SQL Server Monitoring Tools

Recently at work, I started evaluating our SQL Server monitoring tools and looking for a possible replacement.  Now depending on who you ask, everyone seems to have their favorite tool and will claim one tool is better than another.  However, from what I could tell from my evaluation, certain tools may be better for an environment depending on the situation that exists.

The SQL Server monitoring tools I evaluated were Quest’s Foglight Performance Suite for SQL Server, RedGate’s SQL Monitor, SQL Sentry’s Power Suite for SQL Server, and Idera’s Diagnostic Manager.  My evaluation of them comes from real world experience with them and not just from demos.  I gave each product a rating of 1-4 (1 is best), which denotes where it ranked in comparison to the other products in the following categories: installation, dashboard, analysis, alerts, extra features, cost (based on list price, not including discounts), and SQL community opinion.

Quest’s Foglight Performance Suite for SQL Server

  • Product site: http://www.quest.com/foglight-performance-suite-for-sql-server/
  • Demo: http://www.quest.com/webcast-ondemand/-foglight-for-sql-server-demo-going-beyond-basic-updown-monitoring817356.aspx
  • Ratings:
    • Installation (4) – The installation and configuration of this product is difficult.  I actually had an outside consultant suggest having a support person from Quest come in to handle it for us.  One drawback is that the monitored servers require an install to be run on them.  A positive is that there is a web-based client for Foglight.  The Performance Analysis client has to be installed on each machine that it will be used from (i.e. DBA’s machine or management server).
    • Dashboard (3) – This product really has 2 dashboards, one for Foglight (web) and one for Performance Analysis.  Both dashboards are nice, but it would be better if these portions of the tool were combined.  Some features can only be used in one part or the other.
    • Analysis (2) – Easily, the most useful part of this product is the Performance Analysis portion.  It features useful drill downs and a range gage of what should be considered normal.
    • Alerts (4) – This product has the capability to send alerts, but not as customizable with what actions can be taken as some of the other tools.  Also, the way to configure them is not as intuitive as the other products.
    • Extra features (3) – This product has the ability to monitor more than just databases.  For example, you can integrate other pieces into it (i.e. .NET monitoring).
    • Cost (4) – $4,200 per server
    • SQL Community (4) – I don’t hear of as many SQL Server professionals endorsing this product.  I have only known of one consultant recommend this product.
    • Overall thoughts (24): This product was more complicated to install and configure than any of the other tools.  A situation where it might be useful is if it was integrated with the infrastructure or development teams, since it can monitor more than just SQL Servers.

RedGate’s SQL Monitor

  • Product site: http://www.red-gate.com/products/dba/sql-monitor/
  • Demo: http://www.red-gate.com/products/dba/sql-monitor/resources/
  • Ratings:
    • Installation (1) – The installation is quick and you are up and running in only a few minutes.  It is very easy to add new servers, with nothing to install on the monitored servers.  The client is web-based and can be configured for various users.
    • Dashboard (4) – This had the simplest dashboard, with not a lot of information displayed.  The screen is really dominated by the alerts.
    • Analysis (4) – The nice part of the analysis you can do with this product is to overlay time periods.  They also give helpful explanations as to what is collected and what should be expected.  However, it does not collect query information by default, but you can enable tracing.  If you do that, here warning is that it will be impactful to the monitored servers and SQL Monitor database.
    • Alerts (3) – Alerts are a large part of this product and it is useful that you are allowed to write your own custom alerts.  Additionally, there is a website dedicated to writing custom alerts (http://sqlmonitormetrics.red-gate.com/).  The one downside of their alerting is that it seems like you can only email the alerts, rather than take some type of action.
    • Extra features (4) – A useful add-on is the SQL Server Reporting Services pack (http://www.red-gate.com/products/dba/sql-monitor/ssrs-pack).  This product also provided very descriptive help and advice on the metrics collected.
    • Cost (1) – $895 per server
    • SQL Community (3) – There are some very respected evangelists that promote this product (i.e. Grant Fritchey, Brad McGehee, Steve Jones).
    • Overall thoughts (20): This is a nice product, but it lacks some of the depth and configuration options of the other products reviewed.  This is well suited for junior DBA’s or individuals who are not DBA’s but have some responsibilities in those areas.

SQL Sentry’s Power Suite for SQL Server

  • Product site: http://www.sqlsentry.com/solutions-sql-server.asp
  • Demo: http://www.sqlsentry.com/videos.asp
  • Ratings:
    • Installation (2) – During the installation wizard, there is more upfront configuration required, but once it is done everything works.  In just a few minutes after I setup this product, I was able to notice and fix some problems.  Additionally, there is a client that needs to be installed on a DBA’s machine or management server, but there is nothing to install on the monitored servers.
    • Dashboard (2) – The visual part of this dashboard isn’t great, but it gives more detailed information on the server (i.e. windows, networking, etc.) than some of the other products.  Also, the dashboard highlights problem areas and features a nice drill down to analyze problems further.
    • Analysis (1) – This was by far the best tool for analysis.  With Event Manager, you can look at everything that is happening in an outlook style calendar across the whole environment (i.e. multiple servers).  This tool also allowed more detailed metrics in regards to Windows and server hardware.  Plan Explorer was also embedded, which allows for an easy examination of problematic queries.  There is also a Fragmentation Manager portion that deals with indexing, but it does require extra licensing.
    • Alerts (1) – This product seems to have had the most options on how to handle alerts (i.e. execute job, process, SQL, log to database, disk, event log, run trace, send email, page, trap).  And they are configurable at every level.  Also, when the alert is sent all the pertinent information is sent in the email.
    • Extra features (1) – The option to set up event chaining between jobs on different servers and windows tasks is a huge bonus that no other tool had.  Additionally, all the reports are easily deployable to SSRS.
    • Cost (2) – $1,995 per instance
    • SQL Community (1) – This product is heavily promoted by SQLSkills team and Kevin Kline (formerly director at Quest who now works for SQLSentry).
    • Overall thoughts (10): I liked this product the best because of its ease of use and ability to do analysis.  It also has some features (i.e. Event Manager), which is extremely useful, that have no comparison in the other tools.  I would suggest this tool for mid to senior level DBA’s, because I feel like it may be overwhelming to junior DBA’s.

Idera’s Diagnostic Manager

  • Product site: http://www.idera.com/en/ProductsSolutions/SQLServer/SQLDiagnosticManager.aspx
  • Demo: http://trialcenter.idera.com/
  • Ratings:
    • Installation (3) – The installation is quick to get up and running.  Although there is nothing to install on monitored servers, there is a client that needs to be installed on the DBA’s machine.  Additionally, I have read that there was a mobile client, and tested it out on the trial website, but I have not been able to use that on my mobile device.  Also, there is additional configuration needed after the initial install to capture queries, setup alerts, etc.
    • Dashboard (1) – This product has the nicest dashboard visually by far.  There is an overview of all the monitored servers with basic stats, which could be helpful for management.  All of the icons and links allow you to drill down into more detailed metrics.
    • Analysis (3) – In order to get query analysis, you have to configure each server, eventhough it warns you it may degrade performance.  Additionally, everything is very configurable, but it does take time to get through the options.
    • Alerts (2) – This product has many options as to how to handle alerts, but it is more difficult setting those up.  Additionally, it has a centralized summary of alerts you can see across servers, which is very handy.
    • Extra features (2) – There are some reports that have the ability to forecast disk space usage, database and table growth, which is a nice option that only existed here.  It also contained tools for monitoring VMs, which I did not try out.
    • Cost (3) – $2,049 per instance
    • SQL Community (2) – This product ranks consistently well in community opinion although I don’t know of any evangelists who actively push the product.
    • Overall thoughts (16): I think this is a very good product, but it does not have some of the features of the other tools.  However, it does have other features that may be useful.  I would suggest this tool for any level DBA and/or managers who do a measure of monitoring.

Hopefully this is useful, but I also understand that people may have other preferences for tools they prefer.  The best advice I would give is to install a trial version and see if it works for you.


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14 Responses to SQL Server Monitoring Tools

  1. Michael,

    Nice review! I especially like how you had ratings for specific categories. I’d like to see this model become a standard for other websites and magazines that offer product reviews and awards. Maybe I’ll start using something similar for my blogger rankings.

    You provided two reference links in the above post. I noticed that each link made mention of Confio Ignite, but our product was not part of this review. If you are thinking of doing an updated review I’d like to get you a trial copy of Ignite8 and IgniteVM for you to use. I’d love to see where we would rank!

    Thanks again for the post.



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  4. Would you re-review these tools again please and also include Ignite (now part of SolarWinds)?

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  6. Gee says:

    I see you got Foglight, what about Quest Spotlight? I would like to see that one added into the list.

  7. Jean says:

    Michael, love the way you’ve compared the tools. Probably the most useful comparison I could google! I used this iPhone App that helps monitor SQL Server database instances from your mobile (Android / iOS) – http://www.sqlserverapp.com , which helps me stay alert on my SQL stats all the time, even if I get a call in the midnight on some issue. The Android App also has notification on failed SQL jobs. Have you tried it? Would like to know your views before I start using full-time.

  8. Fred says:

    “There are some very respected evangelists that promote this product (i.e. Grant Fritchey, Brad McGehee, Steve Jones).” Just for clarification, do they not all work for RedGate, evangelising RedGate products? The way this was phrased makes them sound independent of RedGate, when they are not.

  9. Dan says:

    Michael, Have you completed the updated review? We are currently evaluating these tools and would appreciate your updated viewpoint. Thanks.

  10. Joep says:

    Hey Michael, have you been able to do an updated review? I have to decide on what monitoring tool to use, and I really like your approach in this comparison. But I guess by now, more than 2 years later, there are newer versions of all these tools and your opinion might not be the same anymore…

    • sqlbadboy says:

      No, I haven’t been able to do any new reviews. I keep planning on it, but just haven’t had time yet. And yes, you are right, since I did these reviews a lot of things have changed about the products. My favorites are still Idera and SQLSentry, and I don’t think you could go wrong with either one. I would suggest just testing them out, as both have trial versions, and see which one you prefer.

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