may help you in deciding which product would work best for you.

PRTG can monitor the same kinds of devices that OpManager can, and they both have a web interface that can be accessed from a mobile device (smartphone, iPhone, etc.).

So, how do you choose which one is best? If you need something simple, Servers Alive is the way to go. If you need something more robust, try OpManager or PRTG; they have the most bells and whistles.

In the end, however, only you can decide, so I suggest you fire up an old computer, download these free products, and kick the tires. After all, they're free, right?

What network monitor software do you use on your home network or small business? If you use a free (or very inexpensive) product, I'd like to hear about it!

Eric B. Rux is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro, and he writes a monthly column for Residential AV Presents Connected Home. Rux is the manager of Technical Support Services for Eastern Washington University and teaches the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification program at a technical college.

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