Selecting the Right Monitors for Your Website

Selecting the Right Monitors for Your Website

Suppose you’ve just launched a new website and you want to make sure that everything keeps working fine. What’s the next step? You could just hope and pray, but there is merit to being more proactive than that. The responsible thing to do is to monitor your website, including all the critical pages, services, and applications. And that comes down to setting up the proper website monitors.

Types of Web Monitoring

Website monitoring is all about verifying and tracking the uptime, functionality, and performance of a website. There are many ways to accomplish that. It can be done with fully developed software using a graphical user interface (GUI), or with simple instructions in a command-line interface (CLI). And there are a whole variety of protocols and parameters that could be checked.

A video from the California-based software company Circid suggests five different types of web monitoring. These are:

  • Active monitoring
  • Real user monitoring
  • Server monitoring
  • Application monitoring
  • Transaction monitoring

“The active monitoring basically will request a page and verify it’s ok,” they tell us. But if you’re only checking to see if the page is available in a browser, you’re still missing a large part of site testing. Can a real user access services? Are essential aspects of the server functioning properly? Is your web server software working? Is it possible to conduct transactions that are part of your website? The scope of website monitoring can be very broad.

Checking Availability

Everybody in the IT business knows about the PING command. It’s one of the top tools for network troubleshooting. Web monitors automate such tools and are able to notify site managers as well as collect results for further analysis. As we wrote in this space earlier, the foundation of networking is availability. The point we made there is worth repeating: “The focus has moved from network reliability to application availability.” When we are talking about checking availability, we mean more than seeing if the server is online.

Suppose, for instance, that you want make sure that a web server is running continuously. Or that a database server or an ftp server keeps working. Would a ping to the server be sufficient? A continuous ping to a web server’s IP address would only ensure that the server machine is online, or worse yet, the firewall in front of it. It would tell you nothing about the software that runs the web server, database, or ftp server. You need something more.

Before we elaborate on that, we should clarify something about individual pages. Just because you are able to view the site’s home page (totaluptime.com, for instance) doesn’t mean that you can confirm the availability of a particular page on that site (such as totaluptime.com/blog/). Checking specific pages using a Total Uptime monitor is explained in our knowledge base. Monitors should include critical pages that can verify particular services.

Checking Services

So how to do you check individual applications on a server? Those who manage Windows or Linux servers will know how to check them locally, either through GUI or CLI. But checking them remotely on the internet is the role of website monitors. 

As far as checking an application using a Total Uptime monitor, we’ll use the example of database monitoring in our knowledge base. Without needing to open up ports in your firewall, the trick is to check a web page that queries the database behind it to make sure it opens successfully. You could add text like “OK” in the page, and then use the HTTP-ECV monitor to verify that the text “OK” is displayed in the results. Similar tactics are possible for web server software. If an HTTP page loads successfully with the desired text, you can be sure that the web server is functioning on the machine.

Monitor Types in Total Uptime

Other protocols will require the right steps to verify their availability. An FTP server, for instance, should not only be available, but it should be possible to send files to it. A DNS monitor will verify DNS functionality, for example. There are many possibilities.

We could take the time to explain all the monitor types in the Total Uptime platform, but that work has already been done for us. We refer you to our knowledge base article "How many monitor types do you support for detecting the status of a server?", as well as to a video on creating and managing monitors that we’ve published on YouTube. The settings on these monitors are determined by the protocols involved. Here’s a list of some of the monitors that we use:

  • DNS
  • DNS-TCP
  • FTP
  • HTTP
  • HTTP-ECV
  • HTTP-INLINE
  • LDAP
  • MYSQL
  • NNTP
  • PING
  • POP3
  • RADIUS
  • RTSP
  • SIP-UDP
  • SMTP
  • SNMP
  • TCP
  • TCP-ECV
  • UDP-ECV

One very important monitor to mention here is SNMP. This is the protocol used by network management systems both large and small, and the technology is highly developed. SNMP monitoring takes advantage of management information bases (MIBs) that contain object identifiers (OIDs). For instance, suppose you want to monitor system utilization on a Cisco ASR 1000. There’s a MIB for that. And there’s this from the knowledge base article we referenced:

HINT: You can use an SNMP monitor to detect server load, for example, by sending an OID for CPU, Memory, Connections (etc.) and specifying the acceptable response threshold (maximum value) that the monitor can accept before marking the service DOWN.

Conclusion

Any good mechanic knows that you need the right tools to do the job properly. But you also need to know how to use them. Website monitors can give real-time notification in case of emergencies or track critical parameters for further review. But the value of these monitors depends on the skill and intelligence of those who set them up and use them. Very technical challenges sometimes require very clever solutions.

 

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