PingPlotter Cloud Review: A Simple Yet Powerful Network Monitoring and Troubleshooting Tool

Table of Contents

As network engineers, we always want to have a clear view of the network. That “clear view” usually consists of a dashboard that gives us a high-level yet detailed look at the state of our network. PingPlotter Cloud does just that, giving you an overview of the performance of your network from the point of view of your end devices. 

PingPlotter-Dashboard

What is it?

PingPlotter Cloud is a cloud-based network monitoring platform that keeps track of network performance from the perspective of your Windows, Mac, and Linux-based endpoints. By installing an agent on a particular device, you can track various network performance metrics. Those metrics are sent back to the cloud-based controller where they are collected, stored, analyzed, and visualized so that you can have both a real-time and historical view of the operation of your network.

We already reviewed PingPlotter back in 2015.  However, in this article, we’ll be examining their new cloud-based product.

How it works

All of the magic happens in the specialized agent software that is downloaded and installed onto each target end device. Once downloaded, it will register with the PingPlotter Cloud controller, from where you are able to collect data and parameterize the kind of data you want that agent to collect. The agent uses Ping and Traceroute, two tried, tested, and true utilities that leverage the ICMP protocol, to collect this network performance information. Initially, for each target to be monitored, a traceroute is performed, recording all of the hops to reach a particular destination. Once complete, continuous pings are sent to each hop, keeping a record of the network performance overtime for the entire path to the destination.

That information is collected, analyzed, and displayed on the dashboard where you can get a general overview of the operation and performance of the network. 

PingPlotter-Dashboard-Single-Agent
The PingPlotter dashboard with a single agent.

You can also dive deeper into the specific operation of particular endpoints, and even see, with a phenomenal level of detail, the performance of the network to specific destinations. You can also set up a series of alerts that are able to proactively notify you when and if something goes wrong.

Specialized deployment options

Installing a single agent in this manner is great, but what if you have many agents, or even several different groups of agents from different customers, or from different physical locations? What do you do then? Well, PingPlotter Cloud has several tricks that help you to simplify deployment:

Mass installations

Let’s say you have 100 hosts you want to monitor. It’s quite time-consuming to install as well as configure each individual agent. That’s why agent templates are used. An agent template creates an agent installer that can be used multiple times. You can preconfigure the preset targets you want to monitor of a particular agent template, and then share a PingPlotter link with local admins, users, or remote admins, to download and install the agent. Such a link will take you to a page like the following where you can install the agent on the platform of the device you want to monitor.

Mass-Installations
Link to automatically download agent software with preconfigured preset targets.

Once installed, the agent will begin sending information as configured on those preset targets.

Naming conventions

What if you have several remote sites that you want to separate into different groupings, or if you have several customers you are monitoring, and you want to keep each customer’s accumulated data separate? That’s easy too. When you create your template name, you can use hierarchical naming conventions to sort them into specific groupings based on your needs. For example, you can create a template using a name like “Office 1 – ” for all agents found at a particular location. You can then add various additional parameters such as machine name, IP address, or date and time of first connection to differentiate them, as shown below.

Agent-Templates
Template creation options for hierarchical naming.

For example, you can create three templates, one for each of three remote locations using the following naming conventions:

  1. Office 01 – {{MachineName}}
  2. Office 02 – {{MachineName}}
  3. HQ – {{MachineName}}

Using these templates, you can create a list of ten agents with the following resulting names:

  1. Office 01 – Reception
  2. Office 01 – Lab_1
  3. Office 01 – Lab_2
  4. Office 02 – Reception
  5. Office 02 – Marketing_1
  6. Office 02 – Marketing_2
  7. Office 02 – Datacenter
  8. HQ – Reception
  9. HQ – CEO_PC
  10. HQ – VP_PC

The result is a naming convention that allows you to differentiate between agents based on location and hostname:

Template naming actually gives you a lot of flexibility to create your own hierarchical naming conventions with as many levels as you need to keep your agents organized and identified. You can then search through your agents based on the names and filter out the specific end devices you want to observe.

Useful features

Internal and external network performance

PingPlotter can be used to measure network performance for communication with both internal as well as external targets. For example, a Linux server that is running a local VoIP PBX may be configured with PingPlotter, and it is set up with the following targets:

  • 8.8.8.8 which is Google’s DNS service – Can be used as a general connectivity test to the Internet.
  • www.yourvoipservice.com – A target that tests connectivity to a VoIP provider being used.
  • 192.168.12.25 which is a private internal address – This can represent any host that is internal on the network, ensuring connectivity with other vital devices and services such as a local VoIP gateway, an internal voicemail server, or a presence server for example.

The point here is that any and all IP connectivity can be tested, whether it’s to a private internal IP address, a public IP address, or even a DNS name.

Summaries

Summaries are customized groupings of specific traces that you can create based on your needs. For example, you can create a summary that contains all the connectivity performance of all endpoints to a particular VoIP service. That way, on a single screen, you can see only VoIP performance across all your devices. Beyond template naming, summaries are another way to categorize specific targets such that you can customize the information that you are viewing at any one time.

Network Disruptions

In the event of a loss of connectivity, agents will continue to gather data based on the parameters they have been configured with. This data is cached locally and is sent out to the cloud controller as soon as network connectivity is reestablished ensuring a continuous stream of accumulated data.

LiveShare

An ingenious functionality, LiveShare allows you to take specific traces, customize how they appear, and share those traces live over the Internet. You can create a URL that produces a read-only dashboard of that particular trace, and the parameters that you want to appear. Anyone with the URL can view it, and you can also embed it in a web page.

The graphs are generally easy to read, and even non-expert users can understand much of the information they are displaying. This can be a practical way to enable end-users to monitor the performance of their network connection, and to allow admins and helpdesk personnel to give definitive proof that the network is not slow!

The following is an example of such a URL along with the information it displays shown in the background.

LiveShare
Creating a LiveShare link.

Alerts

Alerts can be set up to take specific actions when certain conditions are met. You can configure both the actions as well as the conditions. One of the actions is to send an email informing administrative personnel that something is not right so that you can proactively resolve problems users may be having. These are highly configurable allowing you to automate many tasks as responses to particular network problems.

Sidekicks

Out of all of these features, I find this one to be the most kick-ass! This is a very helpful troubleshooting tool that has a predefined functionality. You can create a sidekick and push it out to any registered agent, and it performs the following:

  • Pings the local device
  • Pings the local gateway
  • Pings another device on the local network
  • Pings 8.8.8.8 which is Google’s DNS service
  • Pings a custom target that you configure when you create the sidekick

The sidekick should operate for 10 minutes or more to generate a reliable report based on the collected data from which you can gain much insight. You can even create a URL that you can share that insight with either the user or another network tech or admin to get a second opinion.

Sidekick
The results of a sidekick test.

As a network engineer, I can say that these are the exact tests I would do in order to begin troubleshooting the network for a particular end device. The sidekick does it all for you with one click and also provides further insights after analyzing the data for you. It’s really like having a network tech’s sidekick!

Payment structure

PingPlotter Cloud uses traces as the unit by which right-of-use is measured.  You can purchase your subscription based on the number of active traces you require. Each trace that is configured on an agent consumes a single trace. So, if you create 10 agents, and each agent has four targets, you’ve used up 40 of your targets. This is a beneficial scheme because you can subscribe to targets as needed.  PingPlotter Cloud subscriptions come in sizes of 25, 50, 100, and 250 and you can purchase the size that’s right for your organization.

At the top right of the image below, you can see the number of active targets out of the total remaining in the subscription.

Payment-Structure-Active-Targets
PingPlotter dashboard showing the number of active targets and subscription target limit at the top right.

Examining a trace

In the screenshot below, you can see an in-depth examination of the network performance on my PC. Specifically, you are looking at the detail of the trace to google.com that has been configured on the agent on my computer. This view shows:

  • A traceroute to the destination showing all of the hops along the way
  • A graph at the bottom showing the performance over a 24 hour period
  • A summary of signal quality in the event that VoIP services were being employed
  • A list of the top three significant events that occurred over the past 24 hours
Trace-View
Detailed view of a trace to google.com.

This view is highly modifiable so it can be tweaked to show you the information that is important for you for that particular endpoint. In any case, you can clearly see the level of detail for both historical and real-time data that the platform provides, allowing you to successfully troubleshoot network problems for specific end users.

The verdict

Summary of benefits

  • Very simple to deploy – you can get it up and running within minutes
  • Extreme detail – not only are response times shown and graphed but they are intelligently analyzed, delivering useful insights, especially for troubleshooting
  • Scalable – naming, templates, and summaries can be used in conjunction to mass deploy the service to multiple sites monitoring multiple services
  • Innovative tools Insights, troubleshooting utilities, and helpful hints and tips are all part of delivering a highly functional and information-rich monitoring service
Potential-Issues
An example of some tips indicating potential issues and ruled out issues.

Potential improvements

  • Whenever an update is created for the agent software, it has to be manually reinstalled on the device. However, this will soon be remedied with an automatic update being pushed to all agents whenever an update is available.
  • As a network engineer, I would like to see PingPlotter Cloud be able to install agents on network devices such as routers, switches, firewalls, wireless access points, and even on end devices such as IP phones, IP cameras, and mobile phones and tablets. For the time being, this is not possible, but I have been told that this may be considered in a future update of the service.

Conclusion

PingPlotter Cloud is a service that is definitely worth examining for your network, especially if you are working with end-user computers and servers that require a highly-availability and high-performance network connections that must be continually monitored. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to monitor such devices. For more info about PingPlotter, take a look at this video:

5/5 - (1 vote)
Lazaros Agapidis

Lazaros Agapidis

Lazaros Agapidis is a telecommunications and networking specialist with over twenty years of experience in network design, architecture, deployment, and management. He’s worked with multiple wired and wireless technologies including IP networks, fiber optics, Wi-Fi, as well as mobile communication networks. He has developed training content and courses for multiple vendors, and has been directly involved with teaching telecommunications for more than a decade. Over the years, he’s gained valuable first-hand experience from working on various large-scale telecom projects from both the enterprise as well as the telecom provider point of view.

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