“EM7”, as the product is known, is an appliance that’s designed to manage seven (hence the number in the name) aspects of enterprise technology: networks, applications, systems, configuration, events, trouble ticketing and SLA management. Not so long ago we reviewed Numara Software’s Track-It! which is, coincidentally, a variation on the theme: multi-function and properly integrated. EM7 is aimed a bit higher up the enterprise ladder - so you get enterprise stuff like real-time database replication in a master/slave arrangement, for instance, and we’ll mention the multi-tier structure in a moment - but you pay more too, so the competition isn’t all that direct.

Step one with all enterprise management tools is the discovery facility. As usual you give it an IP address range and the necessary credentials (which, incidentally, can be stored in a repository that the techies can’t access – an interesting way of partitioning sensitive information). The system can operate as a single appliance or by splitting the functionality into three “tiers”: the database, the data collection engine, and everything else.

The system was originally aimed at the ISP market, and so wherever you poke about you find the ability to partition data and user access into separate clumps. It’s nice that they’ve left this functionality in since some organisations might find it useful (for separating access on a per-site basis, perhaps). As well as discovering SNMP devices it can also do the basic stuff like pinging for unmanageable devices.

Once you’ve discovered the devices on your network, you categorise them so the system knows how to manage them – which you do by attaching them to templates. Every device has a summary page of basic information and the usual key high-level stats. Then there’s a collection of “elements” (log messages, port information, processes, services, server software components, and so on) “events” and “monitors” (graphs of CPU load, network traffic and such like). The drill-down functionality is very intuitively laid out and there’s plenty of detail when you drill into items.

Asset management is a case of adding information to what the system discovers: warranty info, for instance (and there are some user-definable fields alongside the bunch of common ones). And when it comes to application management there’s a load of application-specific stuff, such as the ability to dig into the specific WMI values in Exchange, specific database support for Oracle, Sybase, MySQL, SQL Server and PostgreSQL, email round trip monitoring and web content monitoring.

We’ve looked at the reactive and ongoing monitoring concepts, but what about the pro-active stuff: catching and reacting to events? The main Events screen is hierarchically structured - who’s dealing with issues, linking events with trouble tickets, and automatically escalating issues based on rules (usually time-based) the system admin can define. Associated with the support side of the system is a knowledgebase function, which users can read from and/or post to depending on their access rights.

On the subject of access control, by the way, you can choose a local user database or an AD/LDAP directory, and harking back for a moment to the ISP heritage of the unit, it’s no surprise that you get fine-grained control over who can get at what - even to the extent that where two entities share a common switch or router, you can limit their access to just the ports they’re connected to.

One thing we’ve not mentioned yet is reporting, and as you’d imagine there’s a variety of ways to get at information. As well as the basic GUI representations of data you have a user-configurable “dashboard” that you can use to provide the obligatory at-a-glance data representation. And of course there’s a pile of built-in reports, and if you’re feeling brave you can even go as far as editing the source code (which is PHP) of the in-built reports to tweak them to your particular requirements.

The last thing worth mentioning is that although EM7 is sold as an appliance, the main reason seems to be that it's easier to get up and running than a software product. Certainly there’s no secret that it’s a MySQL database running on a Linux kernel behind the scenes, and as well as an XML-based API the makers are happy to tell you the structure of the database and let you poke about with your reporting tool.

EM7 is a nicely integrated enterprise monitoring and management tool. It’s aimed at larger businesses and as such is fairly pricey, but that’s not a huge issue, particularly when you consider (a) the attractive $/£ exchange rate and (b) the fact that it ships as an appliance based on a Dell server.

OUR VERDICT

EM7’s an excellent choice if your business is large enough for it to be affordable, and although it’s an appliance the vendors go to great pains to shout how open the API and data structures are.