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Do You Need a Web Site Monitoring Service?

Written By: Lew Newlin


You can do a splendid job obtaining high search engine ranking and an equally
fine job marketing your site. However, your hard work will be of little value
unless your site and servers are up and fully operational. Unfortunately, items
such as software lockups, hardware failures, databases, hackers, viruses, worms,
service patches, and Internet connectivity can all play a critical role in your
online success. Enter firms that specialize in email, site, and server monitoring.
What exactly is “server, email, and web site monitoring”?

Web site monitoring refers to monitoring the operational status and performance
of a web site that uses HTTP and/or HTTPS. Likewise, email monitoring refers to
the monitoring, operational status and performance of SMTP servers to insure that
mail is flowing correctly and timely. Server monitoring refers to monitoring the
operational status and performance of other server services such as FTP. While
the difference may seem slight, it is important to note the difference.

How Does Monitoring Work?

Monitoring firms attempt to connect to your site or server service at regular
intervals via the Internet. If the monitoring service is unable to connect and
verify correct operational status, most firms will retry based on customer defined
timeout and retry levels. If operational status still cannot be confirmed, then
a customer defined contact list is notified. Upon resumption of service, most
monitoring services will notify the contact list again informing them the site
or server service is operational.

Determining Operational Status

Some monitoring services simply use ping to see if a server answers and record
the response times during the process. Some services use more complex techniques
such as checking web page code, database connectivity, keyword verification, and
email round robin. The important point to consider is how a monitoring firm determines
operational status. A ping request for example may verify the server has power,
but does not guarantee a web site or server services is operational.

Most monitoring services provide detailed statistics that can be especially helpful
in verifying SLA and QOS agreements are being honored. When reviewing monitoring
services, insure that the method used to determine operational status is applicable
to your SLA or QOS agreement.

What Changes are Required?

Some monitoring services require that executables be installed on your server.
While this practice is not wide spread, it does exist. Most Internet monitoring
services can query your site or server service without the need of agents and
the associated complexity and maintenance required by installing additional software.

If you need to monitor sites or servers that are behind a firewall, a firewall
rule will need to be established. Most monitoring services will provide originating
IP information upon request.

Intervals

Monitoring “interval” is simply the frequency in which a site or server is checked.
Most monitoring services offer packages ranging from 2 to 60 minutes. Since monitoring
costs are largely based on the monitoring interval, it is important to determine
downtime interval is acceptable. If the site or server is mission critical, 2
minute monitoring intervals may be required to avoid revenue loss. On the other
hand, a site or server operating a hobby may not require monitoring at all.

Contact List and Methods

Most monitoring firms email a contact list in the event of an issue. There are
four important points to consider: (1) your e-mail availability; (2) the number
of persons that can be contacted; (3) testing your email devices; and (4) additional
costs.

If you carry an email enabled cellular phone, pager, PDA, or other device 24/7
you are in great shape. However, if you check e-mail a few times per day, having
your server monitored at 2 minutes intervals makes little sense if the monitoring
service uses email notification. Take a realistic assessment of your email availability.
My personal solution was to email enable my cellular phone. The email address
is not published and the phone is with me 24/7.

Most monitoring firms offer the ability to contact multiple persons. The logic
is that someone on the list will be available to react to an issue. While this
approach may sound odd, it may make sense to contact your Webmaster, LAN administrator,
yourself, or others depending on your staff size, work schedules, and hosting
arrangement.

Most monitoring firms offer the ability to send “test” messages to your contact
list. This feature is provided to ensure everyone on your contact list is correctly
receiving notification messages.

Read the fine print. Some firms have “additional” charges for pager messages and
if you exceed a specific number of notifications per month. As everyone involved
in technology knows, the unexpected normally happens, and on a daily basis. It
is important to understand what you are agreeing to and your level of financial
commitment.

Costs

Monitoring costs very greatly depending on the monitoring interval, method used
to determine operational status, and services provided. Generally prices range
from free to $99.00 per month. Mission critical server packages normally range
fall in the $30.00 – $60.00 per monthly range.

Closing

Monitoring firms perform monitoring from outside your organizational IT infrastructure
in the same fashion the world accesses your servers. Doing so ensures that your
servers are truly available to your visitors and items such as firewall are correctly
configured. Depending on your business goals, monitoring can be a valuable resource
and play a critical role in your online success.

About the Author

Lew Newlin is CTO of Information Solutions, Inc. that operates SiteRecon.com.
SiteRecon specializes in security, email monitoring, and web site monitoring
for Internet service providers and businesses.

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