Inside Track - getting to know the vendors

Editorial Type: Interview Date: 01-2016 Views: 1,713 Tags: Networking PDF Version:
Ray Smyth reflects on a recent discussion with Dirk Paessler, Founder and CEO of Paessler AG

The requirement for an organisation to actively manage their network is in no way altered by the size or scale of that network. The determining factor is its dependence on the network, a critical business asset.

While this withstands most challenges it is impacted by some harsh realities. For example, a small organisation with limited technical resources may struggle to operate a network monitoring tool, yet they could benefit more than the larger organisation with dedicated resources.

With this in mind I was intrigued to hear that many new Paessler customers have not previously owned a network monitoring tool. This spiked my interest in understanding the thinking behind Paessler's single product strategy: PRTG Network Monitor.

Dirk explained that what is called the Mittelstand in German is a principal focus for their international marketing. This term embraces a broad range of values, but for the purpose of this discussion I use it to refer to the small and medium size organisations that comprise this broader value set.

PRTG is a software tool and often such vendors seek to scale their solution to address a broader range of potential customers, struggling to be all things to all people. On this Dirk was resoundingly clear. He explained that PRTG is designed to be easy to install, configure and use for its target customers, organisations with between fifty and a few hundred employees. Dirk explains that for this type of customer it is not uncommon for the person charged with monitoring the network to be untrained and to have been tasked with keeping the network working by default, rather than design. He explained that taking something as complex as the network and reducing it to an easy to use interface has been a consistent objective since founding the company twenty years ago.

This reductionist approach is one that is based on creating a solid foundation to make sure that the operator knows what is connected and its status and then doing these tasks exceptionally well.

Dirk seemed uncomfortable when I asked questions that might be considered as asymmetric or peripheral to the task which PRTG is designed for. For example, he wanted it clearly understood that PRTG is not a security scanning or auditing tool, "It is a 24x7, every 60 seconds, doing something kind of software tool. However it can detect, for example, that a particular connection is using more bandwidth than usual, which may merit investigation by someone with specialised skills." The key point here of course is the visibility and reporting of that fact, and what happens next.

To fully understand this refreshingly honest and focused approach to network monitoring I was keen to understand how Paessler could support a much larger organisation. To start with Dirk clarified that a single device, such as a PC, may have up to ten sensors running, so it's easy to see how a large organisation can quickly build complexity. By deploying multiple PRTG servers the network, Dirk assures me, would be perfectly monitored across its multiple locations. But this is not a design objective and it would not for example be able to provide a birds-eye view of the network.

That said, some large companies are using PRTG as a specialist monitoring tool in specific critical applications, such as web services in a data centre, and then feeding this into a higher level, much more expensive tool that can provide the single view, amongst other things.

Dirk is very clear on the role he wants Paessler to play in their target market: Keep the network, its connections and its services running, because it supports everything that happens next. NC