IT System Dashboards: Are they as helpful as they should be?

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We’ve all seen dashboards for given systems. A dashboard is essentially a quick view into a given system. We are seeing these more and more often in the monitoring of a given system. Your network monitoring software may present a dashboard of all switches, routers, and even down to the ports, or all the way up to all ports in given WAN connections. For a large organization, this can be a quite cumbersome view to digest in a quick dashboard. Network is a great example of fully fleshed out click-down views. Should any “Red” appear on that dashboard, a simple click into it, and then deeper and deeper into it, should help to discover the source of the problem wherever it may be.

Other dashboards are now being created, such that the useful information presented within the given environment may be not so dynamic, and harder to discern in terms of useful information.

The most important thing to understand from within a dashboard environment is that the important information should be so easily presented that the person glancing at it should not have to know exactly how to fix whatever issue is, but that that information be understood by whoever may be viewing it. If a given system is presenting an error of some sort, the viewer should have the base level of understanding necessary to understand the relevant information that is important to them.

Should that dashboard be fluid or static? The fluidity is necessary for those doing the the deep dive into the information at the time, but a static dashboard can be truly satisfactory should that individual be assigning the resolution to another, more of a managerial or administrative view.

I believe that those dashboards of true significance have the ability to present either of these perspectives. The usability should only be limited by the viewer’s needs.

I’ve seen some truly spectacular dynamic dashboard presentations. A few that spring to mind are Splunk, the analytics engine for well more than just a SIEM, Plexxi, a networking company with outstanding deep dive capabilities into their dashboard with outstanding animations, and of course, some of the wonderfully intuitive dashboards from SolarWinds. This is not to say that these are the limits of what a dashboard can present, but only a representation of many that are stellar.

The difficulty with any fluid dashboard is how difficult is it for a manager of the environment to create the functional dashboard necessary to the viewer? If my goal were to fashion a dashboard intended for the purpose of seeing for example Network or storage bottlenecks, I would want to see, at least initially, a Green/Yellow/Red gauge indicating if there were “HotSpots” or areas of concern, then, if all I needed was that, I’d, as management assign someone to look into that, but if I were administration, I’d want to be more interactive to that dashboard, and be able to dig down to see exactly where the issue existed, and/or how to fix it.

I’m a firm believer in the philosophy that a dashboard should provide useful information, but only what the viewer requires. Something with some fluidity always is preferable.

Anonymous
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  • IMO a dashboard should be quick and simple. It should not really show what, only if. Expanding on that, it should show if there is a problem, not what the problem is. We use PRTG for all of our network and server monitoring right now, and I think its dashboard is the best I have seen when it comes to this. You have a coliseum view of all your devices in an expanding outward view with your core probes in the center. Green is all good, yellow is a warning and red is error. You can then drill down to the specific issue very easily with a single click from that screen as well. You can also drill down layer by layer, but being able to jump right to the warning or error sensor saves a good deal of time.

    I have not really seen anyone else with a setup like this that is both easy to navigate and gives you a the important information on one screen like this. A lot of systems tend to make their dashboards way to noisy, with an overload of information to the point where you look at it and don't know if there is a problem or not. Others give a good dashboard, but its very difficult to drill down into the problem, or you have to go through multiple layers of the onion just to get to the issue wasting valuable time.

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  • IMO a dashboard should be quick and simple. It should not really show what, only if. Expanding on that, it should show if there is a problem, not what the problem is. We use PRTG for all of our network and server monitoring right now, and I think its dashboard is the best I have seen when it comes to this. You have a coliseum view of all your devices in an expanding outward view with your core probes in the center. Green is all good, yellow is a warning and red is error. You can then drill down to the specific issue very easily with a single click from that screen as well. You can also drill down layer by layer, but being able to jump right to the warning or error sensor saves a good deal of time.

    I have not really seen anyone else with a setup like this that is both easy to navigate and gives you a the important information on one screen like this. A lot of systems tend to make their dashboards way to noisy, with an overload of information to the point where you look at it and don't know if there is a problem or not. Others give a good dashboard, but its very difficult to drill down into the problem, or you have to go through multiple layers of the onion just to get to the issue wasting valuable time.

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